Good wrist, bad wrist

This post is about breaking a bad habit — in my case: smoking cigarettes — by applying electric shocks of 450V using a wearable on your wrist. But let me start with my motivation for this experiment:

I’m not living a 100% healthy life and I don’t care much if I gain or lose weight. Ok, I would rather lose weight,, but I like eating way too much. Nevertheless, I like the possibility of tracking a lot of my body functions and activities and see how things are connected and change over time. For this, I use a Fitbit Charge HR wrist band that tracks my heart rate and activities. I know this will sound horrible for people with data sharing issues. It’s linked to my iPhone’s health kit and a public gyroscope platform. This platform sucks in as much activity and health data as possible and visualises it in a nice way. You want to know my heart rate right now or when I worked out last? Just have a look here:

Daily tracking of activity via the gyroscope platform

So I’m using these systems to track and visualise my good behaviour. Going to the gym, working out, drinking enough water, etc. But what about breaking bad habits? For this, I added another wearable to my other wrist. One that is able to do one simple thing: Give me electric shocks of 450 Volts.

The Pavlok on my wrist

This is the Pavlok, named for the Russian Nobelist Ivan Pavlov, who discovered classical conditioning (you remember the stuff with the drooling dog, right?). Ivan found out, that if a neutral stimulus (like a bell) is paired with another stimulus (like food), the results is a reflex (like drooling) whenever the stimulus is triggered. The Pavlok works in the same way, applying aversion therapy. This is a form of conditioning in which the patient is exposed to a stimulus while simultaneously being subjected to some form of discomfort or pain. So after enough rounds of aversion therapy, the idea is that your brain links the “bad stimulus” (e.g. taking drugs, smoking, nail biting, etc.) with the discomfort and you therefore stop doing it.

The Pavlok device can administer a shock between 45 and 450 Volts whenever you like, pressing on the device or via an app. I’ve given it to several people and shocked them with the worst shock possible but the perception of the pain differs. Some find it “ok”, other say it’s “very very painful”. For me, it feels as if a bug would bite you on the wrist. Very unpleasant but not horrible.

The heart of the Pavlok

There are no clinical trials yet that prove the therapeutical effects of the Pavlok, but aversion therapy has been around for decades. In terms of cigarette addiction it shows that up to 61.4% of subjects quit smoking with 5 Days of aversive conditioning (Reference: Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, Long Term Outcome of Clients Treated in a Commercial Stop Smoking Program, Vol. 5. pp. 33–36, 1988).

If you interested in other numbers for other bad habits, the Pavlok guys have collected 21 scientific studies on aversion and bad habits. Some people already tried it out and wrote about the Pavlok, this one here did not manage to break his nail-biting habit.

I think that you can present an addict with a lot of studies, but in the end, you have to try for yourself to see if it works. Now it’s my turn:

I started the experiment when I was still smoking about 8 cigarettes a day (because I needed to train my brain to hate it). I shocked myself with 450V every time I inhaled from a cigarette, so about 10 times per cigarette and around 100 times per day.

I decreased the amount of cigarettes gradually and after one week stopped smoking completely. From this moment on, I shocked myself anytime I got the craving for a cigarette. This was one week ago and I’m still not smoking. You ask why? It’s hard to say if there was a new connection established in my brain for painful smoking or not. I can say for sure that if you shock yourself 100 times a day, smoking becomes less fun. Maybe losing that pleasant feeling is already enough in my case.

You can tackle lots of bad habits with this system. You can stop eating potato chips after 8pm, wake up on time or get more productive. Smart integrations like IFTTT link the Pavlok to other things. So you can shock yourself automatically if you spend more than 15min on Facebook. Every time you walk into a McDonalds or if you get an email from a certain person. If you would like to reward yourself for a certain behavior, the Pavlok can also beep or vibrate (e.g. for reaching your daily step goal).

So I’m still at the beginning of this experiment, wish me luck guys! Are you using wearables to track your fitness and reward yourself for good habits? What bad habit would you like to break and would you try electric shocks?

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