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Makers claim their tech can help make you more focussed at work and less stressed at home
It is the gadget that promises to make you less stressed.
What working dad is going to say no to that? The scales may look serene but we all know the amount of energy that goes into keeping work and life balanced. Fewer blow ups when the kids are still eating their breakfast a single Coco Pop at a time as the school bell is about to ring. And more focus on that important pitch meeting at work without your mind wandering to ponder what you’re going to make the family for tea.
The offer to try out a MyndPlay headset combined with an app called GoCalm was way too good to resist. Even if it did involve dressing up like a robot John McEnroe.
I could feel my stress levels rising faced with a little box of odd bits of tech and an apparently vague instruction booklet. Not a good start. But, fair play to the designers, once charged and assembled getting going with the MyndPlay is simple. There’s clearly a bit of design gone into it. But is it a case of style over substance?
There’s three sections to the Go Calm app that forms part of the package: guided relief, training and gaming.
Guided relief comes up first, it’s aimed at calming you down quickly and focussing the mind ahead of an event like an exam or a job interview or a big meeting.
Click on that and you’re taken to a page featuring a blank graph. It’s time to don the headband and connect.
Inside the headband is a row of sensors which, when in contact with your forehead, apparently read your brainwaves. Now, I’m not sure brainwaves is a terribly scientific term but when the box on the side of the headband and the computer are synced up via Bluetooth something appeared on the screen.
The sensors seemed to be picking up electrical activity in my head and showing them on a chart. This wasn’t calming, this was exciting. I tried to have some really big thoughts but the graph failed to spike. Either my ideas weren’t exciting enough or the kit just isn’t that sophisticated.
The ‘instant relief’ from stress comes in the form of fairly standard instructions familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of things like mindfulness: breath deeply, listen to the soothing voice of the narrator, think about nature. Watching one of the current crop of ASMR videos on YouTube might elicit a similar response but there’s something fun about seeing lines on a graph respond to your mood.
The training section takes the idea further. Again, there’s a graph, this time running along the bottom of the screen and relaying your brain activity in real time.
You can choose to train yourself in three areas: focus, calm and zone (presumably your ability to get ‘in the zone’). And you choose how long you want to train for and how hard you want to make it.
Each training session involves using your mood to control a bar on the screen. Hit the required level and it pings satisfyingly. Failing to hit the target is disappointing and perhaps not good for your mood (so best to start at the easy level and work up). However the little line at the bottom of the screen seems to bowl along merrily whether you succeed or fail, it only cuts out if the headband becomes disconnected. Perhaps if you rip it from your head in frustration.
A lot of it seems to come down to breathing deeply and not frowning. Hardly rocket science. But also undoubtedly useful in keeping calm and coping with stress.
Here’s me having a shot:
And finally there’s the gaming section. There’s some odd little videos in here. One shows a parkour chase round London’s south bank involving men jumping over concrete stairs and such like. Another is a rather nasty gangster movie (I quit that in short order as it seemed extremely unpleasant). The suggestion seems to be that you can control the outcome of these films via your brainwaves. Like a sciencey ‘choose your own adventure’ book.
And there’s games on a similar theme including archery and golf. The golf game involves watching a fella taking shots and lining up putts, apparently how calm and focussed you are determines whether the ball will go in the hole.
I confess I am extremely sceptical of both how these work and their value. Going for an actual lunchtime run or fitting in a game of golf will undoubtedly improve your mood and focus. And both bring the added bonus of physical exercise, absent if you choose the ‘sitting at your desk and playing golf by brainwave’ option for example.
However, if you’re tied to your desk they are harmless distractions at worst, and may actually help if they just get you thinking about focus and breathing and such like.
So is the MyndPlay device the silver bullet for a more focussed and productive working day and a more peaceful and less stressful home life? No.
One of the mornings I tried it out I may have hit my training targets (medium level) but my focus was still interrupted by a wasp in the skylight above my head where I was working. I may have been in the zone enough to forget I was wearing the headband but my mood was undone by only realising I still had it on after I’d been to the door to take a delivery and then realising why the delivery guy was giving me a funny look. No amount of tech can take away those sorts of distractions.
The GoCalm app – essentially just providing mindfulness at your desk – costs £29.99.
The set I roadtested was the MyndWave mobile and GoCalm bundle, which will set you back £129.99.
But you can go further if you’re so inclined – there’s a souped up headset that can connect with virtual reality and that’s priced £219.99.
Mindfulness and mental health are important. How these devices work isn’t entirely the point, if somehow they help you focus and take care of your stress levels then they are probably worth it.
We’re all stressed and to some degree and it’s a condition that impacts your own physical health as well as the quality of the downtime with your family.
But bizarrely they also highlight the other options available – going for a run, playing your favourite sport, investing in a mindfulness app without all the brainwave paraphernalia can all help at less expense.
For more on MyndPlay products and apps head here