- “Photoplethysmography” PPG sensor – an LED that sends and receives light into the finger to measure heart rate and Heart Rate Variability (HRV).
- “Negative Temperature Coefficient” NTC sensor – a heat sensor that measures the difference in temperature from your body’s normal baseline averaged out over a 2-week period.
- 3D Accelerometer – Measures activity during the day, and restlessness at night
These few sensors end up giving enough data that the Oura gives you a “Readiness Score” each morning based on how well their algorithms have calculated you’ve recovered during the previous night’s rest and your activity levels from the previous day.
In Yu-Kai Chou’s excellent book Actionable Gamification he describes a format for driving human-centric engagement in any enterprise or activity based on what he calls the “Octalysis Framework”:
In essence, Yu-Kai breaks down human drives into eight categories. Four of them are “Left Brain”, four of them are “Right Brain”. Four of them are “White Hat”, four of them are “Black Hat.”
I referenced this framework when speaking with VP candidate Daniel Twedt when he brought up the topic of gamification, and we were considering how gamification could apply to healthcare. How could we make people want to take personal responsibility for their health to the utmost degree, engage doctors proactively in the process, and have fun doing it?
I vote for mass adoption of biofeedback devices, incentives for doctors and healthcare providers to give them out to patients and show them how to use them, tax deductions on their purchases, insurance premium discounts for positive engagement.
The Oura Ring engages people’s eight core drives in every way.
The sense of Epic Meaning and Calling is engaged by the user discovering that health is a mission to be accomplished, aided by the acquisition of an innovative breakthrough technology that allows them for the first time to “see their status bar”.
The sense of Development and Accomplishment is felt when the user successfully increases their Readiness Score to the highest they can get it each day. This is no easy task, and requires careful experimentation.
The user’s drive for Creativity and Feedback is fed as the user tests different protocols, such as altering their type or schedule of exercise, when and what they eat, and various other “buffs” that can be tagged on any day (such as valerian root before bed, or morning meditation) to try and increase their Readiness Score to the best it can be each day.
Ownership and Possession is a curious drive, and requires a bit of positive “selfishness” in the Randian sense, to really take off. While often related to acquisition of wealth, your body really is your greatest “asset”, and in this sense you are increasing the value of your most treasured possession – your body and mind.
Social Influence and Relatedness is the drive that led me to write this post – I want to share how absolutely cool this ring is with the rest of you, and provide a discount code for any USTP member who wishes to purchase one of these masterclass biofeedback devices.
Scarcity and Impatience is our first Black Hat drive, and reveals itself with the fact you get one Readiness Score value per day. You’ll spend a good part of your day thinking how to optimize your training and recovery for the next day. Other values are also slow to change, and hard to improve, such as your HRV balance, as I’ll show later.
Unpredictability and Curiosity is tied to wondering what a certain protocol is going to improve, as well as random fluctuations in your Readiness Score due to things you can’t control, such as air quality from the Canadian fires, or the tradition of setting off disruptive explosives to celebrate certain holidays.
Loss and Avoidance is the last Black Hat drive, and it is fueled every time you see your score drop, especially when it drops sharply. You have a rational understanding that the Readiness Score is directly tied to not only your personal health- but your efficacy in advancing your goals and interests, the sharpness of your thoughts, and ability to flow seamlessly with the Tao and be in a “flow state”, and this is something not to be lost.
Another author, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal (who coincidentally has a twin sister named Jane who wrote another book on gamification!) describes in her book, The Willpower Instinct, that HRV is closely tied to willpower. Briefly, HRV reflects the power of the Autonomic Nervous System to regulate its Sympathetic and Parasympathetic subsystems. These systems can be thought of as the Yin and Yang energies of the body. While the Sympathetic is tied to the “Fight or Flight” response, our ability to actively engage our Parasympathetic system is tied to what Dr. McGonigal calls the “Pause and Plan” response. This reflects the ability of our prefrontal cortex to engage the “Shhhh” response that keeps us from uncontrollably engaging in the behaviors driven by our reptile brain, the behaviors referred to as “The Four F’s”, which are Feeding, Fighting, Fleeing, and Mating.
This control is what allows us to avoid grabbing that second donut, avoid shooting off a frustrated email regarding another’s behavior, avoid cracking under pressure and giving up, and avoid indulging in unhealthy sexual behaviors. The prefrontal cortex enables us to “Pause and Plan”, and the power of the PFC is related to HRV.
Let’s take a look at a recent week’s HRV, the image that first inspired this post.
My HRV tends to hover around 6ms when I’m eating my average high-protein diet and getting 6-7 hours of sleep each night.
On Wednesday that week I felt like a few cold brews was just what I needed to shake off a bad mood I was feeling. Felt good for a bit, I will concede. But my ring only registered about 3.5 hours of sleep that night! I woke up and felt terrible! I thought I could just use my willpower and push through, but I felt drained and cowardly the next day, HRV at 4ms, unable to focus my energies on our common quest. Looking at my HRV that morning shocked me, and inspired this post, so some good came of it. It was at 4ms instead of 6ms, a huge drop. With my device, I had numbers to prove to myself the validity of my lapse in judgement indeed being a vice.
On the other hand, something extremely pleasing caught my eye. I had recently begun a Taoist ascetic practice where I spend Tuesdays fasting and meditating, consuming no food and doing at least one round of tranquility meditation, where one ceases all thought and allows the rich soil of the mind to lie fallow, rest, and regenerate. What a great success! While my vice had lowered my HRV by a third, my virtue had boosted the same by 50%!
While this was the shocking example that prompted me to action, the feedback I receive has been a daily occurrence, and my mood and energy reserves for any given day align closely with my “Readiness Score”. The ring activates every one of my core drives, and the data it provides me gives me insight into how the flow of my day can be mastered.
The ability to act rationally is fed continuously by daily feedback, and I am positive this is going to have some long-term benefits for my health. This is the type of thing that could be a core aspect of what Peter Attia calls “Medicine 3.0” – the new paradigm of aggressively focusing on stopping disease before it starts.
Humanity is prone to fall prey to a certain error when making daily choices that is referred to as “Hyperbolic Discounting” – this is the tendency to psychologically lessen the severity of the consequences of present behavior as regards to their actual effects far in the future – even if such consequences are drastic in nature.
Ayn Rand refers to this phenomenon as “Context-dropping”. From the Lexicon:
Context-dropping is one of the chief psychological tools of evasion. In regard to one’s desires, there are two major ways of context-dropping: the issues of range and of means.
A rational man sees his interests in terms of a lifetime and selects his goals accordingly. This does not mean that he has to be omniscient, infallible or clairvoyant. It means that he does not live his life short-range and does not drift like a bum pushed by the spur of the moment. It means that he does not regard any moment as cut off from the context of the rest of his life, and that he allows no conflicts or contradictions between his short-range and long-range interests. He does not become his own destroyer by pursuing a desire today which wipes out all his values tomorrow.
A rational man does not indulge in wistful longings for ends divorced from means. He does not hold a desire without knowing (or learning) and considering the means by which it is to be achieved.
While many Objectivists are extremely judgmental of others (as is, in fact, prescribed), I am of the opinion that if one wants to foment behavioral changes, that finger-wagging at the guy is just going to activate his psychological defensiveness, and put a dead-stop on any progress that could be made.
So what actually helps? Giving the person the tools they need to get feedback, reminders, reflection, and gentle guidance. This can be achieved beautifully with the subtly influential insight and guidance of a biofeedback device.
In conclusion: The Federal Government should provide a tax deduction for anybody who wants an Oura Ring. If that person improves their health even a little bit, the ring pays for itself in reduced healthcare costs, particularly for major and severe events. This is the first of several Medicine 3.0 suggestions I would like to see implemented in our healthcare system.
If any USTP member (meaning you have signed up and provided a valid email at https://transhumanist-party.org/membership/) wants an Oura Ring, reach out to me on our Discord, and I will provide a discount code from my app.
Zach Richardson is the Director of Publication for the U.S. Transhumanist Party. Find out more about him here.