Keen by HabitAware is a smart bracelet designed to make you aware of bad habits by raising your awareness of them and helping you track their instances.
All photos courtesy HabitAware
“And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” Paulo Coelho, “The Alchemist.”
This is the first thing that HabitAware co-founder and designer Aneela Idnani told me when I asked her how she went from wanting a device to help her with her bad habit of hair pulling to leading a company that received a $300,000 research grant and won the grand prize at the 2018 Minnesota Cup startup competition.
Idnani’s device, a smart bracelet called Keen, uses spacial and movement sensors to detect when you are about to do whatever body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) plagues you. (In case you didn’t know, BFRBs affect approximately 7 percent of the U.S. population.) In Idnani’s case, it was hair pulling, or trichinosis, particularly her eyebrows; for other people who might consider Keen, it could also be skin picking, nail biting, or thumb sucking.
When the bracelet detects that you’re about to do the habit—for instance, when Idnani’s hand reaches for her eyebrows—it emits a gentle vibration to make you aware that you’re about to do it. Then, you’re prompted to push the sleek button on the side of the bracelet. This not only tracks your behavior so you can identify what moods or environments trigger the habit on the corresponding app, but it makes you fully acknowledge your action in the moment and choose something different. For some people, it can be an action such as clenching their fist or sitting on their hands; the Keen bracelet offers a deep breathing exercise guided by a calming light.
If the almost-daily messages that the HabitAware team receives talking about how their bracelet is making a difference are anything to go by, the idea works. Around 10,000 Keen bracelets have already made it into the hands of their customers, and HabitAware’s research indicates that 84 percent of those people agree that Keen helps reduce their BFRBs.
If nothing else, it works for Idnani. She was its first tester.
Aneela Idnani Kumar and her husband, Sameer Kumar, inspecting part of Keen by HabitAware.
For more than 20 years, Idnani had pulled at her eyebrows and hid the consequences with makeup until one day in 2014, two years into her marriage, her husband Sameer Kumar, caught her. While he encouraged her to go to therapy sessions which helped her come to terms with the shame and isolation that came with the habit, that was not the true start of HabitAware. The true start was an instant realization.
“My husband and I were sitting on the couch one day, and I’m pulling,” Idnani says. “And he grabs my hand, and as he grabs my hand, I literally put my other hand around my wrist and said, ‘I wished I had something that notified me for moments like these.’”
Soon after, as Idnani puts it, “The doors kept opening, and the right people kept coming into our lives.” She and Kumar met their two technical co-founders, locals Kirk Klobe and John Pritchard, through Twitter and at a Hackathon they just happened to be at. After they created a few prototypes, they went to an annual conference put on by the nonprofit TLC Foundation for BFRBs and asked, could this work? People’s eyes lit up.
As HabitAware solidified and refined, becoming all co-founders’ full time jobs in 2016, there were definitely some difficulties. For Idnani, though, one of the biggest hurdles was the first one: talking about her own story with trichinosis.
“When most people have start-up business ideas, they don’t want to share the idea for fear of other people stealing it,” Idnani says. “I had another reason: I didn’t want people to think lesser of me for having this disorder.” That first conversation with her husband (and the ones that followed after) helped, as did talking with her therapist. She was finally able to open up and be honest about this hidden secret she had shouldered for years, but those were safe spaces and safe people. What about everyone else? Getting the confidence to show that side of her was key for any of this to happen, and every day she still faces insecurities and self doubts about herself, not only as someone working through trichinosis, but as someone trying to run a company and live life.
In the end, everything seems to come down to two truths that continue to push her forward: Idnani wants to support those who have BFRBs and help them feel proud and free. She wants to feel proud and free.
When you want something, it’s possible the universe will conspire with you to achieve it. But another quotation echoes through my mind: “The harder you work, the luckier you’ll get.”
The bracelet’s function as a habit breaker may be its biggest significance, but perhaps what is one of its biggest assets is what it looks like. When the first prototype was created, it was essentially a yellow snap bracelet with hardware glued to the top of it, but now it blends in with many of the fitness trackers and smart watches already on the market. You can get a black or teal sporty version, made with silicone, or you can get a tan leather stylish band.