An Electrifying New Way To Change Habits with Maneesh Sethi of Pavlok


Katie: Welcome to the Healthy Mama’s podcast. I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com. And you may find today’s episode a little electrifying but, all puns aside, you have to understand a little bit of the back story to understand why I’m so excited to talk to today’s guest. So Maneesh Sethi is the founder of a company called Pavlok, which is basically a haptic feedback device that you wear on your wrist that may help you train new habits. It can improve athletic performance and improve learning. So, in short, it’s a watch that doesn’t tell time, but that kind of gives you very physical feedback to help you change or make new habits.

And I met Maneesh on a bus to dinner. We were both at a conference, and so we got to talk for a while. And I was fascinated by this wearable device that he, essentially…It, essentially, uses aversion therapy to reverse bad habits. And the device is meant to be worn on the wrist, although I believe that when I met Maneesh he was wearing it on his neck on a metal chain. And some of the conference participants were having fun trying to walk up and push it to shock him. And if I remember correctly, Dave Asprey seemed to be pretty good at that.

Maneesh: That’s right.

Katie: So Maneesh and his company, Pavlok, have been featured in The New York Times, and even Mark Cuban seems to have a lot to say about them. And Maneesh also ran the book launch for Tim Ferriss’ book, “The 4-Hour Chef”. So Maneesh, welcome, and thanks for being here.

Maneesh: Hey, it’s a pleasure to chat with you.

Katie: Yeah. I think it’s gonna be really fun. So…

Maneesh: I remember sitting on the bus with you. And I was like, “Oh my God, is that Katie, the wellness mama?” So it was, like…

Katie: Oh my gosh.

Maneesh: A very exciting moment for me as well.

Katie: A fun conversation. And I remember from that conversation a story you told me about why you once paid someone to slap you in the face. So can you share that story?

Maneesh: Sure. So I’ve always grown up severely ADHD. And I’ve never been able to, like, kind of, achieve the goals that I’ve wanted to. And I started a blog called “Hack the System” back in 2008, where I would travel and do little experiments to see if I could improve my productivity. I come with a really scientific mind, so I like to choose something that tracks my data and then adjusts little experimental variables and see if I can make a difference. And so I started tracking my productivity with this app that would look at all the website I was on and the apps I was using, and it would give me a score between 0% and 100% productive. And my average score was, like, in the 30s, like, 35% or 38%, which means that an average day of where I’m using 6 or 7 hours at the computer, I’m wasting 3 to 4 hours, which is crazy. Two to three hours, that’s a lot of time.

So I started running experiments to improve my productivity and, in one experiment, I hired someone whose job was to follow me around and, if I got off task, she would slap me in the face. And she did. She sat down next to me, she made sure I was on track. I was trying to write two articles a week, and I got four months of work done in four days when she was sitting down next to me. My productivity was 98% because, whenever I got a little bit off track, she would just tap me on the shoulder and, if need be, she would hit me.

And a few weeks later, I was talking to…I posted that article online and it went super viral. It was everywhere. It was in, like, 100 different news sources like NPR, Anderson Cooper, everywhere. And a few weeks later when the buzz died down, I called a friend of mine. I said, “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if we made, like, a dog collar that could zap me every time I went on Facebook?” And my friend said, “Let’s go to Radio Shack.” So he and I went to Radio Shack – he’s a lot smarter than I am – and he helped me rip apart a dog collar and hook it up to, you know, your computer and make it so that every time I went on Facebook, it zapped me. And I made a little video that I was pretty sure would go just as viral, but before I posted the video I thought to myself, “This is actually really, really interesting. There is a million wearables out there that are tracking what I do, but this one’s actually changing what I do. Maybe this is something more important than just a funny blog post. Maybe this is actually a real thing that can really help me and a lot of people,” and that’s, kind of, how I got started in Pavlok.

Katie: Very cool. So the name is Pavlok, which…can you explain the connection there? I’m guessing it’s to Pavlov’s dogs.

Maneesh: Yeah. It’s Pavlov’s dogs. So the product is, like, a haptic feedback wearable, like you said. Actually, I think you gave the best description of my product I’ve ever heard.

Katie: Thanks.

Maneesh: Yeah. It vibrates, beeps, and releases electrical stimuli when told to, and it rewards you for doing good behaviors and helps you stop doing bad ones. But we found out that, like, it can be used as a tool. If it rewards you by vibration or it releases the electrical stimulus to punish because you do something, it becomes an operant conditioning tool like B…like Skinner, if you remember B.F. Skinner from psychology. But if you use it while you do something – not because of, but while – it becomes a classical conditioner, or very Pavlovian. So you can create aversions towards habits that you want to stop doing by administering the zap while you do a bad habit you want to stop doing. And so, that is the Pavlovian side of it. And the original version design was supposed to lock to your wrist, so that’s where Pavlok came from. It does not lock to your wrist right now.

Katie: Okay, that was gonna be my question. So explain a little bit of the tech side of how the device works. Like, say someone wants to stop biting their nails or smoking or eating sugar. So how does the device know when to send the stimulus or the shock? Is it by a movement or do they do it themselves, or can it be both?

Maneesh: It’s both. Originally, my theory was that it would need to know, that it would know when I go on Facebook or know whenever I bite my nails, and it would sent me a zap and that would help me stop doing it. But we learned about a year into our product, a year into our company, that actually, it’s more powerful…Well, I’m not sure if it’s more powerful, but it’s at least as powerful if you do it yourself.

So we have a five-day program we based off of aversion therapy, which is a type of therapy that was pretty common in America in the 1980s and 1970s where you would try to quit an addiction or a bad habit by, basically, a doctor or a therapist would tell you what to do, teach you about habits in the brain, and then he would say, “All right. Smoke a cigarette or bite your nails, zap. Now do it again, zap,” and you would continue to do it over and over again for a period of time. So in our case, we have a five-day, five-minute a day program where, for five days, you do a behavior on purpose – like, you bite your nails on purpose – and either you press the button when the app tells you to, the audio files tell you to, or it just does it automatically through the audio. And what happens is it’s kind of like…Katie, have you ever gotten, like, too drunk on something and then you get sick, and suddenly the smell of that drink makes you a little nauseous?

Katie: Oh yeah, I think that’s a very common story. I think a lot of people have that.

Maneesh: What’s your drink?

Katie: Probably vodka.

Maneesh: Yeah. Oh, wow. Okay. That’s unfortunate. And, you know, like, that feeling in the pit of your stomach, the center of your chest, where you kind of feel that, like, ugh, whenever you smell that drink?

Katie: Mm-hmm.

Maneesh: So we found that we can create that sensation towards any habit. I don’t want to say any habit but towards a lot of habits, that even though you used to like that drink and you enjoyed it all the time, just one weird experience caused your brain to just permanently, or at least, long-term change. That was a big breakthrough for us, that you can create and you can decide on what habits you want to stop doing through thought plus stimulus.

And so, when we discovered a lot of literature on this science of aversion therapy, we started testing it on our users and we found, like, ridiculous results. So we did a small pilot study that was done at U Mass Boston, where we had people who were trying to quit smoking use our product. They used it for about 10 days. So they would zap themselves for 10 days whenever they wanted to smoke a cigarette and then whenever they were puffing. And you’d have to finish the cigarette, you couldn’t put it out to overdo that feeling. And we followed up with them at a six-month follow-up and, like, 75% of them hadn’t touched one in six months, which is pretty ridiculous. I brought in one of my friends who had done the experiment with us and he couldn’t get the cigarette to his mouth. He was so nervous his hands were shaking. I did it myself with Tostitos tortilla chips. I did it for five days. I ate tortilla chips and received the zap while I did it. Still, ’til today, like, the Tostitos logo makes me a little bit, like, ick. It’s pretty crazy every time I see it. I’m like, “Damn. That actually still works.”

Katie: Wow.

Maneesh: So yeah. So what I’m talking about though is our bad habit-breaking protocol, right? We came up with a product that’s a tool. So one of the most common uses we see right now, we’re seeing a lot fewer people who want to break their bad habit permanently and a lot more people who want to reduce cravings in the moment.

So this was pretty cool. Like, you know when you’re at a bar with your friends or you’re at a dinner holiday party and there’s just candy everywhere? And you know how, like, you don’t want it, but then you have it? And if you’re standing next to it, you just eat it and then your mind is like, “Don’t have it,” but your hand is just grabbing it. Do you know what I’m talking about?

Katie: Yeah, the internal conflict. Yeah.

Maneesh: It’s so weird, right? Like, why don’t we just stop? But we found that if you release the zap while you’re in one of those situations, so it’s not like this five-minute a day program, you just press the button a couple times on the wrist device, it reduces cravings so you don’t want that as much. And you can focus on something and zap yourself a couple times, and the craving just goes away. So we’ve been seeing that being used a lot because it’s more of like a…Really, like, it’s not as scary as the other thing. It’s not about quitting candy for good. It’s just, like, maybe sometimes you know you want to stop, so you can press the button a couple times, watch the craving disappear. That’s been really, really cool to see that happen.

Katie: That’s interesting. So you’re not, like, forever banishing yourself from eating that food, but you’re just teaching yourself to be more moderate and not have cravings in that instance.

Maneesh: Yeah. I kind of describe it like…I don’t know. I’m really, really scientific, so I always describe things with brain activity. And in your brain, you have this, like, reptile brain at the back, the brain stem, called the basal ganglia. And that’s where habits live. I call it my two-year-old brain. And, actually, this is a perfect metaphor for you because of your blog title. So I call that my two-year-old brain, and that’s because I have a two-year-old…or I had a two-year-old nephew. I still have him, he’s just not two years old. But, you know, like, whenever we could catch him in a candy cabinet, you could yell at him, right, and he would stop, but then if you walk away, he might go back the next day and try it again, right? But if you continuously yell at him and punish him for going there, if you do it and you overdo it or, even better, if you make him eat all the candy so much that he gets sick, he’ll probably never eat that candy again, right?

Katie: Yeah.

Maneesh: So we found that, like, that’s the way I describe it. It’s like, your pre-frontal cortex, the front of your brain, that’s the human brain. It’s like your mommy brain. That’s the one that thinks and talks. And it’s training your habit brain, the two-year-old brain, to either stop doing things right now or to stop doing things for good. And that’s been really powerful because it lets you kind of train yourself in the moment to be a better version of you.

Katie: That’s really cool. And, I guess, to circle back on the drinking thing, for anybody who doesn’t understand that analogy, I also would compare it to…So I have six kids, and every pregnancy with morning sickness, I feel like I lose one food. And I say that because it’s gone forever, like, I can never eat it again. So I’ve lost Chinese food, green salsa, Brie cheese, a bunch of different foods I can never eat again because I eat them at that point of pregnancy and then got sick.

Maneesh: Is that true?

Katie: Yeah. I can’t eat them again.

Maneesh: Whoa, that’s really cool. I’ve never heard that before. So you’re saying that, like, you ate something at…was it in the morning that you got sick or did you eat it in the evening before and you got sick in the morning?

Katie: So, morning sickness is a totally fake term. It actually means all-day sickness. And I just happened to eat it and then feel sick. I didn’t even have to throw up but, like, certain…like, Brie cheese makes me cringe. I used to love it and it literally makes me ill just to think about it.

Maneesh: That’s an incredible example. I’ve never even heard of that before. Thank you. That’s awesome.

Katie: Yeah. You’re welcome. That might be really good for women to understand, because that’s definitely still fresh on my mind and I will forever mourn some of those foods that are gone forever. But, so, I know one question you must get a lot is, does it hurt? And, like, are there any contra-indications medically? Like, should someone with a, maybe, pacemaker not use this?

Maneesh: So there’s obvious things you have to say, which is that somebody with a pacemaker shouldn’t use it, right, but the device itself is…I can’t show it to you because we’re not on video. It sits on your wrist, and the electrodes sit on your wrists. So the entire zap passes through a two-inch current of your wrists. So it doesn’t go through your whole body, if that makes sense. And even so, it’s such a low voltage, it’s considered a low-voltage device by the European Union. It’s CE and FCC approved and all that other stuff. And, also, like, you felt it, right? It’s not really painful. It’s more surprising. I think of it more like if you’re sprayed in the face by a sprayer, not Febreze but, like, water in a Febreze spraying thing. Like, if you get sprayed in the face, you’ll suddenly be aware, like, “What just happened?” You know what I mean?

Katie: Yeah.

Maneesh: And, of course, the device is adjustable. So you can turn off the zap completely and just use the vibration. That helps you track your habits. You can just press the button whenever you do the habit or have the urge. The device will vibrate. You can set that up, of course. But we found that people will start off using the low zap, and they just do it a few times and it tends to help them. Like, you set the level in the app so it doesn’t hurt too much. You want it to be uncomfortable, but not painful. And the stronger it is, the faster the habit will break, but we’re not here to hurt you. We’re here to help you. So the device is not designed to be painful whatsoever.

Katie: Okay. Do you ever have people who get an unintended overlap? Like, they’re trying to quit one particular food, like something with sugar in it, and it ends up making them dislike anything with sugar in it or anything that’s just sweet that maybe doesn’t even have sugar in it?

Maneesh: So I have not heard any stories like that. I will tell you that it’s really mental. So you can’t, like, force somebody else to stop liking something, but even if you’re not doing the behavior you can help yourself stop it by imagining it while you zap yourself. Does that make sense?

Katie: Gotcha. Yeah, that does make sense.

Maneesh: So, it’s like, it’s very mental. So I’ve noticed that if you eat sugar and you focus on the fact that sweet is bad and you zap yourself while you do it…and we teach this all in the audio lessons to pick your focus while you zap. Sometimes it’s natural to try to escape the zap, but you have to really, like, live in it for those five minutes a day for five days to get that thing to be permanently gone. Like, whatever you focus on becomes, kind of, the association that you create. So that’s been really cool.

I mean, this year, upcoming year in 2017, I’m really excited because I’m planning on running a few real trials, not just pilot studies but, like, slightly larger medical trials to see if we can make this thing, you know, solve Mark Cuban’s little problems. But yeah, so, we have not seen that happen. What we have seen is people who expect to go through the five-day program. And I will say that this is not a common thing. If I had to estimate it, I would say 20% of women will message this to me – and it’s almost always women, and I’m very fascinated by that – that they plan to go through our five-day Quit Sugar program. And they buy it, and then they eat sugar, and they zap themselves once and it gives them a very big surprise. And then they say, “Next time, I do this behavior, next time I eat sugar, I’ll zap myself.” And then they simply stop eating sugar again. They’re just, like, one zap in, they say, “Ah, it’s not worth it any more. This thing’s sitting on my wrist. I see it there, reminding me that I’m the kind of person who doesn’t want sugar. And if I have to eat sugar, I’ll press that button and it acts as a reminder.” And we’ve seen this happen quite a bit with sugar and with nail biting. One zap happens every once in a while where…and it’s always female, where it only takes one to make it stop, going away for good.

Katie: That’s really interesting. I wonder if it is, just, women feel it more, because I have two friends who have used it. And one, it was a guy that used it to quit smoking and didn’t think it was really that bad at all and it worked great, and another was a mom who was trying to use it and her son kept pushing the button. He was really little, but he would figure out where the button was. It basically trained a response in him. He knew that mom jumped if he pushed the button. And, like, she eventually had to quit using it because he kept pushing it all the time. But I saw her walk into a building one time and he pushed the button, and she literally just, like, dropped to the floor. So I think maybe women are more affected, or she had it too high, maybe.

Maneesh: Maybe she had it too high. I will tell you that my sister uses it with her kids, and not in the way you expect. She told me this and I was like, “Oh my God. You know, I’m not sure how I feel about using it on a kid.” She’s like, “No, no, no. It’s not like that.” She said, “I have a child who never, ever eats his food, ever. And every time I was zapped, he would start to laugh. And he would giggle all the time.” And so she put it on her own wrist and she said, “For every piece of broccoli you eat,” or whatever the food was, “I’ll let you zap me once.” And he ate his meal, and he started eating his meals just to do it. And she let the level to zero so it didn’t even zap her. It was just vibrating her, but the kid didn’t know. And suddenly, she got him to eat his food. So I thought that was pretty impressive.

Katie: That’s pretty ingenious of her. Yeah, that’s awesome.

Maneesh: Isn’t that kind of weird? Like, you can’t get your kid to eat food because it’s good for you, but you get to hurt your parents, then the kid will eat.

Katie: It’s that two-year-old brain. It’s crazy. So I thought Pavlok was so fascinating because, kind of, in my mind, it merges the idea of, like, snapping a rubber band on your wrist when you want to stop complaining or whatever it is. And then we have this well-studied side of medicine with shock intervention, but that’s certainly the more controversial side. So I feel like Pavlok allows the user to administer it themselves, which seems more ethical, for sure, but how is the compliance with that? Like, are people actually willing to do it or do you find people who just, like, they want to use it but they are just not willing to shock themselves?

Maneesh: So my answer is, it’s not as good as I’d like it to be because I’d like it to be 100%. And it’s like digital courses, right? You can sell a course, but how do you get someone to stick through with it all the time? That’s a hard thing to do. So what we’ve been doing is hyper-focusing on how do we get people to achieve their goals. So my background is in habit psychology, and particularly in forming habits psychology. And so, we’ve realized that there’s small things that cause people to achieve…

So what we did is we did this. We broke it down into a very simple course. You follow a five-day course. The first couple days, I think the first day, you learn about how it works and you track your behavior, no zap. Then the second two days, you meditate and track when you do the behavior. Then I think it’s day four and day five that you start to actually receive the zap. So we’re trying to pull back on the forcing you to, like, just jump in and scare you, and start in by, like, “Let’s teach you about the science of the brain and help you understand when and why you do your behaviors.”

Afterwards, next year, what we’re really excited about it we’ve tested having a coach, so someone who calls you and helps you through the first process, right? And we’ve noticed that just, like, one phone call causes massive increase in success rate for people sticking through with the course. And so we just created a partnership with coach.me, which is a coaching website online which, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but they’re pretty cool.

Katie: Yeah.

Maneesh: And we’re basically going to be offering a free week of coaching for anybody who gets a Pavlok. And in that week, you can finish your first week of the five-day Break a Bad Habit course and you’ll be able to, like, you get a phone call with the coach. The coach will remind you and ask you, “Did you do the behavior?” You know, I can’t guarantee you 100%, but it’s written on our wall in our core values, 100% compliance is the goal.

Katie: That’s awesome. And I’m really curious to see how that works, but it makes sense that just that one phone call could have such a big difference. What’s the average time that it would take someone to actually start seeing a result of whatever they’re trying to accomplish with Pavlok? And can they feel this pretty quickly? So say I wanted to quit sugar. What would be the average time I would actually start to see that happen?

Maneesh: So in no way are we a device that is 100% effective. There is a lot of types of people who just simply…Like, if you ever played with electric fences when you were a kid, it probably won’t work for you because you got over the feeling of a zap when you were a child. We’ve seen that happen a couple of times. But for the people who stick through with the program, they will almost…more than half of those users will, for sure, have a mass aversion that lasts a long time for that behavior. And I’m trying to temper these numbers because they’re actually quite high and it always sounds almost too good to be true. But what I will say is that the awareness of the behavior is the first step in any habit change. And you will notice a difference in the first day. When you zap yourself for five minutes while doing that behavior, you start to notice what is causing that behavior. And that’s the real beauty of the product, is that it creates a awareness around the triggers and the times that you’re doing the behavior.

So I’m going to give you two quick examples. The first one is nail biters. I see this often. I’ll do this all the time. I love to find nail biters because I’ll put the device on their wrist and give them, like, maybe a minute of zap. And I’ll be like, “All right. Put your hand in your mouth, zap. Do it again, zap for a minute.” And then I watch them for the rest of the night like a stalker because I’m creepy, but just this one time because they gave me permission. You’ll see their hand move towards their face, and then their head will turn and look at their hand and it will be, like, “What the heck just happened? Like, why am I doing this?” It’s, like, a look of surprise as they notice their hand coming to their face. And that always happens within the first…like, that night.

But I’m going to give you another story that I think was really, really fascinating, and it really has to do with triggers. So this woman called me, and she was an ad block buyer customer. And she asked me if Pavlok could help her with her severe depression that she had been suffering since she was young, and I told her, “Look, I don’t know. I don’t know if we can adjust chemical levels in the brain and I have no evidence of that whatsoever, but I do believe that a lot of depression might be, like, a habit mood, like a negative thought habit mood, and we might be able to help with that. So for the next five days what I want you to do is, whenever you catch yourself in this negative spiral, give me…zap yourself once, take a deep breath, and then text me where you are.”

And so, the first day she texted me at work, and the second day she texted me on her way to work, and the third day she was reaching for the front door. Fourth day, front door. Fifth day, front door. And I said, “That’s weird. What’s going on with your front door?” Well, there was a flower vase that was sitting next to her front door and, when she was 16, she and her twin sister had a birthday party. A lot of people came, and she got no gifts. Her sister got a ton of gifts, and her sister said, “Here, have this flower vase. You can have one of mine.” And that flower vase was triggering thoughts of, “Nobody loves me. Nobody cares,” and it was creating this circular, negative thought habit spiral that manifested itself as, what was classified by them, clinical depression, drugged out of her mind, and just became a big…like, her life revolved around it. And I told her to throw away that flower vase. And the next day she called me and she said, “Hey, it’s 2:00 p.m. I think you might have been right. That was a trigger. I don’t feel sad today.” And that blew my mind that, really, what Pavlok had done for her was not break a habit. It was really just helping her become more aware of the trigger that was causing her to spiral out of control. That was a pretty cool story.

Katie: Wow. That’s really fascinating. So you mentioned before that it could be used, someone could push it themselves or it could be automated, and I believe there’s an app that goes with it. What are some of the ways someone would use it that way?

Maneesh: Sure. This is my favorite thing. So, like, Breaking a Bad Habit is powerful, and it doesn’t even require the app. And one of the main reasons we started, you know, targeting towards bad habits is because, when we launched our bad habit program which was, like, a year and a half ago, it’s because our app wasn’t very good. And so Bad Habits worked really well because you could do it without the app. It’s pretty effective. There’s nothing on the market that does that, right? But realistically, like I said, we’re simply a haptic feedback device that receives signals and causes vibration and you can zap.

So now we’ve been creating different sorts of apps that have become…they’re interesting. So the number one app we have is targeted towards waking up early. So the device vibrates…It tracks your sleep. And it vibrates, beeps, or zaps to wake you up. If you set it to snooze lock, it’s pretty cool, actually. It vibrates to wake you up. And then you have about a minute to get out of bed and start doing jumping jacks. And if you don’t do the jumping jacks, then it releases the zap. So that one’s a really popular app we have.

Our second most popular app is the Chrome productivity extension. So this, like, syncs with your to-do list. It makes you start doing your to-do list items using Pomodoros. If you know what that is it’s, like, 20-minute work sessions towards your to-do’s. And it lets you set maximum levels of time you’ll spend on unhealthy or unproductive websites. So I can’t spend more than 20 minutes per hour on Facebook. If I do that, it will start to zap me every time I go on Facebook. If I spend more than five minutes per hour on Reddit, it does the same thing. So that’s our second most popular app after the Wake Up On Time alarm clock.

And, recently, I’ve been building lots of new ones and, next year, I can’t wait to release all the ones I’ve been working on. Every Tuesday night, I stay up really late and write an integration just for fun. So, like, last week I wrote one that…it uses Chrome’s API. A long story short, every time I curse, it zaps me in front of my computer, which is pretty cool. I don’t say curse words when I’m next to my computer because it knows. We integrated with a laser tag company. So if you’re playing laser tag and you get shot in the game, you get zapped, which makes it more of a real experience. And there’s, like, a lot of integrations like that. Slack for team chat has been pretty useful. At our company when someone does something really well, everybody vibrates their wrists. And we’ve seen that to be a really fun way to, like, add a new sensation of happiness for the team. So those are some examples.

Katie: Those are really cool. I don’t think all those existed when I first talked to you, but I love that. I’m going to look at the Chrome productivity one.

Maneesh: Yeah, Pavlok.com/productivity. And it’s kind of cool even without a device, so if you try it out even if you don’t have a device, it’s okay. It gives you maximum amounts, but it doesn’t zap you, obviously. It just shows you a Chrome notification time to get off this website.

And then the one that I think that we’re under-promoting is Pavlok Unlocked. And this, basically, lets you give access to somebody else like a friend or family member or the public, and it lets them send you messages and vibrations, beeps, or zaps, which is cool. If you’re, like, a couple, you can send vibrations throughout the day. If you go to Pavlok.com/zapmaneesh, you can zap me whenever you want. It’s a public link. Anybody can use it. So that sort of thing is pretty cool. You can send stimuli to your friends and family across the internet.

Katie: That’s funny. How often do you get zapped through that?

Maneesh: It’s basically every time somebody posts a podcast. I get, like, a lot of them.

Katie: Well, I apologize in advance for that.

Maneesh: It’s okay. It’s my fault, I think.

Katie: So what would you say is the most common use for Pavlok? Is it the smoking or the nail biting? What do people usually use it for?

Maneesh: It’s waking up early, followed by eating healthy, followed by smoking/nail biting. I’m sorry, followed by productivity, followed by smoking/nail biting.

Katie: Wow. Interesting. And does the waking up early, does that seem to last as much as, like, the sugar version would?

Maneesh: Yeah. So, you know, we’ve had a lot of users who only had to wear it for a week or two. And we got a lot of emails that said the same sentence, “I used to be a night owl, but now I’m a morning person.” And we found that a lot of people would naturally wake up a minute before their alarm clock would go off because the zap would wake them up in the morning. But I would say, like, that is less than 50% of our users who use the Pavlok for that purpose. Most people just use it as an alarm clock. So it actually tracks your sleep cycles. It gives you really cool data on how much deep sleep, how much light sleep, you’re in. And then it will wake you up with that vibration pattern. And that seems to be a pretty common use case of the app. People will wear it. It’s not about breaking the habit. It’s about an alarm clock.

Katie: Okay. That makes sense, because my next question was gonna be, so say you’re training yourself to wake up at 5:45 a.m. every morning, or to never eat chocolate cake again. Can you ever undo it? Like, if you decide you do want to eat chocolate cake or sleep till 8:00?

Maneesh: Yeah, of course. So this is something we try not to talk about too much because…well, no, there’s no reason for us to try to not talk about it. That’s just stupid. I’m thinking in my head. It’s like, long story short, if you subject yourself to any stimulus, it’s called extinction in psychology. So if you, for example, zap a rat whenever it goes left and you put food to the left, he’ll stop going there, right, but then if you wait an equivalent amount of time, the rat will finally start to go back that way because it wants the food. And it’s gonna test it out, sort of like the two-year-old. If you get it sick, if you punish it for going to eat the candy, after a while, depending on the strength of the punishment, they’ll go back and check and see if they’re gonna get in trouble again. So what you would do is, basically, give yourself candy until you…or give yourself chocolate.

But what’s really, really interesting is that you don’t want it anymore, and this is the weird part of it. It’s like, people always say, “I don’t want to quit eating cookies because I like cookies. I don’t want to stop liking cookies,” but once you stop liking cookies, you stop liking cookies. So you don’t want to go back to eating cookies because you’ve stopped liking cookies. And there’s no rational benefit to liking cookies, if that makes sense.

Katie: Yeah.

Maneesh: Now, if you subject yourself and you give yourself food, like, for you, if you eat Brie cheese and you make yourself eat Brie cheese and, particularly, if there’s Brie cheese around the house and your husband is eating it and pushing it upon you all the time, then you might start to like it again, but that’s beside the point. You shouldn’t want that. So yes, you can get over it, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Katie: Okay. That makes sense. What about some of the more obscure uses that people have? I’m thinking especially of…I think you told me that you used it to get a better sense of direction. Is that right?

Maneesh: Yeah. I didn’t use my device to get a better sense of direction. I used another device that we were modeling our Pavlok S-unit, our new version, off of. It’s not out yet, and I’m not sure how long it will take. I would expect it won’t be out until June. But long story short, that one has a magnetometer in it so it knows when you’re facing north. It gives you a slight vibration every time you face north so that your brain kind of registers which way north is. And I’ve seen a lot of people describe…not our product, but another product that is for blind people. I’ve seen sighted people wear that thing, and I’ve used it. And they describe it and I describe it as, like, Google Maps for the brain. Like, everyone knows that in Boston, South Station is that way – I’m pointing to the left – but not everybody knows that it’s that way, and I’m zig-zagging it. It, like, maps it out in your brain in a pretty cool way. But, again, that’s not what we do right now.

There are some other cool use cases for it. So I use it a lot because I have a crick in my neck, like, I’ve been sleeping on a bad pillow. And so, like, you know those electric TENS devices that massage your back? I use it all the time on the crick in my back. It really helps me stop that crick. So it kind of massages my back a lot. I use it a lot as a reminder, like, to get up and drink some water, which I really like. There’s some other ones that are a little bit not safe for work, so maybe I won’t tell you those ones, but there’s definitely a segment of users who use it for that.

And let’s see, what else are some really interesting use cases? Memory is a really common one, so zapping yourself while you learn someone’s name basically has…It’s really cool, I can’t even describe it. Was I with you? Yeah, it was the same conference, where I was at dinner and there were 30 people in a row, and I zapped myself for everyone’s name and then I got all their names right in a row. And I was like, “Whoa. I can’t believe that worked.”

Katie: Yeah, that was pretty amazing. You’re not quite to Jim Kwik’s level yet, but that was pretty amazing.

Maneesh: Yeah. I know. He does it because he’s naturally learned it. I’m like, “I will invent a tool to surpass you.” That’s my way. So memory’s a common one, too, yeah.

Katie: Okay, cool. So say if someone wanted to use it, like you just mentioned, to remember to drink water or to remember to do things throughout the day, could they do that, like, program it through the app or something, or how would they do that?

Maneesh: Yeah. So we have these habit reminders in the app, or you can integrate it with “If This, Then That”. And I basically send myself, just, like, double vibration patterns every hour to remind me to get up and drink some water. Next year, I really want to integrate with some of these Smart Water bottles.

Side note, not Pavlok-related whatsoever but, everybody on this podcast, just pause it right now and get up and drink a glass of water, because water is so freaking interesting. And, like, with our talks with the users and experiments we’ve been running, people can go a night without sleep and be as productive the next day, usually not more than one night, but you cannot go a day without water and be productive the next day. It just doesn’t happen. Water, like, 65%…water is often misconstrued as hunger. So if you’re ever feeling hungry but you don’t know what you want, especially…like, the way I do it is, if you’re hungry but you wouldn’t eat an apple, then you’re thirsty, almost always. And so, 65% of people are chronically dehydrated in America, and 65% of Americans are obese or overweight. So I don’t know. There might be some correlation there. Anyway, that’s just a side note.

I just got a really cool Smart water bottle that knows how many ounces of water I drink. It’s called Hydrate, and I cannot wait until they release an open API so I can integrate with them. It’s, like, really cool.

So back to what you asked me. You can just set it as, like, a reminder alarm device. I use it, as well, every 15 minutes. On the 15 minute on the hour, I use it with a slight, small zap. It doesn’t hurt. It feels like a tap on my wrist. And that reminds me to breathe and take a deep breath and live in the present and refocus my energy, so I use that a lot. And I also use Pavlok quite often during meditation. Whenever I catch myself off-focus or losing control of my breath, I’ll zap a couple times and that seems to quiet my lizard brain.

Katie: That’s fascinating. So I would guess even just having it buzz at you every 15 minutes would also help you be more aware of time, just because you’re being notified. And so that probably has made you more productive, also.

Maneesh: This is why I like taking it out so much on the bus. It’s like, “You’re thinking exactly what I’m thinking.” It’s like, time is so interesting because time passes so fast when you do the same activity. Whenever you’re in a habit mode, whenever you’re doing stuff that, like, you just don’t notice how time passes, it elongates…it shortens your life span, your perceptual life span. And I’ve been thinking about that a lot because whenever I’m focusing…You know, have you ever meditated, Katie?

Katie: Yeah. Absolutely.

Maneesh: I don’t know if you’re like this but, at least in the beginning, it takes so long. Like, two minutes is forever, right?

Katie: Yeah.

Maneesh: And that’s kind of cool because we get to live a longer perceptual life, right? And I notice that, like, if you train yourself to take a deep breath, live in the moment, and just look around you for a second, it’s like, you get a memory that wouldn’t have been there, had you not done that. And so…but Pavlok is part of this. It’s not, like, necessary, it’s just a reminder at this point. But the ability to, like, take a deep breath, look around you, and what happens in the brain is moving out of automatic mode in the back and towards the pre-frontal cortex awareness, bringing back awareness as much as you can, it helps you to live a longer life which, I think, is interesting.

I was doing some math yesterday, and I realized I’d been in Boston for almost four years now, three and a half years. And there was a study that did some math problem that could kind of identify how time speeds up as you get older. And the math, basically, said, “If I stay here until I’m 35, by the time I’m 35, I’ll be 50,” because it’s kind of weird. It’s like, experiences, they become kind of, like, attached to each other, but I was laughing because I’m like, “That doesn’t even make sense, but it does make sense. By the time I’m 35, I’ll be 50.”

Katie: Yeah. That’s really fascinating. That does make total sense. So what about exercise, because I think we talked about that little bit, and I’ve seen it in other things that you’ve written about people using it to encourage fitness or exercise. How does that work?

Maneesh: Well, so, I would say that this is not like…We’ve been playing around with this quite a bit, “Is it time for us to release the fitness product of Pavlok,” and we have not yet done it. You can use it to motivate yourself to get up but, you know, it’s not the core function of our current product. We have a product in design that’s called Pavlok Fit, and it knows how long you’ve been sitting down. If you haven’t stood up in a while, it starts to zap you and…but, like, currently, there’s a cool “If This, Then That” integration with your Fitbit or your Apple health kit where, if you haven’t hit X steps by X o’clock, so if you haven’t walked 5,000 steps by 3:00, it will zap you. And so we’ve seen people get up and walk a little bit more with that.

But yeah, I mean, fitness is a big one. One of my friends is a personal trainer and he uses it with his friends, like, with his coaches, coachees, where his clients…where, like, if their squat isn’t low enough, they get zapped. We released a fun one, a fun little one, for my friend who’s a CrossFit trainer, where it was like, “Everybody do 10 push-ups. If one person doesn’t do 10 push-ups, then everybody gets zapped.” So that was kind of cool. But, again, fitness is not our core competency. And I would wait, you know, next year, I think we’ll be better at fitness.

Katie: Okay. And I think the one, maybe, I’m remembering is the people would use the “”If This, Then That”” to integrate if they didn’t go to the gym.

Maneesh: Yeah, so you can…Yeah, sorry. So you can set location awareness and, if you’re not at the location, it can zap you but, again, it’s not fully developed. The best one that is fully developed is the Fitbit one. So if you have a Fitbit, you could actually attach the Pavlok to your Fitbit. It launches in January. We have a clip that clips onto your…any watch. So you can put it directly on any watch so you don’t have to wear two things. And that lets you, like, with the Fitbit specifically, if you haven’t walked enough steps by X o’clock, it will zap you.

Katie: That’s really cool, too. So if it can do it based on location, do you have anybody who uses it to learn to not be late, like if they’re not at work by a certain time or at a certain place by a certain time?

Maneesh: Yeah. We don’t have anything in production that does that, but we did have a hack-athon fairly recently where someone wrote this super cool project. Oh my God, it was so cool. So it was integrated with your Google calendar, right? And the Google calendar knew your location on the calendar. And it looked at your current location and the calendar location, and five minutes before you needed to leave in order to make it there on time it would vibrate your wrist. And then, if you hadn’t left by the time that you needed to leave in order to make it there on time, it would zap you once and it would send a text message to the other person on the invite saying, “Sorry, I’m running a few minutes late.” That was pretty cool.

Katie: That’s amazing.

Maneesh: Yeah. It’s not out in production but, I would say, you know, this year. We have a developer API so developers can write whatever they want, and I think we’ve been talking about so many ideas, it gets really confusing to people sometimes. But what we’ve been doing is focusing on how do we create a system that helps motivate people to do whatever they want themselves to do with very little chance of failure. Vibration, beep and zap is the first step, but now that we have a product that connects pretty well and it has a lot of users, we’ve been finding developers who are writing apps, just like your phones started off by just having phone and text and then had an app store, in the same way we’re developing out an app store for our product.

Katie: Awesome. Well, I’m excited to see what’s coming down the pipe for you guys next year. I want to switch a little bit before we finish up, and I’ll circle back to Pavlok but, also, on that bus ride, we talked a little bit about your family. And so, for all the moms who are listening, I would love it if you could talk about…because from what I know of your siblings, they’re all successful in whatever they’ve chosen to do. And, obviously, people have different definitions of success, but for those of us who are raising kids, what are some of the things that you feel like your parents did during your childhood that helped facilitate you guys choosing to be entrepreneurs or choosing these career paths?

Maneesh: Yeah. I have a lot of thoughts on this, and maybe they’re a little counter-intuitive. So I’m fairly sure that, like…so I think it’s a mixture of personality plus culture. So, my parents are first-generation immigrants. They came from India. They had an arranged marriage. My mom met my dad five days before they got married and then got on a plane to leave her country to live with a man she barely knew, and had no Skype or cell phone, right? So a totally different world that they come from. Dad still has a turban, all that stuff. And I think that, like, there’s a very common thing in America where, you know, you know how Asian cultures like often…So there’s a couple studies that show this, that people in college will say that Asian people are just smarter and, meanwhile, Asian people will say that they try harder. And I think that there’s this, like, very…and I know that you’re not…You’re in Australia, right?

Katie: No, I’m in the U.S.

Maneesh: You’re in the U.S.? Okay, sorry. I’m sorry. I mistook that. But there’s a very common thing in America where it’s like people are smart and you have an IQ, and that is how it is. It’s like a stable mindset. And you do things, and that’s who you are. Whereas, in my family, there was a consistent culture, and it was unstated, which is hard to explain, but it was unstated that you are the best, or you try your hardest. It’s not that you are the best. You try your hardest, no matter what it is. It was always about trying. And I think this is, like, that growth mindset versus fixed mindset. I never got rewarded for good grades. I always got told, “Well, you got an A. Why didn’t you get an A+? Why didn’t you try a little harder?” There was never, “Why aren’t you smarter?” It was, “Why didn’t you try harder?” And so that culture, I think, really reflected down on us.

Secondly, I think that, like, my siblings set off a chain reaction because, like I said, I’m severely ADHD. And so, if my sister hadn’t gotten into a good school and hadn’t become – she went to UC Berkeley – I think I would have turned out to be really bad, a really bad kid. I think I would have been, probably, you know, an addict of some variety. And instead, she did really well which caused my other sister to do really well. Then my brother [inaudible 00:45:07], I will introduce you to Rich, who some of your readers might know or some of your listeners might know of. You know, I grew up with him, and he was, like, my hero in a lot of ways, and so I was very inspired by him. And so, when he did well in college or in high school, I was gonna do well in the high school; that was just how it was. It’s funny because there was no decision to try hard. It was just how it was. I feel like, sometimes…I don’t think this is right or wrong, I just notice this happens. I think that Americans tend to be friends with their children. And I think if I were to have kids, I would be the same. And I’m really worried about that because I think being friends with your kids makes it so your kids don’t, you know, try as hard as they might, if you weren’t. And so, that’s what I think my parents did to me and for me.

Katie: Yeah. That’s really insightful. I think, maybe, that’s the conundrum of parenthood is you realize that it’s the hard experiences that really shape your children, but you also can’t, as a parent, make yourself give them those hard experiences. Like, you’re not gonna, you know, be mean to them just to give them hard experiences, but that makes total sense. And I actually can totally echo that culture of trying harder because I had the same way. It was never spoken out loud, but I had to make A+s, it was not optional. And it wasn’t like I got rewarded for it, that was expected.

Maneesh: I went to my friend’s house and he cursed at his parents, and I was like, “What just happened? You can’t do that,” but, like, that’s how it was. And I think that, like, you know, I’m not saying it’s good or bad. I’m just saying that person was not top of the class. That’s what I mean. And are you familiar with, like, personality types like Myers-Briggs and Enneagram?

Katie: Yeah.

Maneesh: Do you know of Enneagram, in particular?

Katie: Yeah. A little bit, yeah.

Maneesh: That one really was really insightful for me specifically. And this is probably too much information for me to talk about, but whatever. So my type is the same type as, like… It’s the second-lowest salary of all types because we tend to have a lot of ideas, but we never stick through with our ideas. It’s, like, a classic, you know, ADD case. And what the book told me was that it’s caused by a disconnect with the motherly figure where, like, I would tell my mom, “Hey, look at this cool project I made. Look at this cool song I learned how to play. Look at this cool book I wrote,” and she would say to me, “That’s great, but did you finish cleaning your room? Did you finish, like…” And so, every time I would try to impress her more, she would tell me in a disconnected way, did I do the thing that I didn’t care about more, and it became, like, a systematic back and forth that causes my Enneagram, my personality, to emerge where, suddenly, the ideas I have are so crazy only because I could not connect with my mom, if that make sense?

Katie: Yeah.

Maneesh: So I’ve been thinking about that a lot because, like, I’ve been looking at the types, and the ones that are coddled and the ones that are super loved by their parents are not the ones I want my children to be. And I don’t know how to deal with that, because if I were to have kids, it’s like, can I possibly spend 18 years being not friends with my kids because I know it’s good for them? I don’t know if that’s, like, how I could possibly pull it off, but that’s…it’s been very interesting to me to see that happen.

Katie: That is interesting. Would you say you’re, like, more on the friendship level with your parents as adults or does that dynamic stay?

Maneesh: I’m definitely on more of a friendship level with my parents, but there’s still the same dynamic. I think the dynamic is a lot clearer with, like, my brother more than anybody of, like, older teacher, mentor. And with my mom, it’s like, it’s still the same, but I think she continues… Like, now she understands that I’m not doing that bad. If I were doing really bad, it would be a different conversation, but I think…because she can’t possibly understand who I am, she can’t possibly understand what I do, but I think that she gets the fact that I’m doing something cool. But she does also call me often and say, “You know, Maneesh, there’s still time for you to become a doctor,” so…yeah.

Katie: Well, if the culture’s really strong in your family, do you get the pressure to, like, get married and have kids, or does the fact that your sisters did that kind of take the pressure off?

Maneesh: I think the fact that my brother hasn’t done it has taken the pressure off.

Katie: Oh, funny.

Maneesh: Yeah. So, yeah, I mean, but definitely, my sisters got a lot of that problem. So it was really, really tough.

Katie: I bet.

Maneesh: Yeah, definitely.

Katie: And, like, the fact that that dynamic with your mom made that express in your personality, I would guess your siblings, with different innate personalities, it did different things to them. Would you agree with that or…?

Maneesh: Absolutely. And I think personality…like, people always ask me, like, “What book would you recommend, and what would you want to teach yourself if you could go back in time?” And the thing I always say, so many times, is personality types. And, like, for everybody out there who doesn’t believe in personality types, I completely agree with you. It is, obviously, not real. There’s not 16 types of people, right? But if you ask anybody four questions, they’re gonna give you four answers and, if you draw those on a grid, you’re gonna make 16 boxes. And some people are gonna be in the center of those boxes, and some people will be on the edges of those boxes. And Myers-Briggs chose four pretty good questions. And I probably don’t have enough time to go too deep into this but, basically it gives you kind of a common vernacular and a common type of person that…and especially with the internet, there is these forums and groups of people who are, like, in the same general area.

Some people are finishers. Some people are starters. Some people are introverts and some people are extroverts. And if you find the combination of those people and you find the box closest to you, you find out that a lot of things that you consider bad about yourself, for example, me with my ADHD…I consider it a disorder, and every time I did well on a school test I would have this gigantic imposter syndrome where, how did I do well on a test, even though I can’t get myself to sit down and study, no matter what I try to do, wasted time on Reddit and Facebook until the last 30 minutes and then, somehow, absorbed the information really rapidly. And I saw that it was because of my personality type. My type tends to just start stuff and learn fast. And we’re not good at execution, but we are, by far, the most creative and inventor type. And the secret to my success is not going to be by fixing my flaws but, instead, surrounding myself with people who do those flaws as their strengths. So when I saw that, I realized that ADHD is not a disorder but, instead, it’s a super power, and that you can use it in a really powerful ways that, just, the world won’t understand.

Katie: That’s really cool. I will say from the mom’s perspective, too, because I feel like there is this little bit of a mindset of, like, you have all these kids with different, totally different, personalities. So even if you get the parenthood thing down pretty good for half of them, it’s gonna screw the other half up. And so, I agree with you. I don’t think there’s any…there’s no just 16 personalities, but I think it gives you a good kind of general picture of things about their personality. It’s not gonna be the intricacies of what makes them them, but it’s some good general information. And so, I’ve done it with my older kids, the Myers-Briggs, and it was really interesting because I have one son who I’m just like, “Man, he always seems so quiet and detached,” and in my personality, I’m like, “Am I offending him? Am I not attaching enough with him? Am I not giving him enough attention?” And his personality is the logician, who is, like, Albert Einstein’s personality type, and they thrive on quiet detachment and doing projects on their own and that kind of thing. So it just helps because now I can give him the space to do that and not feel guilty that I’m not…

Maneesh: Is he an INTP?

Katie: Yes.

Maneesh: That’s interesting. Yeah, those are cool people. They’re very, very interesting. That’s awesome.

Katie: So that’s really helpful. I love that perspective, because I feel like we had such a good conversation on that bus and I was really curious what the family dynamic was growing up. And, obviously, that’s very pertinent for me right now, raising kids and trying to do the best job I can at that.

Maneesh: Katie, did you say you were an INTJ?

Katie: Depending on the day I take it, I’m either an INTJ or an ISTJ.

Maneesh: Cool, yeah, because INTJ and me are a perfect match. So maybe that’s why we connect so much on the phone calls. I like it. It’s funny.

Katie: Awesome. Yeah.

Maneesh: It’s really interesting. I mean, again, it’s not real. It’s just a model, and you can model anything. I find that people who just, like, blatantly disregard it because they say it’s not real, they don’t understand that it’s just a tool. Just like Pavlok, it’s not a solution, it’s not the end-all, be-all. There’s not 16 people who are ants. It’s just a really powerful method to learn about who you are and, if you disregard that, you’re making a big mistake.

There’s a book I can recommend to people called “The Art of Speed Reading People”, and it teaches you how to identify others’ personality types. So it’s mostly for, like, business and relationships, but I’ve found that to be really powerful for my own understanding who I was.

Katie: I’m gonna link to that because that might also help with trying to identify family members and what they are and how to interact with them well, too.

Maneesh: Yeah. It’s cool. It’s a cool trick. I use it for hiring. Don’t tell my employees.

Katie: It sounds awesome. So I want to circle back because I said we’d come back to Pavlok. Anyone who’s interested, where do they find you? How do they get one? And how do they get started?

Maneesh: I’m gonna set up a special link for you at pavlok.com/wellnessmama. So we’ll give you, like, a little, cool guide and a discount. And the product is called Pavlok, P-A-V-L-O-K. It’s P-A-V-L-O-K, no C, and that’s how you can find it. Opt in for the email list, if you’re interested. I think that there’s really cool information.

And one of the coolest things that I think I’m really excited about is the fact that I finally circled my entire team and got us all to be convinced that it’s not about money, it’s about change, because we truly believe that the number of people whose habits we change are gonna be far more relevant than the number of dollars we make. And so, to us, that means that we’ve created, like, a six-month money-back guarantee where you can try the product, use it to break your bad habit – most people break their bad habit in the first month – and even if it works and even if you break your bad habit, we’ll gladly take the device back for a full refund. All we ask is that you let us know if it worked for you. And so, I’m really happy because I think mothers and recent mothers will get a lot of value out of it. And I’m really excited to kind of meet your community as well.

Katie: Awesome. I’m gonna try it for the waking up because…

Maneesh: Cool.

Katie: I’m curious. I’ve always been a “night owl.” So we’ll see what happens.

Maneesh: See what happens. Awesome. Yeah, so pavlok.com/wellnessmama.

Katie: Perfect. And I’ll put a link to that in the show notes as well, to the book that you mentioned and some of the apps that you mentioned so people can find those as well. And I cannot believe it’s already been an hour. This conversation…

Maneesh: I know.

Katie: Has flown by.

Maneesh: All right.

Katie: But I want to respect your time.

Maneesh: I think there’s a lot more we could talk about but, like, yeah, definitely, thank you so much for letting me join you on this podcast.

Katie: Absolutely. And when all these new programs come out, maybe we’ll have to do a round two and talk about how those are working.

Maneesh: I’m in.

Katie: Awesome. Have a great night, Maneesh. Thanks so much for being here and for your time.



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