Can This Smart Bracelet Help You Break Bad Habits?

This new smart bracelet can help you get a grip on certain behaviors, like hair-pulling. (Photo: Getty Images)

From biting your nails to pulling your hair, some bad habits are notoriously hard to break. To help people put a stop to these common behaviors, Aneela and Sameer Kumar, co-founders of HabitAware, created Liv — a smart bracelet launching Tuesday that gently reminds users when they’re performing a habit they wish to kick.

Aneela knows firsthand what it’s like to deal with a hard-to-control habit. Since she was a teenager, she has had trichotillomania — an obsessive-compulsive disorder that compels her to pull out her own eyebrows and lashes. It’s a condition that many people hide; Aneela even managed to conceal it from her husband, Sameer, by using makeup.

“There’s so much shame with it,” Aneela tells Yahoo Beauty. “I hid it up until the last couple of years. My husband, Sameer, caught me one day without makeup. He asked me what’s going on, and I finally told him. By that point, I had learned that trichotillomania was a [condition] and I wasn’t alone.”

Since Aneela pulls out the hairs on her eyebrows and lashes without consciously thinking about it, she explained to Sameer that she wished she’d had something that notified her when she was doing the habit. “It was something mostly automatic, and I didn’t realize I was doing that until the damage was done,” she says. “I could see hairs all over my computer. Even when I’d pull out a bunch of hairs and say, ‘Stop,’ my hand would go back to those areas.”

She adds: “I’d just need to get that one hair that felt so weird. But I wouldn’t just get that one — I would get the ones around it, and it would just get worse and worse.”

Working in digital advertising, Aneela knew it was technically possible to create a device that could deliver a reminder to stop the habit. After they did some research and weren’t able to find what they were looking for, Aneela and Sameer decided to build one themselves. They founded HabitAware and enlisted engineers to design the smart bracelet Liv.

The device, which looks like a fitness tracker, uses sophisticated motion sensors — first to learn your movements when you’re doing the bad habit and then to alert you when it senses you’re moving in a similar fashion. “When you get the bracelet out of the box, you fire up the smartphone app that will connect with the device and walk you through the one-time calibration flow,” explains Sameer. “Aneela does eyebrows and eyelashes, so she’ll move differently than someone who pulls hair from the back of their head. You hit record, and that gesture is stored in the device itself. Every time the user does that behavior, they will get a gentle vibration. After a few days of use, we already see heightened awareness.”

Aneela began wearing the prototype every day — in fact, she wore one on each wrist since she would pull out her hair with either hand. “With two bands on me, it was amazing how quickly I was beginning to learn where my hands were,” she says. “The gentle vibrations wake you up and give you the presence of mind to pull away.”


Aneela and Sameer Kumar, founders of HabitAware. (Photo courtesy of HabitAware)

Six months later, Aneela is better able to control her trichotillomania. “It’s the first time in 20 years that Aneela has had full regrowth of her eyebrows and eyelashes,” Sameer tells Yahoo Beauty. “I’m amazed at this tool and how she’s done it. We want to help others.”

Along with helping to prevent hair-pulling, Liv can also be used to help people stop biting their nails, picking at their skin, and, for children, sucking their thumbs. Liv can also help identify specific triggers. For example, if you tend to get stressed before your weekly meeting with your boss and you start going to town on your nails, the device can send you a tech notification ahead of time and suggest a two-minute meditation to replace the negative behavior with something more positive. Eventually, users may not need to wear the device regularly, except during stressful times to serve as a helpful reminder.

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