Offload motivation to a machine and let it force you to keep good habits – it will only hurt a little!


Tweaking a routine to be more balanced / less distracted / more productive / etc is hard. Motivation only goes so far, and there are so many temptations and easy excuses to fall off track. Wouldn’t it be nice to outsource motivation? Here are three projects you can use to automate your efforts to form good habits. *, **

* Except you can’t actually use them. These projects are all proof-of-concept at this point.

** Some of these might be really terrible. What do you think?

Pavlov Poke – Get an electric shock when you spend too much time on Facebook

Pavlov Poke

Two MIT students found that they spend WAY too much time on Facebook, so they decided shock therapy was the way to go for kicking the habit. They rigged up a keyboard with conductive metal strips attached to a shock circuit. When you spend too much time on Facebook (or any other website of your choosing)… ZAP! The idea is that you’re subjecting yourself to Pavlovian conditioning, and after getting shocked a few times, you’ll gradually wean yourself away from the site you’re spending too much time on.

All that said, this study suggests this project might not be as necessary as you think.

Git Sleep – Restrict your code commits until you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep


Sleep deprivation sucks, and it affects a lot of people (over 35% of adults according to the CDC). The impairments from chronic loss of sleep can cause all sorts of problems at work. If you’re a programmer, you’d be smart to not check in any code you wrote on 3 hours of sleep. That’s where Git Sleep comes in. It syncs up with a Jawbone UP wristband that monitors your sleep (as well as your physical activity when you’re awake). Every time you try to commit code, it checks to see how much sleep you had in the past 24 hours. If it’s too little, it blocks your commit until you have gotten more sleep. If you ever want to make progress on anything at work, you’ll need to be well rested, so avoid those all-nighters!

In all seriousness, I think this one sounds pretty damn cool, especially after doing some of my own analysis on my sleep and work patterns.

GitFit – Each code check-in will cost you 500 calories

Exercise is important. So is taking breaks. If you’re sitting on your ass all day writing code, you’re eventually going to burn out. GitFit just won the “Best health hack” at the HackMIT hackathon last month. Details are a little sparse on their web site, but from what I can gather, you connect with your FitBit or Jawbone Up, then your code commits will go through a check to see how many calories you’ve burned since your last commit. If you haven’t burned enough, you’ll need to go run around the block for a while. Sounds very similar to the GitSleep concept, but that’s okay – you’ll be well rested so you should have a bunch of extra energy to burn off. #WinWin!

Update: Woah! Looks like the Moscow subway had a similar idea? Instead of paying money for your train ticket, you can pay with 30 squats instead.

These are all only projects at this point, not polished services. But they all explore an interesting idea, that you can use data to enforce a balance between your digital and physical life. There will be even more opportunities as more things become trackable.

Have you heard of any other projects, services, or mad-science experiments that fuse data together in interesting ways? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

3 Comments on “Offload motivation to a machine and let it force you to keep good habits – it will only hurt a little!”

  1. Linden says:

    There’s something I’ve learned about myself after lots of experiments over the years: an application that tells me what to do is only as useful as my willingness to listen to it. And when my internal willpower drops, my stubbornness increases, and I’ll ignore or disable the automated directions. Once I’ve done that a few times, the tool becomes useless and I need to find a new hack.

    RescueTime is great for this, because it doesn’t actually tell me what to do about my data. I get to watch my work patterns, see if I’m falling off the productivity-wagon during the day, see what trends exist with the distractions I want to avoid. It also helps me identify and reward the habits I’ve got right. My favourite part right now is the ability to list my big achievements for the day. If I don’t have any to enter yet, then it’s not (likely) time for a break. Or it’s extra motivation to keep the break as healthy as possible to ensure a burst of productivity afterward. (A quick walk and some nuts, instead of Twitter and some chocolate.)

    All that said, maybe there are people less stubborn than me out there who would benefit from these nudges. And I’m all for tools that work for SOMEBODY!

    • Robby Macdonell says:

      You’re totally right. Getting something to stick once the novelty has worn off is tough, and I doubt there will be many things that work universally for everyone.

      Really glad to hear you’re liking the achievement logging we just added! We’ve been using that internally for a while and we love it. It feels like a missing piece to the purely quantitative experience we had before.

  2. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this is Beeminder’s raison d’etre. 🙂
    And here’s our list of other commitment device tools:

    Similar to your first example, there’s about to launch.