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Can This App Change Your Day with One Text Message?

Marah Lidey and Naomi Hirabayashi, co-founders of the Shine app

From left to right: Marah Lidey and Naomi Hirabayashi, co-founders of Shine, an app that delivers daily affirmations and life advice to users via text or Facebok message. Courtesy of Naomi Hirabayashi

Can an affirmation in the form of a text message alter the course of someone's day? Naomi Hirabayashi, co-founder and co-CEO of Shine Text, an app that delivers daily affirmations and life advice to users via text or Facebook message, says: without a doubt.

Hirabayashi, 33, and Shine co-founder Marah Lidey, 26, officially launched the app in May with the idea that Shine could provide the mood booster that talking to a friend who's giving a particularly impassioned pep talk would.

"We were like, 'Where do you go?'" Hirabayashi told NBC News. "If you want this type of support, what's the product solution for that same feeling you get when you're receiving positive reinforcement from a friend?"

Using pop culture references, GIFs, and daily goals with titles like "Take Charge Thursday," Shine details productivity hacks, tips on confidence, mental health, and daily happiness.

Hirabayashi and Lidey met while working at Do Something, a non-profit organization aimed at connecting young people with volunteer opportunities and global campaigns to change the world. Hirabayashi served as the organization's chief marketing officer and Lidey, as the director of mobile product and messaging. Their friendship and mutual support became the basis upon which Shine was founded, Hirabayashi said, adding that the idea for the business was born of "one of those good nights where you're talking about a bunch of stuff."

In 2015, the two began to focus on turning their idea into a reality. Prior to publicly releasing Shine in beta last October, Hirayabashi and Lidey did a closed test with 70 individuals. The results, Hirayabashi said, "blew us away." (The two gave their notice at work in January, and formally left Do Something in April.)

"Fundamentally changed the course of my morning," one person wrote.

"How does this not already exist?" another asked.

"We realized we were on to something," Hirabayashi said. "All the things we had imagined were possible were happening very quickly in real life."

Shine Text
This screenshot shows an example of the messages the Shine app sends each morning. Courtesy of Naomi Hirabayashi

The Shine messages are written based on feedback from the community — a group of particularly active users called the "Shine Squad" get access to a closed Facebook page where Hirabayashi can communicate with them about issues they're experiencing in their lives. Hirabayashi also uses current events to glean inspiration and help heal.

"When Orlando happened, we had other content planned for the day," she said. "But we pivoted because we felt like it was our responsibility to talk about how to process the heartache that was happening in the world."

But can reading a text message first thing in the morning truly change a person's day? According to Janine Dutcher, a postdoctoral scholar at Carnegie Mellon University who studies the effects of self-affirmation, it's a bit more complicated than that.

During a process called value affirmation, a person thinks about something that's important to them — whether it be religion, family, etc. — which causes the rewards center of the brain to activate. Because this area of the mind is responsible for causing behaviors to repeat, the good feeling of reminding oneself of a paramount purpose makes the brain seek out that positivity again and again. This cycle, Dutcher told NBC News, is responsible for reduced stress, improved problem-solving, and, in some cases, healthy weight-loss.

"It could be the case that people who are using this app are getting this benefit because they're taking a message and internalizing it in a way that makes sense for them," Dutcher said.

For those who might be skeptical of a positive phrase completely changing one's mood, Dutcher casts science aside for a second. "If it's working for people, maybe that's not such a bad thing," she added. "Maybe this will only work for certain people, and if they are finding benefit from that, wonderful."

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Hirabayashi agrees, and the numbers don't lie: 93 percent of the subjects who participated in the month-long survey before the app's public release said it helped with the four pillars upon which Shine stands: mental health, confidence, daily happiness, and productivity.

Although Shine is currently not sharing numbers publicly, Hirabayashi says they've exchanged more than 3 million messages with users since October, and are growing at 40 percent month-over-month. Last month, YouTube star Lilly Singh announced a partnership between her #GirlLove campaign and Shine to bring content straight to users' phones.

Along with sending positive affirmations to its users, Shine has helped Hirabayashi too: as a kid, Hirabayashi said she never saw herself owning a business someday — in part because she didn't see anyone who bore her resemblance in positions of power.

"People would ask me, are you going to have your own company? I'd tell them, 'I want to be successful, but I don't know if I want to lead,'" Hirabayashi, who is of Japanese descent, said. "Now that I'm older, and recognize the unconscious bias and power of the media, I think it's really important to diversify what being a CEO or co-founder looks like."

"For Marah and I, we want more of this next generation of young women of color to see themselves in the success stories of entrepreneurs," she said.

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