Retraining Your Brain With a Zap

How far would you go to make sure this is the year you finally quit smoking or lose weight?

After years of trying, Sherylene Lovejoy is hoping to finally kick her smoking habit. 

“I want to quit for health reasons. I’m sick of coughing,” Lovejoy says.

“I want to quit financially. You know it’s eight bucks a pack, I’m smoking a pack a day and eight times seven is fifty six. That’s 56 bucks a week.” 

Lovejoy is trying out the Pavlok unit, a $150 wearable device that is supposed to change behavior with a mild electric zap. 

Lovejoy tried it out and describes the zap as a little electrical shock or a pin prick.

“I just have to sync it up with my app now and we’re going to start it today.” 

Pavlok’s creator claims your brain will then associate that not-so-pleasant feeling with your habit, creating an aversion to it. 

Think of it like a dog learning to stay within the bounds of an electric fence.

You can zap yourself or use hand detection mode. I tried it out and it felt like a little jolt. 

Maneesh Sethi, the CEO and founder of Pavlok, says when you want to knock yourself out of automatic mode, a few zaps will help you stop desiring it. 

“If you are at a dinner party and you want to reduce your cravings or resist the cookies, a few zaps will make cravings go away” Sethi says. 

The company started in Boston in 2013 and claims tens of thousands of habits have been broken with Pavlok. 

Negative stimulus is one option, but psychologist Robin Deutsch says positve replacement may work just as well for your New Year’s resolutions. 

Deutsch says if you want to stop eating sweets, every time you have that craving for sugar, make your favorite tea. 

“You can have a pairing of positive stimulus with a negative behavior.” 

To be successful, Deutsch says you should set small achievable goals.

- Get support, like a workout buddy at the gym.

- Go slow and don't try to change everything at once.

- Check on your progress so you think of it as moving toward a goal, as opposed to being perfect in achieving your goal.

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