HabitAware helps people dealing with Body Focused Repetitive Behavior through their product Keen, a bracelet that makes users conscious of their gestures.
Aneela Idnani, a designer and co-founder of HabitAware, will present at 1 Million Cups Fargo on Wednesday, July 24.
“HabitAware was born out of personal necessity,” she said.
Idnani dealt with trichotillomania, or compulsive hair pulling, for years in secret, hiding it from her family and friends using makeup. Several years ago, however, her husband Sameer Kumar, who is now HabitAware’s CEO, noticed her without eyebrows—she hadn’t had time yet to draw them on. He had Idnani explain what was going, and they began research.
“We set out on this journey to better understand this disorder,” Idnani.
Once Kumar knew about Idnani’s disorder, he became her reminder when she would start pulling her hair. This led gradually to the idea for HabitAware’s Keen bracelet. Idnani told Kumar, “I wish I had something that made me aware that wasn’t you.”
They launched a husband-wife hack project to look into a technological means of reminding a person about their habits or compulsive behaviors.
As HabitAware became a business, Idnani said the first hurdle they faced was personal, in that starting and promoting the company required her to actually tell people about her disorder.
Another challenge came from the nature of the product—hardware is known for being difficult. However, they were able to participate in Hax, a hardware accelerator program based in China.
Another achievement for the company was inclusion on Times‘ list of the best inventions of 2018.
“More things have gone right than have gone wrong,” Idnani said. “There’s no end to the good that’s coming because we’re doing good work.”
HabitAware’s Keen is a discreet bracelet designed to look like any other activity tracker. The bracelet tracks users’ gestures and emits a vibration when the user begins making the gesture associated with their compulsive behavior. People enter “trance-like” states when engaging in such behaviors, generally unaware of what they’re doing.
The vibration is HabitAware’s way of shifting the compulsion from the user’s unconscious mind to their conscious mind.
“You can’t change what you don’t know is happening,” Idnani said.
In addition to helping Idnani with her hair-pulling disorder, the bracelet can also be used to treat compulsive skin-picking and nail biting. The HabitAware team see applications of their technology for other mental health conditions as well.
Idnani noted that people with body-focused repetitive behaviors make up 3-5% of the general population, even though this family of mental health conditions is not well-publicized.
“Everyone is going through something,” Idnani said. “It’s just about being able to recognize that and being more compassionate.”
HabitAware has been on the market since 2017—it is used in more than 48 countries.
1 Million Cups Fargo takes place each Wednesday from 9:15-10:15 a.m. at The Stage at Island Park. For more information on HabitAware and Keen, visit habitaware.com.