I strap the gadget to my wrist and double-click the only button it has. I wait to be shocked; not “surprised” shocked, but physically shocked. With electricity. Nothing happens.
Maybe it is such a mild shock that I didn’t even feel it. Yes, that must be it. I have a high pain tolerance, and this consumer device couldn’t possibly put out enough juice to …
Yow! OK, that hurt.
I am testing a prototype fitness tracker and motivational device called the Pavlok. It is not available yet, but its creator Maneesh Sethi wants to take it mainstream.
On his Indiegogo fundraising page, Sethi explains, “A few years ago, I hired a girl to slap me in the face whenever I used Facebook. My productivity increased 4x. So I knew I was on to something.” While I’m curious where you can hire someone to slap you in the face, I am even more fascinated by this device, the philosophy of it, and its potential.
Pavlok works in conjunction with an app (in development) that Sethi says will have a lot of solid motivational science in it. It is, in theory, much more sophisticated than the dog-training collar you might take it for. First, you pick a habit you want to break or a new behavior you want to make into a habit: Stop smoking, walk 10,000 steps each day, go to the gym four times a week, or limit time-wasting activities like Facebook.
The app will cue you to take action on your phone, remind you when you’re close to failing with beeps and vibrations on the wristband, encourage you in the app to find a real-world partner who holds you accountable for your actions, and — as a last resort only — zap you. Depending on the goal you set, there are different ways those actions are triggered. For something like steps taken, an accelerometer automatically tracks that. You can create a GPS point at your gym that logs your check-ins. There is a Chrome browser add-on that you can use to track websites you want to avoid or limit the number of tabs you open. But many of life’s most serious bad habits like smoking or overeating must be self-reported to the app, which obviously has its limits. Don’t want to be shocked? Don’t tell Pavlok about that donut.
But Pavlok has its strengths. You can turn up the shock intensity, or dial it back to fit your own pain tolerance. The high setting was a serious motivational force for me. Every time I looked at the wristband or felt its weight on my arm, I was reminded of the pain. Then I thought of what I had to do to avoid it and was reminded of my goal. Ultimately I felt like my minor goal of spending less time on Facebook just didn’t merit the severity of Pavlok’s shock punishment. But maybe that’s rationalizing on my part.
On the other hand, if I had a serious issue around something like exercising where I knew I had to change but no other method had helped me flip the switch, I would consider Pavlok. In a life-or-death battle with your own willpower, Pavlok’s shock punishment might be a powerful weapon of last resort.