in: Character, Habits, Podcast

• Last updated: September 27, 2021

Art of Manliness Podcast #84: Shock Yourself Into New Habits With Maneesh Sethi

Maneesh Sethi is the founder of Hack the System and most recently the creator of Pavlok, a wearable device that helps you make and break habits. One of Pavlok’s features is that it mildly shocks you if you’re taking part in a habit that you’re trying to break (like visiting a time-wasting website) or not doing a habit you should be doing (like going to the gym). In today’s podcast I talk to Maneesh about the science of habit formation and the power of punishment to help motivate you to make and break habits.

Show Highlights:

  • What the research says on the best way to form habits
  • The power of punishment to motivate you to make and break habits
  • How Maneesh discovered the productivity-boosting power of punishment after he hired a woman from Craigslist to slap him every time he visited a time-wasting website.
  • The importance of micro-habits in habit formation
  • The role social pressure and shame plays in habit formation
  • The differences between men and women in what motivates making and breaking habits
  • How Pavlok uses both punishments and rewards to help people form any habit they want
  • And much more!

If you’d like more information about Pavlok and for a free ebook on habit formation, visit

Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. So we’ve written about habits a lot on the website. We’ve had experts on habits on the podcast before and the reason why I talk about habits so much because I’m a big believer that forming good habits and breaking those bad ones is an interval law in becoming the man who you want to be, the person who you want to be. Because the more you can offload, right, those things you are supposed to do and make them go on autopilot because of habit formation, the better you are to freeze up that mental ramp space for more important things, more high level things. So I brought on today’s guest and he is Maneesh Sethi. He is the founder of a new company called Pavlok. And what Pavlok is we’ll talk about in more detail in the podcast but it’s a wearable device that’s connected to an app that’s designed to help you form good habits and break bad ones. And one of the ways it does that is that wearable devices shocks you. So it’s kind of wicked but it’s pretty cool. Anyways in this podcast we’re going to talk about what the research says the best way to form habits are and one thing that Maneesh emphasizes is that a lot of people who write about habits don’t really talk about is the power of the stick, or the power of punishment and helping us get motivated to do things we’re supposed to do and stop doing things we’re supposed to. A lot of times, the advice about habit formation is all about the rewards, first your self-rewarding rewards and the form that habit which is an important part but the stick is also, I think it can also be very powerful. We’re going to talk about the role that social pressure plays in habit formation. We’re going to talk about the power of micro-habits and we’re going to talk about the differences between men and women and how they form and break habits. So it’s a really fascinating discussion and then we’ll talk about Pavlok because it’s pretty cool. Looking forward to see how that shapes out. Anyway it’s a great podcast, so let’s do this.

Maneesh Sethi, welcome to the show.

Maneesh Sethi: Hi.

Brett McKay: Alright, so give us a little bit of background on yourself for those who want to know. You got a blog called Hack the System where you write about life hacking, productivity hacking, hacking habits. What’s you’re focus on with your website and your work?

Maneesh Sethi: Yeah the irony is that if you are not focused and those kind of what happened, that’s been like my background. I was always been very, very good at coming up with ideas, but been very bad at focusing and so my background started with this website Hack the System, which involved multitude of different hacks, unfocussed, but pretty good content in my opinion. Things like travel hacking game for plane tickets, things like productivity hacking, how to get, how to improve your productivity instantly. Social hacking how to become a famous DJ but then lots of stuff about breaking into new environments and improving yourself. But it was all focused on kind of, the main focus was travel and how to do things with yourself. Like hack your body while you travel was the main focus. And I noticed, the real thing about it was that the more I traveled the horror it was to actually focus on anything and that’s why we started doing this productivity hacks which we can park around Hack the System, trying to identify what makes people and particularly myself become focused. That’s what our Hack the System is all about.

Brett McKay: Alright, so this naturally brought you to start focusing on habits like what gets people to do good habits and how can you break bad habits. Is that…?

Maneesh Sethi: Yeah what happened was as like as I was traveling I was trying to do more but the irony is that – I am extremely ADD that’s obvious, it’s open. And for someone like me moving to a new city and traveling is beautiful but it’s extremely difficult to keep any sort of routine or any sort of focus. So when I started doing these productivity hacks, I started to see what would work, what can I do in a new city, what can I do anywhere in the world that, regardless of where I was, would help contain my ADDness and help me execute. My most well-known example was when I hired a girl who was jobless to sit down next to me and every time I used Facebook she slapped me in the face, told her why I hired her was to slap me in the face or something and I wrote an article about this because I tracked my productivity during this time and usually I am 28% productive. That means 28% of my time is spent in productive apps or on productive websites.

Brett McKay: How do you measure that?

Maneesh Sethi: I use a website called RescueTime which knows what apps you are in and websites and then it comes with the calculation based on what other users have voted that site to be, how productive it is.

Brett McKay: Okay.

Maneesh Sethi: So I noticed that when she was with me my productivity skyrocketed to 98% and I found it really interesting. Because the act of having a girl sit down next to me and every time I used Facebook she slapped me in the face, was motivational from two different aspects. First of all, the fear of the slap motivated me. But also she was kind of an accountability buddy. Like when I wanted to write an article, one of my assignments was to write a guest post for someone and I asked her to like, Hey could you look up an image while I’m typing out this article? How does this paragraph sound? And I found that by having the fear of her hitting me if I was bad and the benefit of having a friend to work on a project with me, like an accountability partner, I have managed to skyrocket my productivity as long as she was with me.

Brett McKay: That’s awesome. I want to get more into detail about the negative reinforcement here in a bit, but based on your research, what does the research say on the best way to form or break habits?

Maneesh Sethi: Sure. The research has shown that the best way to form habits is, I mean, you did make a lot of posts about it, is a huge award system is really powerful for forming good habits. I have some side analyses that use more physiological information that I’m happy to talk about, it’s really interesting.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I’d love to hear that.

Maneesh Sethi: But, yeah, so if you are not familiar with like the child’s reward method, I think we should talk, take a second and define what a habit is.

Brett McKay: Okay.

Maneesh Sethi: A habit is when a trigger, when something triggers you, be it an internal sensation or like a, or an external trigger, like a notification on your phone. When this trigger causes your brain to go into an automatic mode. So, for example, as soon as you get into your bathroom in the morning, the trigger of walking into the bathroom causes you to reach through your toothpaste and automatically put the toothpaste on and automatically start brushing your teeth in almost the same way every day. When your brain experiences this trigger in the same context it goes into this automatic mode where essentially your prefrontal cortex stops activating, your thought process stops activating and you just go into this basically being a habit motion where you just do what you’ve always done. That’s what a habit is. So the research has found that the best way to change a habit is by identify, or I’m sorry, to form a habit is to identify what trigger is going to form this habit and you can, depending on how it is, it should be easy like a trigger that’s automatic in your day and it’s very, very easy to do the action. So I’ll explain that. If you want to go to the gym, for example, you might make the trigger – after I leave my house, on my way to work, I will walk by my gym, because already I’m a great example that trigger of seeing the gym will be my trigger. Now the next step is the routine. So the cue or trigger or reminder are all the same, that’s just, they are just synonyms.

The next step is the routine. So that’s the action you want to do. The action of exercising at the gym and then the third step is the reward. It often starts off with an external reward. Like if I go to the gym I’ll get a cookie or I go to the gym I’ll earn money and it eventually becomes and it’s most powerful when it’s an internal reward. I want to go to the gym because I want to feel good. The science has shown that if you can identify a trigger that you can constantly do every day, you continue to go and do the routine and you reward yourself somehow that the habit, will after 30, I’m sorry, after 22 or 84 days average 66 days the habit will become formed in your brain to the point where it requires more willpower to not do the action than to do the action. When that happens then the habit is a habit. It has actually become so encompassed in your brain, you can’t not do it.

Brett McKay: What role does a dopamine play in it? I know that that plays a big role in habit forming or it, does it not?

Maneesh Sethi: I don’t want to answer what I’m not 100% sure about. My thinking is that dopamine acts as a reward. It acts as a reward pathway so when you experience, like the rush of success you can activate a dopamine pathway. But I don’t want to, I want to be sure.

Brett McKay: Sure. Okay. So okay that’s how you form habits. But how do you, what does the research say on breaking habits? Like what do you do?

Maneesh Sethi: Sure and so this is where I differ from the masses.

Brett McKay: Okay.

Maneesh Sethi: People have shown, I mean, if you read through all these books, you read a lot of books, they say continuously there is only, the only way to break a bad habit is to substitute, to change the habit. You can never break a habit but you change it. So every time that you get up to smoke a cigarette, if you start the trigger is around 3:00 pm the action is I go outside and smoke a cigarette and the reward is the burst of chemicals that are pleasure from the nicotine. If you wanted to change that habit you would start off by identifying the trigger which is about 3:00 pm; you would change the routine so instead of going to smoke a cigarette you might take a walk in the park instead. A lot of smokers tend to replace it with an oral fixation of eating. So they will go and eat a sandwich rather than smoking the cigarette. And the reward is whatever the reward is. If it’s for smoking a lot of times the reward is based on the act of going out and actually taking a break from work, that’s the reward. So the walk might satisfy that. It sometimes is the act of putting something in your mouth, eating might satisfy that. So that the research has said that if you identify the trigger you substitute routine and you attempt to keep the same reward or similar reward, after a while you’ll just start doing the proper action. Now there is another type of conditioning that’s been shown in scientific textbooks and with animals work called the Pavlovian Conditioning and I can judge whether this is the system, the best type of conditioning to break bad habits at source in the deep recesses of the brain. And so this is where my product Pavlok, my company comes from. It’s similar to having a girl slap you every time you go on Facebook but instead of being a girl slapping you, use a wristband that shocks you which I use when I’m on Facebook, right and essentially Pavlovian Conditioning for most people if you are not familiar, it’s from Pavlov, Ivan Pavlov, who had Pavlov’s dogs. He noticed that when he showed them meat at the same time as ringing a bell that they would start to associate the idea of the bell with the visual chew of the meat and they will start to salivate even if you removed the meat. They will just get ready for lunch even when you start ringing the bell. Kind of like when your cat, if you like, turn on the food dispenser the cat rushes over even if he hasn’t seen the tuna. He is associated to stimulate together. What we found is that if you start to add a negative punishment, I mean negative stimulus and you add that to the moment you do an action, and this is important, the moment you do an action, like you are not a little bit later but instantaneously, your brain will start to confuse the signals and it starts to sync that the act of the bad habit is causing the negative stimulus. So it starts to stop doing that negative action in the first place. So let’s look at a good example of this. If you have your mother over you when you are a kid and every time you are trying to put the dishes away she reminds you, Hey put it away this way. No that goes there. No that goes there. After a while you will start to put it where it supposed to go because each time it shapes the way you make your motion. On the other hand, if you go to Taco Bell it tastes great tonight, it feels horrible tomorrow morning because those are so distant apart. You know from a human rational perspective that the Taco Bell is causing sickness, but you don’t. Your brain, your head and brain doesn’t associate those two so it won’t break the habit. Now experimentation has been done with alcohol and tobacco where they will associate a shock or a chemical that makes you vomit instantly. At the moment of the cigarette smoke or the moment of drinking alcohol you begin to get sick and that has extremely, extremely high success rates on breaking the habits of alcoholism, tobacco or cigarette addiction.

Brett McKay: Isn’t there some sort of like drug to overcome tobacco addiction that makes you nauseous?

Maneesh Sethi: Yeah.

Brett McKay: I think I have a friend that took that like he just felt sick. Every time like he smoked a cigarette he got sick and then he just like he just stopped smoking because he was tired of feeling sick.

Maneesh Sethi: Exactly, exactly. There’s actually a treatment center called the Schick Shadel Treatment Center that does aversion therapy, this kind of therapy. And they did a study where they took a bunch of people who were addicted to cigarette-smoking for many years and their treatment method is, a couple of weeks, a few weeks for about half an hour or so a day they’ll smoke a cigarette, a bunch of cigarettes in a chamber and every time they put cigarette to their lips the doctor shocks them; every time they – then they look at some cigarettes and will get shocked, every time they– and they’ll essentially train them with this over a period of a few weeks to administer shocks and then they actually go home and self-administer shocks for a few weeks for those smoking cigarettes and shock themselves and the treatment group had a greater than 50% quitting cigarette smoker rate after a year. So a year later less than half of the people had smoked a second cigarette which is higher than any form of smoking cessation therapy in the world including nicotine patches or cold turkey or a meditation. Nothing at all has been as effective as aversion therapy for cigarette addiction.

Brett McKay: Very interesting. So yeah I mean that’s what I said. So yeah you’re right – like the literature on habit formation, that always focused on like rewarding yourself right like whenever you read a blog or books like you know go to the gym and if you go to the gym, you know, give yourself a cookie or something like that at the end of the week but you seem to focus on the stick aspect of habit formation. I mean why are sticks so effective, right? I mean if I may guess because it feels bad, I mean is that the effectiveness because we don’t like feeling bad so we will do it if we can to avoid feeling bad, is that the power of the stick?

Maneesh Sethi: The power of the stick comes from your brain, essentially. It’s the part of the brain that’s ignited when the action occurs. So I want to give you an example, Brett. Would you run a marathon today?

Brett McKay: I would not.

Maneesh Sethi: If I said, “Hey I have your wife and kids and I’ll only give them back to you if you run a marathon today”, would you run a marathon?

Brett McKay: I would indeed run a marathon at that point.

Maneesh Sethi: Yes. In fact if I said something as simple as, “Hey, Brett I have $50 of yours and I’ll only give it back to you if you run a marathon”, you’re infinitely more likely to do it for that fear of losing the $50 than not the fear of missing out, the fear of losing what you already have motivates your ape brain. The act of potentially winning a reward activates your human brain. The trick is to identify how those work and how to best utilize that fact to form and break the best habits. I’ll give you an example from my own life. So I started implementing a system to make me do stuff and I noticed that I tend to get lost, I tend to use Facebook whenever I get lost more in the day and I know what I’m doing at some point and I decided to say, I noticed that best what would work well on me. So if I say I’m not going to eat any cookies today, if I see a cookie I might even eat it. If I say I’m not going to eat any cookies today or I will give James 50 bucks for every cookie I eat, suddenly the conversation in my brain switches from “Maybe I could just have one”, it changes to like “I’ve got to pay James 50 bucks for that cookie” right? There is no way. But what’s interesting is from a willpower perspective, your brain utilizes it in a completely different way. When you’re having to make a decision like, “Should I have a cookie? Should I have a little bit? It is okay. Does it meet my card goal? You are using up willpower with all of those decisions that’s called decision fatigue. When it’s, “I don’t want that cookie because it’s not worth 50 bucks to me, I don’t want to lose it”, then you are instantaneously just not, it does not use willpower. So one really good example of this is an experiment that I ran on myself where I said to myself, “Okay every day that – I did a one-month experiment saying if I finish my three to-dos each day I get to give myself this reward which is irrelevant and I noticed that every single one of the – so if, I’m sorry, if I do this action every day, if I finish my three to-dos I get to give myself a reward. What happened was, I got it like twice in the whole month. Then the second month I said, “If I don’t finish my three to-dos I have to pay”, it was like $50. If I do three to-dos I earn $50, that was like twice or three times. If I don’t finish all my to-dos I have to pay $50 and I finished this every single day. It was fascinating. The difference was not just a word, it was the difference between me getting me $50 versus me giving $50 but the result was astronomical. And that had to do with the act of willpower and utilizing your basal ganglia, your ape brain rather than focusing on rewards. Now, one thing, Brett, that’s interesting is we found, we did a lot of research with negative and positive rewards and we, in no way, focus on negative reinforcement. We do come across as focusing on negative reinforcement, so Pavlok shocks, that sounds really negative, yes it is. Pavlok also rewards you, though. So it’s, what we found is that negative reinforcement is extremely powerful to get you started and get you going. Positive reinforcement is important to make that habit stick. If you utilize the two in conjunction, for example, every day I don’t go to the gym I get charged $50 but if go to the gym every day for the week, on Friday I get to give myself a massage. Suddenly you are getting negative and positive rewards. And after a while you’ll notice that you’ll not, you’ll never miss the negative. It’s very rare that you’ll miss a negative punishment because you just don’t want to suffer the punishment. So you stop thinking about it. You are just like obviously I’m going to go. I hope I can go all five days this week so I get that – I get to get myself a massage. And the negative punishment can actually be removed at that point. Then keep the positive or don’t, it doesn’t matter – the habit has become formed in your brain.

Brett McKay: Yeah that’s really amazing. And I’ve noticed this in my own life as well because I think yeah the problem like you said, the problem is that human beings, we have a hard time imagining what obtaining whatever reward is would actually be like, right? Like you can think, okay, you know if I do all this work I can make a million dollars one day, but it’s like, it’s so serial that it’s like it’s not very motivating. Because you just forget about it. But that losser version, right, studies after studies have shown like we are losser worse creatures. We’d rather lose, you know, we’d rather like – there is a say about it a coffee mug where like people, like researcher gave people like a chintzy coffee mug and like people get really protective of this chintzy coffee mug. They would do all these things to avoid losing this coffee mug but if they said, okay if you do this one thing you get this coffee mug and people like ask whatever I don’t need a coffee mug but once you have it like you want to keep it. So yeah, I’ve done that before like with writing if I – I have had – like if there is like an article like just like I don’t want to do, like I’ll put money on the line and say if I don’t finish it by this time then I’m going to give this money to such and such person and, man, I get it done without fail.

Maneesh Sethi: So Brett, you and I had a call podcast interview few weeks ago and that podcast interview really like changed what I do. I have planned two habits almost every single day since we had it and I started to think a lot about that today as well, preparing for this interview. So we mentioned on our call flossing and we mentioned on our call journaling and I have mentioned that I really want to start journaling, I think I added you on the Pavlok app and you got it downloaded or something. You reported me as not having journal, I totally journaled but what happened was interesting because I started to focus on that as a habit and I actually have journaled every single day in the last 40 days with the exception of two since then and I found it interesting to see how I fit that in. Because it came after a call. And it was different than the way I added the flossing habit. So those two were formed – those two habits formed using two different mechanisms that I think are interesting and I want to tell you them because I think you would also like it. The first one about journaling started off with our call. It was an accountability bet, I will journal or if I don’t, I will be, you know, Brett will see that. I promise to send him the picture. And that was motivational because I respect you and I wanted to actually get it done. After that happened I started to – I noticed that I made it very simple. I would just write one page, very easy, you can’t fail – a few times how to choose, a few times I went out for drinks and I came home at like 11:48 in the night and I was like totally not journaled and it was 11:48 and I was like out of my mind and I’m like, “Oh God, oh God, I got to journal” and I fell asleep with my journal on my chest and I woke up and it was 1.5 pages. I can’t read a single word but it was done. So at least like that the habit was formed. The journal might have sucked but it was done. So that started off with the negative reinforcement there with the positive benefit of accountability and it led to a very clear cycle that formed over time. The second one, flossing was really interesting. Because flossing we both know has actually really, really positive benefits, like an average of 4 to 7 extra years of lifespan.

Brett McKay: Yes. Bizarre.

Maneesh Sethi: Bizarre and also what’s interesting about it is that we already brush our teeth. Flossing is a natural second step. So what I started to do was I wrote this list right here. It’s my morning ritual, for the morning, and I wrote down 13 things that I have always wanted to do and the first was one wake up and HRV, doesn’t matter. Second was brush. The third was one was floss. And then I stuck this in my bathroom and I got up and I said, “Alright for the first few days I’m just going to try to follow the list, all 13 current things” noting that journaling is on the list as well. And what happened was because it was laid out for me in a very automatic plan that required no decision. Wake up and just go through the checklist and because brushing was targeted next to flossing and then thirdly because I had a friend who was good at flossing teach me the secret to easy flossing which is like I just – flossing was hard to me. I just didn’t really know if I was doing it right and he bought me the right contraption that makes flossing easy and now I certainly do that flossing like twice a day. I feel that weird feeling where I need to get that like pieces of something left in my, left out and also I manage to do like all 13 habits at the same time by chunking, which is a technique that I don’t think enough people ever do with their habits. Morning routines are really good examples of chunking. I formed four habits I’ve been working on for a year at the same time because I actually only formed one habit, the habit of doing this list. And because one of it is journaling you know there is a bunch of things I wanted to do, I have managed to incorporate all that in to one chunk habit starting off with the pain of losing money if I didn’t do all of them and ending up with the positive of just internal feeling of being great.

Brett McKay: That’s awesome. That’s really cool. So let’s just talk a little bit more about that. Let’s talk about Pavlok. It is like, that’s what is about, Pavlok gets a lot of attention, alright? You guys around call very poor, because it’s a device you wear on your wrist sort of like a fitness tracker and it shocks you if you don’t do something that you are supposed to do, right? So that is that whole idea like if you don’t journal. So like how does it work, and so how does it know if you haven’t done your things. You have to have an account or is there like an app with it like or you have an accountability partner, how does that work?

Maneesh Sethi: Sure. So for Pavlok what we found is that Operant Conditioning or rewards and punishment are extremely powerful for forming new habits. Pavlovian Conditioning is extremely powerful for breaking bad habits. So it works in two different ways, the kind of tangents. Let’s let’s – so what you just mentioned about forming new habit about, it might shock you if you do something bad, if you don’t do something good. What this does is it allows you to form a new habit by committing to do something. Anything that’s measurable is a really good use case like GPS, if you want to go to the gym or 10,000 steps tracked by your wristband, or going like writing a thousand words in an app each day or going through a dual lingual class each day. All of those are very trackable habits. So what we do is, we have an open API that once we commit to doing something if you do it on time, you earn a reward. It can be points, it can be money, it can be gift cards. If you don’t do it you are charged a larger penalty. So you might say every day I don’t go to the gym I lose 10 bucks, every day I do go to the gym I earn 25 or 50 cents and if I go to the gym for 30 days I earn a big bonus. What we found is that the fear of losing money really gets people to get there. The act of making it – the act of adding rewards makes them stick. Now, so that has, the penalties can range. So the first thing you said was money, another penalty might be a post on your Facebook wall, a third one might be that lets your friends shock you from across the internet and the fear of the shock might get you there, help reinforce you getting there. The fear of the shock is more powerful than the shock. And this is negative reinforcement, taking away a negative thing is negative reinforcement. On the other hand, if we are trying to break bad habits we use positive punishment which is the act of adding something negative to the tasks that you don’t want to do. And this is class for Pavlovian Conditioning. So every time I open my refrigerator door it beeps and shocks me. Every time I go on Facebook it shocks me. Every time I open up 10 tabs it vibrates, 11 tabs it beeps 12 tabs it shocks me. And what happens is because we have added this instantaneous negative stimulus to an action that’s trackable and measurable and I don’t want to do any more, my brain at the beginning gets a little annoyed and pissed off, like every time I am biting my nails it’s vibrating, beeping and tracking, right? Every time I’m doing that it’s getting annoying but after a while it’s so annoying that it just stops thinking about doing it at all. When the punishment continuously is occurring your brain stops thinking about doing it at all. Well we train that because that’s a really important point. I measured my Facebook usage and my Facebook usage is very – I never go to Facebook. I always find myself on Facebook.

You know, I just sit down my brain just moves me to – like I open a tab up, enter something chatting. What we’re trying to do is from first step in the brain. So every time I open up Facebook for about a week and a half the wristband shocked me instantly. It just shocked me and so every minute I was on it, it will shock me again and it became annoying. So at the beginning I got shocked over and over again, over and over again then I started to go off or being less and less because I don’t remember real or years later but then a week later I took a trip and I went to California and I checked my Facebook and I realized that I hadn’t logged in like three days. That’s unheard of from me. What had happened is my brain was so used to being shocked when I checked Facebook that it just stopped thinking about ever going to Facebook again. You start it, so does it sense?

Brett McKay: You don’t even like think you are obsessed about it. I think one problem that a lot of people have when they are trying to break a bad habit is that you try to – it becomes the white elephant, right? Like even when you try not to do it, like you think about it because you are trying not to do it but so you end up doing it that you become obsessed with it.

Maneesh Sethi: And that’s the decision fatigue too – the act of thinking about not doing it is using up your willpower reserves and it makes it harder each time to resist doing it. It’s like, it’s just like the more often you have to think about it and say, No, the more often you are likely later on in the day to do it. This is a side note really interesting for tricking yourself into not doing something or doing something. They did a bunch of studies where they asked people who like eat gummy bears and not eat gummy bears when they were just left down on the table and what they found was that if the person made the decision to eat the gummy bear, it used up willpower. If they made the decision to not eat the gummy bear, it used up willpower. The only time it did not use up willpower is when they said. Ah I will eat it later. What they’ve done was close the loop in their brain where they said, I am allowed to eat that. I don’t have to not eat it. But I’ll just eat it later. It closes the white elephant loop in your brain. So if you ever have anything that you are thinking about that you just can’t stop thinking about and you are trying to quit and you are just like feeling you are about to give in one secret is just to tell yourself I’ll do it later, it’s okay I can have it later, it’s just not enough. And your brain will stop thinking about it.

Brett McKay: Yeah, that’s really interesting. So there is a – so the Pavlok – there is shocking…

Maneesh Sethi: Beeping and vibration.

Brett McKay: …beeping and vibrations. There’s the money aspect and I guess that works as an app, right? So you sign up with an account and you know, you can connect it to something or other work.

Maneesh Sethi: Yeah actually we have – we realized that for the Operant Conditioning, the forming new habits angle, the wristband is really, really, really, it’s a great next step and it’s really effective but it’s not necessary. Breaking bad habits you need the wristband it’s important because you get instantaneous feedback. Forming new habits you can make the penalties things like post it on the Facebook wall or losing money and so we’re trying to – we’re about to releasing the app early, even if you don’t have the wristband you’ll be able to use it to get accountability partners and form new habits. I’m going to see if I can make a page for you guys like maybe and I’ll try to get an early access app to as many people as I can.

Brett McKay: That would be awesome, that would be really cool. And I think what’s really interesting is that sort of like that public shaming aspect of Pavlok where like it posts to your Facebook that you didn’t go to the gym. How effective is public shaming to getting you to do what you want to do or supposed to do?

Maneesh Sethi:This is what cracked me up yesterday on the call barring report when we had this three-minute segment and he felt that shocking and people on the audience were like, Oh, and he talks about like it charged you money and you are like, Ohhh, and then he said and then he said it posts on your Facebook wall and the crowd erupts in laughter and like, I’m like really is that what reached you people more than anything?Apparently different people are motivated by different things.In our own research we found that men are more motivated by money and women are more motivated by accountability, of being seen for their failure.But I think at its core it’s the idea of people knowing that you said you are going to do something and you didn’t do something, that can be a very, very motivational.I honestly believe that teams or a single accountability partner, are more effective than a generalized Facebook posting.That said, it’s posted on my Facebook wall three times and dude the comments are just like, so ah like they jump on me like what’s that, what are you, like I’m like I’m testing the app bro, it doesn’t act and leads to the gym.

Brett McKay: That’s really funny. So yeah, like the fear of being known as a failure to your goals can get you to do what you are supposed to do.

Maneesh Sethi: And this is like one of the most depressing things about people who are trying to do something new.There’s a lot of research shows that when they talk to other people about what they are doing, in their brain it’s actually closing the loop on the reward.It’s like the act of telling somebody that they are going to do something that person is like oh that’s awesome, you totally should.They are like “That is awesome.I am going to smoke a bunch of a cigarettes like it doesn’t actually make them do – it doesn’t actually make them clean up and finish the loop but being a type, motivation is a very precarious loop because it disappears quickly.What I’m trying to do is identify that when you, instead of relying on motivation and willpower to form a new habit or make a new behavior, if you rely on using that motivation and willpower to create a system that won’t let you fail, that system that won’t let you fail, I think that the accountability aspects of posting on your Facebook wall, for instance, is extremely powerful there.Because you are continuously reminded when you fail.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Maneesh Sethi: If you focused all of your motivation and willpower on that on – sometimes it’s not going to hurt, just pressing the button in the Pavlok app you know like commit or but for some people it’s about finding the accountability partner then you have suddenly created, you have actually used your willpower effectively and that’s the correct way to process a new behavior habit.

Brett McKay: Got you. Well, that’s really cool. So our time is running up and yeah I would love if you can create like a link for our listeners to check out and get an early access to the app, that would be awesome. Besides downloading Pavlok what can, I mean, we’ve kind of heard on some really great tips that guys can start using today, to start making and breaking habits but if there is like one or two things you would recommend guys do, start doing today to form or break bad habits, what will those be?

Maneesh Sethi: Sure, I mean honestly, man, I want everyone who has liked this podcast to just think about themselves, what something they know they could do or they know they should and could but haven’t been? And I want them to tell their friend or loved one, “Dude, I’ll give you 10 bucks tomorrow if I don’t do this act”. And just watch what happens. It’s actually quick and fascinating. And your brain – you’re going to wake up tomorrow and all you can do is think about, ‘Oh, I got to do that, I got to do that, I got to do that, I got to do that, I got to frigging do that” And you’ll do it and then you’ll be like, Oh, I did it”. And that’s it. And you’ll be like, ‘Oh’ and you’ll probably forget about it and be like, ‘I’m going to go back to my old lifestyle’. But then if they started to make that that more constant in fact pre-organizing and pre-engineering a second bet or a week of bets or three weeks or four weeks of bets they’ll find that, after a while, it will become such a habit that they can’t not do it. And the beauty of these things, man, the beauty of habits is that you are what you repeatedly do and if you take a single person, who for the next one year, has habit of, after he comes home, he watches TV and you take a second person whose habit is after he comes home he writes two pages to a novel. If you look at them a year from today the first person will have watched every episode of Friends once and the second person will have written a novel of 700 page length and the difference in there, but the interesting part is that neither of them use more willpower than the other person. The first person had the habit of TV, the second person had the habit of writing but the person they become is astronomical. So starting small, make a bet, see what happens. As for Pavlok though we also have an Indiegogo campaign going. I believe it’s right now. If you head over to you will be able to see it and I’ll put a bunch of links and resources in it and an e-book or whatever they can read.

Brett McKay: Awesome. Well Maneesh thank you so much for you time, it’s been a pleasure.

Maneesh Sethi: Sure man I can’t wait to shock you.

Brett McKay: Yeah I know I have got one pre-order I am looking forward to checking it up.

Maneesh Sethi: Alright, thanks a lot.

Brett McKay: Thanks, man.

Our guest today was Maneesh Sethi. He is the founder of Pavlok and you can find out more information about Pavlok at P-A-V-L-O-K, that’s P-A-V-L-O-K and also make sure you check up Maneesh’s blog at Hack the System, some interesting content there as well.

Well that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at and if you enjoy the podcast again I’d really appreciate it if you go on to the iTunes or Stitcher or whatever else it is you use to listen to the podcast to give us a rating that I would really appreciate that and help us a lot. And until next time stay manly.

Related Posts