I was asleep and getting zapped.
It felt annoying, like a gnat, and it stung, as if someone was firing rubber bands at my arm.
Suddenly I jolted awake and sat straight up, my grogginess dissipating by the millisecond, as my eyes focused on my husband hovering over me, iPhone in hand and a barely contained amused look on his face. A small metal device rolled off my arm and I realized that he was electrocuting me awake.
Out of context, this sounds pretty troubling, but in this case, my husband was doing me a favor. He was helping me break one of my worst habits. You see, I regularly pass out at night without washing up and once asleep, it’s impossible to get me back up. That night, annoyed as I was, I beelined to the bathroom and performed my entire cleaning routine.
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“This thing is awesome,” my husband declared when I crawled back under the covers.
The “thing” is the Pavlok ($199), a new wearable device that claims to be “the world’s first scientifically proven ‘one button wristband’ that stops your brain from desiring and craving any unwanted bad habits.” According to the company, it can help users break bad habits “in less then one week—many times within just a few hours.”
Using (and named after) a theory called Pavlovian conditioning, the Pavlok trains a person—on a neurological level—to associate a bad behavior with a negative sensation. When you exhibit a bad behavior—be it biting your nails, eating a bag of chips or procrastinating on an important project—the Pavlok sends you an electric zap. Your brain quickly goes from associating the taste of that illicit cookie with, “That was delicious—YOLO,” to “That was really unpleasant.” After a few zaps, the device trains your brain to stop wanting to perform the bad behavior in the first place.
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The Pavlok works like this: A module, which releases the zap, can be worn on a wristband and activated either manually by pushing a button or automatically via an associated app. Certain bad habits, such as eating junk food, smoking or picking at your face, require the user to “self-jolt,” while others, such as waking up on time or not visiting time-wasting websites can be pre-programmed so that the zap fires automatically. Users can adjust the intensity of the zap from feeling like mild discomfort to a fairly intense shock. Users can also opt for the Pavlok to send a vibration or beep instead—although, where’s the fun in that?
“Pavlok is very safe,” founder Maneesh Sethi reassures me. “The zap sensation created by the device is a millisecond duration electrical impulse of less than 2 milliamps and the voltage is less than 450V (compared to tasers at about 50,000V). It poses no risk to the general health of skin that the Pavlok is worn against and the zap causes no nerve damage or skin reaction. Although electrical safety depends on a myriad of factors, Pavlok is designed to be two to three times less powerful than even the most conservative threshold for ‘safe.’ We are also both FCC and CE certified.”
“When you use the Pavlok, the zap passes a mild electrical current across the surface of your skin, creating an uncomfortable sensation. This stimulates your brain, training to associate the sensation with the action or thoughts that it is paired with,” explains Sethi. It’s very similar to rubber band training (snapping a rubber band against your skin), but the Pavlok “leaves no painful welts on your skin and can be triggered discreetly for those who don’t want to make it obvious that they’re trying to change their habits.”
Customers can either try to change one bad habit at a time, or use the Pavlok to eliminate a slew of behaviors that they want all gone. “Both methods have proven to work for customers, whether it’s breaking one habit or many habits simultaneously—the key is to consistently provide that aversive stimulus when the habit is being performed,” says Sethi.
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For this customer, the bad habits range from giving in to junk food cravings to passing out before brushing it out of my teeth. So far, the Pavlok has proven to do one impossible task—wake me up from deep slumber to go wash up. As far as curbing the cravings go—well, just wearing the wristband (and the anticipation of the zap) alone has seemed to be effective enough so far at deterring me from reaching into the cookie jar. Maybe, just maybe, by the time bikini season is in full swing this summer, I will have given up junk food once and for all.
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