After Erin Hiscock’s mother and brother passed away, she resolved to tackle her own weight problem. “I was maybe 310 pounds at my heaviest and severely addicted to sugar,” she says. “Instead of a normal meal, I’d just eat carbs, sugar, nothing nutritious.”
Hiscock, a 35-year insurance agent in Virginia, didn’t turn to diet books, Weight Watchers, or even hypnotherapy, though. Instead, she bought a Pavlok. Like a Fitbit in a foul mood, the Pavlok wristband delivers a sharp, harmless shock on demand when the user presses a button on the device or in a smartphone app. “Any time I had sugar cravings, I would shock myself,” she says, “like when I was eating chocolate.”
That was 18 months ago, and Hiscock has since lost almost half her body weight under Pavlok’s stinging gaze.
She became such a believer that she now wears three devices simultaneously, 24 hours a day, and relies on Pavlok to do more than just monitor her food intake. “I have very bad sleep patterns—I’ve actually fallen asleep behind the wheel,” Hiscock explains. “A normal alarm clock wasn’t helping me wake up each morning, as I’d sleep through it. But Pavlok gets me to work on time and helps me stay awake during the day.”
It’s a simple gadget: a silicone wristband that syncs with a smartphone app via Bluetooth and can be charged with a USB cable, like a typical wearable (it costs $179). It’s the brainchild of Californian entrepreneur Maneesh Sethi.
Of course, using technology to retrain ourselves isn’t novel—countless apps, from Headspace to HabitBull, promise to curtail or curb bad habits. It’s a far bigger commitment to invest in hardware to hardwire new behaviour into the brain. Along with Pavlok, there’s Re-Vibe ($99.95), a kid-aimed wristband akin to digital Ritalin that’s meant to help children stay on task and better learn routines through a series of vibrating reminders and cues.
The Keen bracelet (from $149), from startup HabitAware, grew out of founder Aneela Idnani Kumar’s two-decade struggle with trichotillomania, a disorder where sufferers distractedly pull out their own eyebrows and lashes.
Upright Go ($99.95) and Lumo Lift ($99.99) both promise to improve posture.
Users are trained to sit upright by wearing an app-paired gadget, which warns them with a buzz if they begin slouching.