For my self experiment, I took some non-pharmaceutical “smart pills” and I made them into focus, energy, calmness, and happiness pills- pills that I could take when I felt a negative emotion creeping up that I wanted to combat. The cool about these pills is that they can talk to my phone. The other cool thing is that the experiment worked!
Back to the experiment in a minute- FIRST, you may wonder why I would even think of doing this. One of the inspirations is the placebo effect. We know that for many diseases, taking a sugar pill that you think will help you WILL alleviate your symptoms. Wearing a medical device, even if its turned off, WILL help your health.
And even crazier- an IBS study found that when they gave patients a placebo- and TOLD them it was a placebo and not real medication- it was still effective in relieving symptoms! So clearly something is going on here with the medical ritual of pill ingestion.
With this in mind, at my work we ran an experiment where people who were dieting got packs of tic tacs labeled “willpower” and took an amount of them each morning, corresponding to how much willpower they thought they’d need to get through the day. We heard remarkable stories about feats they’d achieved with their “enhanced willpower”- extending far beyond just dieting
I wanted to extend that experiment; so I targeted 4 negative emotions that I wanted to both track and see if I could combat. I hoped that I could use this system to not only make myself mindful of and track negative emotions, but that the ingestion ritual would give me the feeling of an emotional “power up” to combat these feelings
But here’s where the cool part comes in- I’m a hardware engineer at Proteus biomedical, and they have some ways to let us use our technology for crazy side experiments like this. So I didn’t use normal sugar pills- I used pills enabled by Proteus technology that lets them talk to my phone, and signal when they’ve been ingested, turning these pills and my phone into an instant mood tracking system.
And it wasn’t just pills I was tracking- the system also tracks my heart rate, activity levels, and sleep length and quality for the duration of the experiment via a patch that I wore throughout the experiment.
Now, the main focus of this technology is to help people manage their health more effectively. However, I wanted to use it in a different way- use the pills I had created as “antidotes” to negative emotions. So when I took a pill, it would send out its ID and tell the system what mood I had just taken a pill for- turning my phone and the pills into an instant mood tracking system!
I ran a week-long experiment using my “emotion” pills. Shown here is are some examples of the mobile feedback available to me- so on my phone I had consolidated data on activity, sleep, and medication timings. In addition, being an engineer, I also pried into the raw data display to dig into the results
Here’s an excerpt of raw data from the experiment; From this I realized things like, when bike commuting, I had on average a higher heart rate for the bike rides that I took an “energy” or “willpower” pill before. In fact, all of my biggest heart rate spikes were after energy pills.
I also had a lot of peculiar pill-related thoughts that drove my actions:Things like, “I should bike faster to take advantage of my energy power up!” or, after I took a pill, I felt like a had a 10 minute window to “indulge” in my negative emotions before the pill hit the bloodstream and I started to use its powers to help me control it
More interestingly, though, was that I was focused on using energy and focus pills to follow through with my plans- not skip workouts, bike rides, or chores, which kept me constantly engaged, and pushed me to reach all my goals for the day- and because of this the other negative emotions I was hoping to avoid; sadness or stress and anger kind of got washed out.
I would be mindful of how I was feeling about the tasks I was facing, and give myself a “pre-emptive power up” to tackle daunting tasks or stressors early on, and in doing so avoided getting to the “high stress” or “despair” level. In fact, in the entire experiment, I didn’t use a single happiness or calmness pill- only focus and willpower.
It turned out that the combination of technologies and ideas here was really powerful- when I took a pill, I got not only rich feedback from the technology, but also the emotional rewards from the act of ingestion- which provided me a strong belief that I could control my moods which led me to monitor them more diligently.
This was a useful aspect, because one of the problems with mood tracking now, and of the reasons its uncommon- is that its HARD to keep entering how you’re feeling into your phone day after day- especially since there’s no easy, meaningful, instant feedback from doing it.
So with this technology, tracking mood becomes more effective- the instant gratification you get from an ingestion provides instant incentive to keep monitoring how you feel, and the full suite of data gathered over time can help you to make even more insightful discoveries and decisions- making it an effective feedback tool.
Ingestions could also go beyond just tracking negative moods. A Diabetes patient could use this to track severe drops in energy; or you could design your own specific “enhancement” pills to help you through specific challenges that you want to be aware of, and more in control of. There are also many ways you could use the technology to make the feedback more powerful.
For example, every time you take a “happiness” pill, your phone could ping your social network and let people know you could use a call. Or maybe your phone would send you a specific task when you feel a negative mood, like go on a walk or cuddle with your neighbor’s dog- to not just track you, but also empower you to improve your well being.
I’ve thrown the information about this experiment up on the web at this blog. I would love for you to take a look, comment; I would love to hear what sort of experiments you would do with this technology, and with the idea of mindfulness.
Focusfor a distracted, unproductive state Will Power/Energy for facing a daunting task Calmfor stress or anger Happyfor sadness