How Transformative Tech Can Revolutionize Behavior Change

Whether you're hatching "new-you" resolutions or need to end a bad habit, there's a world of transformative wellness tech at your fingertips. Though some of it may shock you – literally.

Nichol Bradford: People often ask me what I think the limitations are for transformative technology. And I would say that I don’t think anything replaces sitting down one-on-one with someone that you love or care about. There’s nothing that replaces that. But we don’t live in an only one thing world. I really believe in having a suite of tools that we use. And so when you can’t be one-on-one with your loved one and you are forced to be at distance then to have things that support you in that. And in terms of other limitations I think a lot of the limitations are really our imagination because it’s out of our imaginations that we develop products. It isn’t really a coincidence that the first flip phones look like the communicators on Star Trek. Like that’s not a coincidence. It was sort of set and then we worked to make it so. And so I think with transformative technology or any technology really it’s being of the mindset that there won’t be one way and there shouldn’t be one input. So we should always prioritize real live interactions with other people. We should prioritize having healthy spaces and cities where people can connect and collide. We should have spaces where people of different backgrounds and socioeconomic levels come together so we don’t have stratified experiences.

Because part of growing up and becoming an adult is being exposed to a lot of different things. So we should have those too. And then we should also have technology that helps us work on the things that we’re working on. There’s one device that I particularly love. I’m really interested in behavior change. I’m really interested in behavior change because it’s really quite hard and there’s been a couple of studies that have come out on human willpower. And our willpower actually isn’t that strong. And so there’s two products that work on behavior change that I’ve been tracking. One uses affirmation and the other one uses cessation as a tool. So the cessation one is called Pavlok and it shocks you when you do something that you don’t want to do. So it’s a slight electrical shock but it shocks you nonetheless. And you can sort of amp it up if you want to. Right now there are some things that it can tell that you’re doing so you can put in a list of websites. So if you have a Facebook addiction and you want to get off that every time you go to Facebook the wearable which you wear on your wrist can shock you. Or they’ve really been helping people with porn addictions because there’s basically like ten words that matter and you can put all of those in the app and every time you go to a website with those words in it then you get shocked.

And they’re actually really helping people because if that’s a problem for you it’s a real problem. And so people need to have things that help them change the behaviors that they want to. The flip side of that is another device called Moti which I just love it. It’s this little ball that sits on your desk and it’s got a little face on it. And every time you do something that you want to do you touch it and it sort of – it blinks and vibrates and it coos. And it sounds like a really silly thing. You’re like why would you do that. But it turns out that our inner mind, our monkey mind, the lizard brain loves that. We just love it. And so every time you do something that you want to do, every time you go to bed early or you get up and go and exercise you touch it and it can track your – you tell it what you’re tracking and so you can accumulate rewards for your positive change. But you get this sort of physical sound reinforcement that oh, that was good. And in both cases they’re finding that they’re helping people change behaviors that people thought they couldn’t change. And so that’s a really great example of yes, there are limitations to technologies of any kind but there’s also so many great ways it can help people with private and personal goals that they have.

Willow Group, a company that aims to leverage technology to bring people peace of mind, is led by CEO Nichol Bradford. She is the first to admit that nothing replaces human connection, but the other side of the coin is that we don’t live in an all-or-nothing world; there can be a suite of tools to help people cope in their lives. If your loved ones can support you in breaking a bad habit, for example, that’s excellent. You could meditate and read to expand your understanding of what’s beneath your bad habit. Or, another tool in the box is the Pavlock.


What’s that? The Pavlock is an example of transformative technology that are coming into the market to help improve people’s lives. It’s a bracelet or cuff you wear, you can select a bad habit you want to break, and when you engage in that bad habit, the Pavlock will… electric shock you. It sounds like a gimmick, but this device works on our reptilian brains, creating an aversion that becomes associated with the habit you want to quit. There’s also a toned-down vibration setting that can promote awareness and mindfulness without all the voltage.

The Pavlock is a great example of transformative tech because it has a counterpart that helps you reach the same goal by a very different road. If the Pavlock is disciplinary, the MOTI works on positive incentives. It’s a small device that sits on your desk or table, and every time you engage in a good behavior you’d like to do more of, you touch it and it blinks colors, vibrates and coos. That’s pretty strange, but it turns out that on a deep level, humans love it. If you’re going to bed early, going for a short run, cooking dinner instead of getting take out, you press it for reinforcement, and it accumulates rewards for your positive action.

In transformative tech, the limit is our imagination, and in remembering that you choose your level of involvement. Nothing beats human connection, but a few science-backed bots can be empowering in achieving your personal and professional goals.

Nichol Bradford is the author of The Sisterhood.

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Kosovo land swap could end conflict - or restart war

Best case: redrawing borders leads to peace, prosperity and EU membership. But there's also a worst case

Image: SRF
Strange Maps
  • The Yugoslav Wars started in 1991, but never really ended
  • Kosovo and Serbia are still enemies, and they're getting worse
  • A proposed land swap could create peace - or reignite the conflict

The death of Old Yugoslavia

Image: public domain

United Yugoslavia on a CIA map from 1990.

Wars are harder to finish than to start. Take for instance the Yugoslav Wars, which raged through most of the 1990s.

The first shot was fired at 2.30 pm on June 27th, 1991, when an officer in the Yugoslav People's Army took aim at Slovenian separatists. When the YPA retreated on July 7th, Slovenia was the first of Yugoslavia's republics to have won its independence.

After the wars

Image: Ijanderson977, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Map of former Yugoslavia in 2008, when Kosovo declared its independence. The geopolitical situation remains the same today.

The Ten-Day War cost less than 100 casualties. The other wars – in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo (1) – lasted much longer and were a lot bloodier. By early 1999, when NATO had forced Serbia to concede defeat in Kosovo, close to 140,000 people had been killed and four million civilians displaced.

So when was the last shot fired? Perhaps it never was: it's debatable whether the Yugoslav Wars are actually over. That's because Kosovo is a special case. Although inhabited by an overwhelming ethnic-Albanian majority, Kosovo is of extreme historical and symbolic significance for Serbians. More importantly, from a legalistic point of view: Kosovo was never a separate republic within Yugoslavia but rather a (nominally) autonomous province within Serbia.

Kosovo divides the world

Image: public domain

In red: states that have recognised the independence of Kosovo (most EU member states – with the notable exceptions of Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia; and the U.S., Japan, Turkey and Egypt, among many others). In blue: states that continue to recognise Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo (most notably Russia and China, but also other major countries such as India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Iran).

The government of Serbia has made its peace and established diplomatic relations with all other former Yugoslav countries, but not with Kosovo. In Serbian eyes, Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 was a unilateral and therefore legally invalid change of state borders. Belgrade officially still considers Kosovo a 'renegade province', and it has a lot of international support for that position (2). Not just from its historical protector Russia, but also from other states that face separatist movements (e.g. Spain and India).

Despite their current conflict, Kosovo and Serbia have the same long-term objective: membership of the European Union. Ironically, that wish could lead to Yugoslav reunification some years down the road – within the EU. Slovenia and Croatia have already joined, and all other ex-Yugoslav states would like to follow their example. Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have already submitted an official application. The EU considers Bosnia and Kosovo 'potential candidates'.

Kosovo is the main stumbling block on Serbia's road to EU membership. Even after the end of hostilities, skirmishes continued between the ethnically Albanian majority and the ethnically Serbian minority within Kosovo, and vice versa in Serbian territories directly adjacent. Tensions are dormant at best. A renewed outbreak of armed conflict is not unthinkable.

Land for peace?

Image: BBC

Mitrovica isn't the only area majority-Serb area in Kosovo, but the others are enclaved and fear being abandoned in a land swap.

In fact, relations between Kosovo and Serbia have deteriorated spectacularly in the past few months. At the end of November, Kosovo was refused membership of Interpol, mainly on the insistence of Serbia. In retaliation, Kosovo imposed a 100% tariff on all imports from Serbia. After which Serbia's prime minister Ana Brnabic refused to exclude her country's "option" to intervene militarily in Kosovo. Upon which Kosovo's government decided to start setting up its own army – despite its prohibition to do so as one of the conditions of its continued NATO-protected independence.

The protracted death of Yugoslavia will be over only when this simmering conflict is finally resolved. The best way to do that, politicians on both sides have suggested, is for the borders reflect the ethnic makeup of the frontier between Kosovo and Serbia.

The biggest and most obvious pieces of the puzzle are the Serbian-majority district of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, and the Albanian-majority Presevo Valley, in southwestern Serbia. That land swap was suggested previous summer by no less than Hashim Thaci and Aleksandar Vucic, presidents of Kosovo and Serbia respectively. Best-case scenario: that would eliminate the main obstacle to mutual recognition, joint EU membership and future prosperity.

If others can do it...

Image: Ruland Kolen

Belgium and the Netherlands recently adjusted out their common border to conform to the straightened Meuse River.

Sceptics - and more than a few locals - warn that there also is a worst-case scenario: the swap could rekindle animosities and restart the war. A deal along those lines would almost certainly exclude six Serbian-majority municipalities enclaved deep within Kosovo. While Serbian Mitrovica, which borders Serbia proper, is home to some 40,000 inhabitants, those enclaves represent a further 80,000 ethnic Serbs – who fear being totally abandoned in a land swap, and eventually forced out of their homes.

Western powers, which sponsored Kosovo's independence, are divided over the plan. U.S. officials back the idea, as do some within the EU. But the Germans are against – they are concerned about the plan's potential to fire up regional tensions rather than eliminate them.

Borders are the Holy Grail of modern nationhood. Countries consider their borders inviolate and unchanging. Nevertheless, land swaps are not unheard of. Quite recently, Belgium and the Netherlands exchanged territories so their joint border would again match up with the straightened course of the River Meuse (3). But those bits of land were tiny and uninhabited. And as the past has amply shown, borders pack a lot more baggage in the Balkans.

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