The difference between an amateur and a professional is in their habits. An amateur has amateur habits. A professional has professional habits. We can never free ourselves from habit. But we can replace bad habits with good ones — Steven Pressfield

Do you struggle from time to time with bad habits?  Do you want to quit smoking?  Do you hit the snooze button when you wake up?  Do you eat sugar?  If you are the kind of person that wants to get in charge of their life and their habits, then the gadget that I am presenting in this article might be of value to you

We, humans, spend more than 50% of our lives on autopilot.  Or, as I prefer to say inhabit.

Whether we have good habits or bad ones determine what kind of person we are.  Think about it.  In my opinion, the difference between a millionaire and a broke person lies in their different habits.

I think of your brain as your iPhone.  Habits are apps that you can download.  If you have too many bad apps on your phone, your iPhone becomes slow and dysfunctional.  If you have good apps on your iPhone, your phone becomes an amazing device that is capable of helping you in major ways.  A good habit could be, for example, the habit of learning languages daily, or an exercise regimen, or meditation practice.  This would be the equivalent of a good app such as Evernote or Duolingo.

A bad habit could be, for example, the habit of smoking, or overeating, procrastination, or doing drugs.  This would be the equivalent of bad apps.  It robs your iPhone of its precious memory that you could use for something productive.

Therefore, it is essential that you learn how to delete bad apps from your brain phone and replace them with better ones.  I wrote an article about habits.

We are what we REPEATEDLY DO.  Success is not an action but a Habit” Aristotle

I am a bit geek when it comes to behaviour-changing technology and biohacking devices.  The following article shows you one gadget that helps you to get rid of bad habits.  Humans are horrible when it comes to self-discipline.  We all know that smoking is not good for us, but we do it anyway.  We know that snoozing is a bad habit to have, but we do it anyway.  We all know that procrastinating with social media robs us of precious time, but we do it anyway.  We all want to go to the gym daily, but we do not do it.

As a behaviour designer, it is now the focal point of my work, on teaching people how to design against undesired behaviours.  Relying on willpower and motivation is not enough, because if that would be the case, we all would have six-packs and would speak eight languages.  Somehow, our lazy brain always goes for the most comfortable way to immediate gratification.  We must actively design our environment against behaviours and habits that we do not want to have, and we must change the very things that we link pain and pleasure to.  Our brain will always want to get pleasure and avoid pain.  If we hack this pain and pleasure system, we can guide our behaviour and become the person that we want to become.  So what is Pavlok!

What Is Pavlok?

Pavlok is a biohacking bracelet that you wear around your wrist that is designed to help you break bad habits.  It does so by giving you mild electric shocks when you perform an undesired behaviour.   First, you identify the habits that you want to break.  This can be, for example, that you have the bad habit of smoking.  Every time you succumb to the temptation of smoking, you receive an electric shock from the wristband!

  1. First, you identify the bad behaviour that you want to eradicate.
  2. Then, Pavlok will monitor your behaviour. It monitors your behaviour with sophisticated sensors and algorithms.
  3. Now, when you perform the bad habit, Pavlok will give an electric shock, or you give yourself a shock with Pavlok.

Pavlok also has automated features where you combine, for example, a plugin for your browser with Pavlok, and every time you go to Facebook, you get zapped.

If you want to buy the device, click here. 

If you want to know more about the product, click here.

What Is The Theory Behind Pavlok?

The device was named after a Russian physiologist who was mainly known for his work in classical conditioning, the most famous and important psychological contribution ever made.

So What Is Classical Conditioning?

You might have heard of Ivan Pavlov as the crazy scientist who trained his dog to produce spit every time his dog heard a bell.

The idea is easy: to create an intended response, pair it with a trigger and repeat it until the stimuli alone creates the response.

In his experiment, Pavlov rang a bell and gave his dog some delicious dog food.

And, the dog produced saliva.  After some time, the dog began to salivate when Pavlov entered the room.  The dog was anticipating the delicious dog food and produced salvia in advance.  Amazing right?!

To test the theory, he created an easy experiment.  To prove that the dog was producing saliva in anticipation of the food, he rang a bell every time he gave his dog some delicious dog food.

After a while, he rang the bell without giving his dog the food.

And, the dog produced salvia just as a result of hearing the ring!

Pavlov and his experiment with his cute salvia producing dog are way more than just a classical psychology lesson.  Classical conditioning can be used as a tool to get rid of the undesired behaviour.

Remember, operant conditioning is best suited for forming new habits, which means that our brain wants to repeat what is rewarded.

Classical conditioning is there to get rid of bad habits.  By pairing a behaviour with a negative stimulus (pain or discomfort, for example), you can weaken bad habits.

Do you have bad habits like eating junk food?  Skipping workouts?  Being depressive?  Playing video games instead of following your dreams?  You can weaken them all!

So what is the link between classical conditioning and getting rid of bad habits?

I mentioned earlier that to create a new habit, it is best to add a reward at the end of the behaviour.

If you want to get rid of a bad habit, that alone I found adding a reward is not enough.  You have to add a negative stimulus to the bad habit—a little punishment.

In psychology, this is called aversion therapy.  It means that you add a negative consequence to your behaviour.

It is great practice in the military.  If you are interested in that, you should read the book “Living with a Seal: 31 Days with the Toughest Man on the Planet” from Jesse Itzler and Tony Goggin’s.  Click here to buy the book.

Think of your brain as your dog, and that you train him either by giving him food or punishing him a little bit.  If your dog pees on your couch again, and you immediately show him that you are not happy with his action, he will link discomfort to that behaviour and will try to avoid it.  Humans and animals learn very similarly when it comes to behaviour.

3 Takeaways From The Pavlok

It Is Fast

Pavlok promises that with their device that you can break a bad habit in 5 days, in only 5 minutes.  It forces you to basically zap yourself every time you want to have a cigarette.  After only 5 days, your brain does not link cigarettes to pleasure anymore.  Your brain associates the cigarette with an electric shock.  This may sound crazy and radical, but the speed is amazing.

Yes, training your brain by inflicting a little trauma is extreme as well, but so is smoking for years.  If you can stop a bad habit like smoking and you manage to substitute the emotional reward that you were getting in a healthy way, you have won.

Pavlok Uses Aversion Therapy

Pavlok uses proven psychological mechanisms of Aversion Therapy that was developed in the 60-90ties.  It sounds super harsh to use punishment as a form of changing your behaviour, but the makers of Pavlok have found that even minimal punishment works, and it works ridiculously well.  Due to social reasons, punishment and aversion therapy have a bad reputation.  But I am quite the extreme guy, and I understand the concerns.  It is basically training the dog by kicking him.  But the pain that one receives from Pavlok is so minimal that it does not cause any harm.

It Is Expensive

170 dollars is a fucking lot.  But in my opinion, it is a worthwhile investment.  Think of the possibilities you will have when you are in charge of your behaviour.  Let us say you have the bad habit of Netflix binging.  Think of the time you save if you could eradicate this habit in 5 days.  Let us say, for example, you want to stop smoking.  With this device, you not only prevent yourself from getting lung cancer, but you also save a whole lot of money because you do not have to buy cigarettes.  170 is a lot, yes, but the possible return of being fully in charge of your life is a bargain, in my opinion.

Lifehack: What Do I Do If I Do Not Have 170 Dollars For Buying Pavlok?

I totally get it, 170 dollars for Pavlok is a lot, and if you are not a psychology geek like me, you will probably hesitate.  If you want to condition yourself; starting today, I would recommend that you use a rubber band and snap it every time you succumb to the bad habit.

What I Do Not Like About Pavlok

The idea that habits simply can be broken sounds almost too good to be true, and in my opinion, it is.  Just using aversion therapy is not enough.  Each and every behaviour that we have has an emotional reward that we get from performing that behaviour.  If we take a bad habit away, we must first analyse what the bad habit was giving us.  What was the reward that this behaviour was giving us, or what was the promise that this habit was making?

Identifying the reward can be a complicated process, but to really change our behaviour, we must also look at the needs of humans.  Let us take, for example, the bad habit of smoking.  We want to quit, and with Pavlok, we will be able to ruin the fun in smoking, and we will stop eventually.  But smoking was important to us because it was giving us relief, and company, and coolness even, maybe.  Often, we are not even aware of what a behaviour is giving us.  To completely get rid of a habit, we must find a habit that gives us the same kind of emotional reward.  A habit that gives us what the previous habit was giving us but in a healthier way.

If smoking was giving you stress relief, you can, for example, form a meditation practice.  If drinking gives us self-esteem, then maybe an exercise regimen can similarly boost your self-esteem.  I think Pavlok does not emphasise enough that there are reasons why we have bad habits and that we have to substitute them in order to fight them.

If you break a bad habit, but you do not substitute it, the person will find a different behaviour that is scratching the itch.  We must face what our true needs are and what pleasure we are getting out of a bad habit.

Also, I think it is understated that to design against undesired habits we must change our environment.

We are all products of our environment, and if we want to form positive habits, we must not live in toxic environments.

Finding an environment of hungry, inspirational positive people is key.  It sadly also works the other way around, if toxic people surround you, you will most likely learn their dysfunctional habits almost by accident.

Footnotes

  1. https://pavlok.com/
  2. https://blog.bulletproof.com/heres-how-to-change-your-habits/

Call to Action

Here is some homework for you. It's your turn now!
  1. Get a rubber band that fits tightly around your wrist.
  2. Now, take a piece of paper and write down 10 habits that you want to get rid of.
  3. Make a circle around the habit that you believe holds you back the most.
  4. Now, every time you perform the bad habit, snap your rubber band.
  5. Write down daily, how often you snap the rubber band in order to see your progress.
  6. Tell everyone you know that you have stopped with the bad behaviour, this can be, for example, that you tell all your friends that you have quit smoking.
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