Using The Jawbone UP To Change Habits


I have been using the Jawbone UP since November 27, 2011.  Originally, I suppose it was to satiate my prominently displayed geek factor.  I was collecting data on just about everything at that point because I was convinced that answers could be found just by analyzing vast amounts of data.  Wearable health and fitness devices were not necessarily new at this point, but the Jawbone UP had figured out a new approach.  Wellness involves balancing proper nutrition, sleep, and activity every day (I would say there’s also a social and environmental aspect to that, but let’s ignore that for right now) and Jawbone was able to address all three of those factors in a single device combined with an iPhone app.

Now, there are plenty of reviews of this device by fitness journalists and bloggers so I’m not going to bore you with technical specs and comparing minuscule differences in functionality between different devices.  Personally, I think they mostly missed the point.  Yeah, people who are active and lead healthy lives will use fitness tracking devices to improve their performance in small increments.  That’s not overly exciting.  Passive data collection, as I have found out over the years, is great for research and telling us how things have been, but that data usually isn’t actionable.  In other words, just because you’re collecting data on something you’d like to change doesn’t mean you’re going to actually change it.  The changing habits part is why I got excited about the UP.  Not only did it collect data, but it also took action to help you change.  That’s the point I think most of the reviews have and still miss.

How does the Jawbone UP work?

The wristband contains motion sensors and through some clever algorithms, it tracks how much you move in terms of steps throughout the day.  Entering into sleep mode it also measures your movements to determine whether you are in a light or deep sleep pattern.  Is it accurate? Relatively. However, as when you are trying to lose weight, it is not important that you have a scale that measures accurately, just consistently.  The UP was very consistent.  Steps measured for a duplicated path were always pretty close.  Admittedly, I didn’t film my sleep to verify if the wristband properly measured my sleep movements, but the alarm feature helped prove it’s accuracy, which I will discuss later.

A single button toggles the wristband between two main modes: Awake and asleep.  To see the data, you plug the wristband into your phone to sync it.  This action has caused numerous reviewers and users to bemoan the fact that there is no Bluetooth connection between the UP and your phone.    I personally think the act of plugging it in is a GOOD thing, but more on that later. The application is also where you can enter and track your food intake.  And now screen shots!

image_1image<Musical interlude>


Changing Your Habits (With Informatics!)

While looking at the data in the screens is fun to slightly introverted, healthy and active males who are interested in data (…ladies…), it’s not that interesting in terms of changing habits.  Granted, there is a proven effect that people behave a little better if they know they are being watched, but these aren’t life-changing improvements.  For those, you need a cattle prod or in this case a vibrating alarm.  Changing habits, not only involves identifying the routine, but then inserting a cue to change that routine and then some sort of reinforcement (which could just be feeling good) to back it up.  More about how habits work can be found in this excellent book.

In terms of sleep, the vibrating alarm feature is set for the half-hour period in which you want to wake up.  Then when you are in your light sleep cycle (think of this as your dreamy time) it will gently vibrate you awake.  The claim is that you will feel more rested and less jolted when you wake up.  Some of this may be coming from the placebo effect, but I thought the vibrating alarm was awesome.  No loud alarms ripping you out of your slumber, just a gentle waking.  This new habit of always being woken up in my light sleep pattern left me less groggy.  When telling people about the UP, including a class full of informatics graduate students and instructors, this was the feature that everybody got pretty excited about.  Does it help you get to sleep sooner?  Partially.  When thinking about changing habits, this was using a reward system.  If you slept for the proper amount of time your chances of being woken up during your light sleep cycle before the half hour period you set your alarm for is much greater than if your body is trying to eek out some more deep sleep because you went to bed late, again, and the alarm has to wake you out of that at the last minute instead.

In terms of activity, the vibrating alarm comes into play again.  You can set an inactivity reminder for a period of time like 2 hours.  After two hours, if you’ve been sitting around the whole time, it vibrates to let you know you should probably get your lazy ass up and move around a bit.  For those of us that work in an office setting full-time or in my case, just when I travel, it does a great job of making sure you aren’t sitting around all day.  Of course you can choose to ignore the alarm, but no one is going to change a habit if they aren’t willing.

Additionally, for both sleep and activity, the mere act of uncapping your wristband and plugging it in to sync, is a habit forming activity.  Since goals are set for how many steps you take per day and how much sleep you get, it’s addicting to see how you’re doing.  Therefore, the need to plug your device into your phone becomes something you do at certain points of the day.  I usually did mine in the morning to see my sleep and then later in the day to see my activity levels.  Just having the data didn’t form any habits, but needing to perform an action to see it did.

The food part I will keep brief because I’m still lamenting the loss of a feature after the first major update.  Previously, an hour or two after you’d enter what you had for a meal into the app it would ask you how you were feeling (Energized, alert, sluggish, etc.).  This simple question helped to connect how what one eats is related to how they feel later.  McDonald’s for lunch = a slow afternoon.  I have no idea why they took it out, but I found that my eating habits weren’t needing any change so I dropped using the feature all together.

Minor Complaints

Since I was one of the early adopters, I was part of the massive recall that Jawbone issued for the first version of the device.  It was for good reason too.  My first wristband stopped working on me a few weeks after I got it.  The second, quite a few months after that.  My third, the second generation, seems to be operating just fine.  But, every time my replacement was free. That’s even after they raised the price for the second generation.

The only additional complaint I really had was that the shape of the wristband can sometimes snag clothing or scratch someone if you get too close.  And this can possibly affect your, uh…social life.

The Jawbone UP and Me Today

Ok, so after reading all of that, here’s something that may surprise you.  I don’t wear it anymore (Yes, my social life has improved).  I am cognizant now of the need to get up and move around throughout the day and I do so.  I know that I have to get a decent run in after work if I’ve been sitting most of the day in order to meet my activity quota.  And while I have switched back to the alarm on my phone (because I don’t bring the wristband when I travel), I’ve found I generally wake up before it when I hit my light sleep pattern rendering it unnecessary.  Mission accomplished, as they say.  I know gadget companies want you to use their devices forever, but I think the best use of them is to target specific habits and change them.  Once that is done, the device is no longer needed.  Now, if I fall back onto old habits, I’m certainly going to put that wristband back on, but I don’t need it to be a constant part of my life.  Targeted applications of devices like this can be of great benefit to the general well-being of the public as long as they aren’t thought of as only being used by fitness geeks.

One Response to “Using The Jawbone UP To Change Habits”
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] the major benefit of the Quantified Self movement, habit change, is being overlooked as I detailed here.  I’m guessing that no doctor wants to look at your obsessively tracked, somewhat […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: