Embrace the power of reset moments with Lief’s groundbreaking biofeedback technology. Welcome back to Take Back Time, where we uncover groundbreaking ideas and meet inspiring individuals who challenge us to reach our full potential. Joining us in this episode, Rohan Dixit, founder and CEO of Lief Therapeutics, takes us on a journey into the intersection of mental health and innovation. Together with host Penny Zenker, Rohan introduces the power of biofeedback technology and how it has created a revolutionary wearable device: the Lief smart patch. Through real-time heart rate monitoring and personalized feedback, the Lief patch empowers users to enhance their well-being, gain emotional control, and boost self-awareness. Penny and Rohan explore the profound impact of the Lief patch on stress reduction, improved sleep quality, and heightened interoception—the ability to sense and understand our internal bodily signals. They also dive into “reset moments” and their importance to overall mental well-being. Don’t wait for a disaster or catastrophe before focusing on your health. Join us in exploring the next wave of innovation for lasting wellness.
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The Wearable That Changes Lives: Exploring The Lief Therapeutics Breakthrough With Rohan Dixit
Hello, welcome to Take Back Time. I’m always looking for something interesting and something new. Anyway, I’m looking for interesting products and people to challenge you. Today is no exception. I am super excited to have Rohan Dixit here. He is the Founder and CEO of Lief Therapeutics. It’s a digital mental health company that’s built around a breakthrough wearable device. Formerly, he is a Harvard and a Stanford neuroscientist, so that must all go into the product, which is very interesting. His work has been featured on the Today Show, CNBC, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, NBC, CBS, and Forbes Magazine. Without further ado, Rohan, welcome to the show,
It’s great to be here.
I’m a big fan. We were talking about it a little bit beforehand. I’m a big fan of new inventions and devices and things that can support us to be at our best. Sometimes it’s a way of thinking. Sometimes it is some wearables that can help us to get grounded, get better sleep or have some greater awareness with the feedback that we get that it’s collecting. Tell me a little bit about before the product. What gave you the idea? Was there some pivotal moment that happened in your life when you said, “This is something that we need to have?”
My journey started as a teenager dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression. My mom is a big meditator. She had a book about meditation lying around the house, and I stumbled upon the book. I read it and started trying it out a little bit, and it helped me a lot. It gave me an even keel and made a big impact on my life at a pivotal time. I thought at that moment something must have changed my brain. I dedicated my life to understanding that more, and helping other people find it too. I was a neuroscientist studying meditation, mindfulness, different states of consciousness, what makes us human, how we control our emotional state, and where our emotions even come from. That all led to Lief.
We could have some other super interesting conversations as well. I’ll save some of those questions for a little bit later. I love to understand also how we can control our emotions in a way that can bring out the best in us, and not have us get emotionally hijacked. That’s happening for a lot of people, so it’s very real. Maybe this is a good question for you. I feel that there is a very large component that comes from our thinking that is burnout driven. What’s your thought about that? Is it all physical or is it that we’ve worn our adrenaline out? Where do the emotional side and the thinking side come into play?
It’s a fascinating question that I think we’ve been trying to figure out for a hundred years. What makes us who we are? How does our mind work? Where do our emotions come from? There was a famous Harvard psychologist named William James who started a lot of the reasoning that eventually led to things like biofeedback, our company, and many others. That viewpoint says that your emotional state is mediated by your mind or by your brain, let’s say. It’s in between your ears. It’s up here.
I was a neuroscientist. We were always studying the brain, and never looking anywhere else. What William James posited and what others have then followed up on and done a lot of research now into is what’s known as the autonomic nervous system, or the nervous system of our body. Our nerves are concentrated in our brains. A lot of neurons are in the brain. People have heard that word, but those nerves spread throughout our entire physical body. They control things like our heart rate. When our palms are sweaty or when we start to have these reactions, let’s say distress, anxiety, even depression, all of those can be measured in the body. That turns out that our emotional state is not just our thoughts. It’s our body’s reaction to those thoughts. It’s in a feedback loop in our minds.That turns out that our emotional state is not just our thoughts, but it's actually our body's reaction to those thoughts. It's in a feedback loop in our minds. Click To Tweet
It turns out that if you learn to examine your thoughts, a lot of you see a therapist. They might do something called CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. What are they doing in CBT? They’re analyzing the way that you think about things. They’re analyzing the mental constructs you might have, and maybe some of the distortions you might have around how you perceive events, and how those relate to you. They’re focused on the mind. What they’re doing is trying to tinker with your perception of things.
Biofeedback is this incredible technology. It was born in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I describe it as almost a superpower. Lief is based on biofeedback. That technology focuses on the body. Because our mind and our body are in this feedback loop, if you intervene either at the mind through therapy like CBT and other techniques, or at the level of the body by controlling your heart rate, breathing, and things like that, you can make a big difference in how you feel.
To simplify everything that you said so beautifully, our body influences our mind, and our mind influences our body.
That was a lot shorter way to say it.
I want to make sure that everybody understands it. We do have different ways of mental health. I think that it’s important that people understand that there’s not only one way to do it. This biofeedback is interesting. Tell us about how does this biofeedback work in the context of the instrument that you have?
Taking a little bit of a step back, for those who are totally unfamiliar with biofeedback, it’s important to understand why this is worth your time. Why should you care about biofeedback? In the original biofeedback experiments, which are more than 50 years old, we’re looking at finger temperature. Those are some of the earliest experiments. What they would do is they would take a group of people in. This is a scientific study. They broke the group into two halves. They said, “Everyone on the right side of the room, I want you to raise the temperature of your fingertip. Everyone on the left side of the room, I want you to lower the temperature of your fingertip,” which is impossible. We have no conscious control of our fingertip temperature.
I’m waiting for the answer to that. Maybe I could if I wished it.
Obviously, that almost seems comical. It turns out you can change your finger temperature on demand. You just need two things and this is the key to biofeedback. This is the secret to how this technology works as far as we do understand it, which is not completely understood, to be very frank with you. These are the two things you need. You need an accurate sensor. It’s measuring something about your autonomic nervous system or the nervous system of your body. For example, your fingertip temperature is controlled by your autonomic nervous system.
The first thing measurement is a digital thermometer. The second thing is it’s got to be real-time. Anytime we’re learning something, particularly where you’re learning to control something, you can’t even see or feel. It’s almost like this invisible arm that you have that’s in a space behind you that you can’t see. How do you learn how to control that? How do you learn how to move it?
I’ve seen that exercise. There’s an exercise like that too where it’s a fake arm that’s there. If somebody hits it, their body reacts because they see it.
That’s another common cognitive neuroscience experiment, but it’s a similar concept. What you’re teaching your body to do and teaching your brain to do is learn how to control a signal. Maybe you don’t fully understand how it’s happening but you’re looking at your finger temperature at a digital thermometer. It’s clipped to your fingertip and little fractions of the degree that are going up and down. You’re trying and you’re willing it to go up, and most of the time you fail. After a few hours of training, you can learn how to move it up and down with your willpower. That’s biofeedback. It’s this superpower over things about your body you thought were completely unconscious.
I want to challenge you on something. You said you can do it with your willpower. Did you use that word?
I used the word willpower.
I want to challenge that and sometimes I do here on the show. I’m thinking about some of the things that I’ve done and learned. I could imagine that I’m sticking my finger in boiling hot water. Am I willing by saying I’m going to take it from a zero to a ten by using a scale and using some specific techniques to do that? Is that willpower or is that something else?
Another way to phrase it, and this is how the science would talk about it, is voluntary and involuntary or conscious and unconscious processing. What we’re talking about typically when you’re putting your finger into a glass of water or a boiling pot is voluntary. It is conscious processing.
I’m intentionally setting up a construct to influence that. I’m just curious. I’m not saying that it’s not willpower. When most people think of willpower, they think, “I’m not going to go eat that donut.” We know that it’s exhaustible. I want to make sure that people aren’t getting confused. I think that will work for me. I feel like everybody understands that we’re talking about a conscious process to get to the end result that we’re looking for.
Maybe to riff on what you were taking, it feels like when you’re consciously doing something, you are explicitly making a plan to move your body in a certain direction, as opposed to an unconscious thing. For example, your heartbeat typically is unconscious. You’re not consciously thinking like, “Let me beat now. I’m going to beat my heart one more time.” It’s this unconscious process that’s happening.
Maybe we should use the term conscious and unconscious processing because that’s more true to what’s happening. It’s like a Venn diagram. What’s interesting is that with the Venn diagram, you’ve got the intersection. You’ve got things that are completely involuntary. That’s a lot of the bodily process that you have running all the time, all the cellular metabolism you got going on in your body, and all that kind of stuff. You’ve got things that are completely conscious. That’s you deciding, “I’m going to ask this question. I’m going to turn on the Zoom. I’m going to schedule a meeting for this time. All of that is conscious. There’s a space in between, things that are both conscious and unconscious.
Part of what I studied at Stanford and Harvard were meditation and meditators, and how they learn how to change their body and their brain. A lot of that has to do with that in-between space. Typically, we’ll start with the breath. The breath is the perfect example of something you can do that is both unconscious. Oftentimes, we’re not thinking about breathing, but I promise we’re still breathing. We’re not choking or not having enough air, but you can also consciously breathe. You can also consciously say, “I’m going to take a deep breath in now and a deep breath out.”
A lot of times, breath is the entry point into people’s experience of this in-between space and learning to gain conscious control over what’s unconscious in their body. Biofeedback is a way of entering that middle space as well, where it’s giving you visual feedback, and auditory feedback, in the case of our device, which is this patch that measures your heart rate. It’s giving you vibration feedback and a pattern of vibration. No matter what you are feeling or hearing or seeing, you’re learning to tap into that. Over time, you start to control it.
I love the way you explain that. A Venn diagram gives people that visual, so it’s clear. I love that. That’s understanding the why behind biofeedback. You mentioned some of the different ways that it gives us information. How does it do that? You got this wearable that you put on your chest, right?
It’s a patch. Lief is a smart patch that’s measuring your heart rate and it’s feeding it back to you in real-time through a pattern.
Does it matter where it is on your body?
Yes. There’s a specific location on your body where it should go. We have two versions of the product. We have an FDA Class 2 medical device version, which is covered by most insurance plans. It needs to be prescribed to you by a doctor, and we have a consumer version that you can get that’s more focused on general wellness. It goes on your torso. It’s measuring this signal of your body, which is your heart rate, and it’s feeding it back to you in real-time.
It’s like people learning to control their fingertip temperature by watching a digital thermometer go up and down, and learning to consciously control what was unconscious. We teach people to gain conscious control over their own heart rates, such that after a few weeks of training with Lief, as you breathe in and out, you will be able to move your heart rate up and down 20 or 30 beats per minute as you’re breathing up and down and inhaling and exhaling. That dramatic physiological shift is the superpower part of biofeedback.
Let me ask you a selfish question. You mentioned yourself as a young adult having some anxiety and some challenges like that. My kids have challenges with anxiety. Sometimes they feel like they can’t breathe. When I ask them to do some breath work, “Let’s try to do something,” they say, “No, it’s hard for me to breathe.” If somebody has that type of anxiety, with this type of training, even though they feel like they can’t breathe, would that give them that leg up to get some control over this problem with not breathing?
I’m sorry to hear that but it’s hard to say. Sometimes, difficulty breathing can be a physical process or a viral process. It’s more mediated by an anxiety attack and a panic attack. I have many friends and a lot of our customers who struggle with panic attacks. The way a panic attack oftentimes happens, and people who struggle with this will know, is you feel it coming on a little bit. There’s this prodrome phase almost, like an epileptic seizure or similar thing.
I liken it to a hot flash. I understand. I know exactly when it’s coming on.
It’s before it gets bad. Where a tool like a Lief can be helpful is it’s a biofeedback tool and continuous wearable that’s always giving you feedback on how you’re doing without buying anything. It’s mindfulness and learning to pay attention to your body, which can be hard but it’s such a valuable skill. What that tells you how to do and what that teaches you to do is to recognize the beginning phases before you’re in a full-blown panic attack.
In that beginning phase, if you intervene at that time, and this is what the Lief teaches you to do, we measure something called Heart Rate Variability or HRV. This is an incredible biomarker. It seems to be a biomarker of mental health. If it’s really low, that’s typically a sign that you are much more at risk for anxiety, even depression, substance use, PTSD, symptoms, and all of that.
I would recommend exploring with your children. First of all, learn to slow down and feel and notice when your body is starting to shift. Do you notice when your palm starts sweating a little bit? That’s a signal. Let’s slow down. Let our bodies listen to ourselves. Do you notice when your heart starts to beat a little faster? Maybe you get flush. Those are autonomic nervous system signals that you can learn to notice.
When you notice those, then the next step would be, “Now, let’s breathe in a very particular way to try to shift that state.” What Lief does is something called HRV, Heart Rate Variability biofeedback. We’re essentially using our breath to move our heart rate in such a way that it tricks our brain into calming down. That’s the trick. It’s that feedback loop we were talking about between the mind and the body.
That’s very interesting. I’ve heard people call that you’re doing a nervous system reset.
I like that language because I’m also working on a new book called Reset Moments or Codename: Reset Moments, or something like that. It talks about exactly that. A reset moment is recognizing the signals, and slowing down to recognize the signals. They might be emotional signals or it might be someone else’s emotional signals that they need help or they need support.
I think that we have a challenge in that we’re all too distracted, moving too fast, too busy, and too engaged elsewhere that we’re not listening to the signals. It was bad before, but it has gotten much worse that we ignore them. We continue to do whatever we’re doing and push it under the table. How do you deal with that? You’ve got this device. Let’s say people aren’t going to buy it because they’re like, “It’s not a problem. I’m brushing it under the table.” How do we create more of these reset moments for them to recognize it and take action, and have a wearable that gives them more feedback?
Sometimes, it takes a disaster or a catastrophe for people to start to focus on their health, unfortunately.
I hate that. That’s so stupid.
I’m struggling with this myself. This is my story as well. I never thought about my health or my mental health until things started to break down. That’s how human beings are. There are smarter ones among us, but I’m not in that group. Those are folks who can say, “I’m looking at the research. I know what the science says. I need to take care of my physical body. I need to take care of my mind. It’s going to give me a longer and healthier life. It’s going to mean I’m nicer to my family, my kids, my coworkers, and myself. I will be in a much better place if I take the time to progressively do the practice and the work that I need to make myself a better human.”
Let’s connect this now also to productivity. People are tuning in because they want to take back time. They want to work smarter. Do you have any studies or any information that shows how people are able to lower their stress and be more grounded in this way? They’re able to see the difference in productivity and the clarity of thinking, and those types of things?
Interesting story. There was a study that was done on traders in the city of London, which is a lot of these financial services folks who are making fast decisions around prices going up and prices going down. You’re trying to figure out how to sell and, “When do I buy?” What they did was they measured these people’s ability to interocept.
For those who haven’t come across interoception as a term before, it’s this ability of your mind to feel what’s happening inside your physical body. For example, your heart beats. What they asked these folks to do is they hooked them up to a machine like a Lief, an EKG machine. It will measure it very accurately. They said, “I want you to tap out on the table right here. Tap when you think you’re heart is beating.” That’s interoception test. How well are you able to feel what’s happening inside you?
What they found was that the traders who were able to interocept better, or they could tell what was going on in their bodies and were aware of that more, they tend to make more money. What is the lesson in that anecdote or in that study? It’s not just that because I’m feeling, I’m more mindful of what’s happening inside of me that I’m maybe less reactive or maybe I’m a little nicer to people or maybe I don’t say something that I end up regretting later. It could be the case that it ends up making you more money too and helping you be a more productive person.
Drop the mic. It helped them to make more money because they could make better decisions because their whole job is making decisions. We’re all making those decisions. If we can make better decisions faster, we’re going to be more productive. We’re going to be happier when we’re more productive. Hopefully, we’ll also be able to take back time if we can accomplish things in less time that we’re looking to accomplish, and be able to do that in a less stressful way. That is possible.
It is. I think you nailed it with this idea of the reset and the pause. How do you build that skill though? In that study with the traders, they had this ability. People have different abilities, and we’re all on a bell curve. How do you get better? For Lief, this product that I invented is mostly for myself, to be honest with you. It then turned out to help other people. That was a nice benefit. The reason that I wanted this for me was, how do you train interoception? How do you train mindfulness? How do you train self-regulation?
You need something that’s almost with you throughout the day, knows when you most need help, intervenes at that exact moment, and gives you feedback so you can do something. Typically, you’re not aware. That’s the whole problem. You don’t know that there’s an issue, and so you can’t address it. What the Lief does is that it creates these reset moments throughout your day, which we call doses. Those little doses will happen when your heart rate variability or this biomarker of mental health stress is very low. The device will turn on and will start vibrating. You breathe with it. As your HRV gets back into a good range, it’ll turn itself off. You get these little reset moments throughout the day at the right time. Doing that day over day, you start to build the skill of self-regulation.
I don’t have biofeedback to help people recognize their own triggers. This is interesting. I could see this as being interesting for companies that are looking to help their people and their leaders implement more reset moments to be better leaders, to train them first through this biofeedback, and to be professional noticers. That’s what we need to do. It’s to learn how to be professional noticers so that we notice these things, whether it’s for ourselves.
I would imagine, and I don’t know if you have any studies on this, the more we notice those types of things like our heart rate, the more we notice other things, and the more we notice and slow down to notice what’s going on around us so that we can take that in, and then what I say is we go through a reset practice. Step back and get some perspective on it. What do we need to do next? What are our options to realign with the best next step? It sounds like this is a cool tool to help you become a professional noticer. I’ll come back to the question, I got so excited. Do you have any studies that show that people start to notice other things in their life?
There’s an interesting study that came out of UC Santa Barbara. This was a few years ago but it looked at couples that have been in a long-term relationship. They were measuring their heart rate. To your point about noticing other things around you and using that to change your actions, what they were measuring was when you’re looking into your partner’s eyes and it’s just the two of you, it turns out that your heart rates will start to synchronize.
They sync up. I’ve heard that.
You can tell when you’re with somebody, and you notice maybe they’re getting a little more upset or maybe they’re even relaxing. Whichever direction their emotional state is going, if you can intuit that, you can use it to meet them better, to guide the conversation in a different way, and all of that. That ability that you apply to yourself in interoception, you can apply to other people and use that to build stronger social bonds.
Also, to influence people to bring them to a calmer state. You could take somebody who’s in a difficult state and you can help to bring them down by matching their breathing. Isn’t that mirror neurons though or is this somewhat similar?
The mirror neuron thing is a little bit of pop science, but there’s some underlying truth to that metaphor, which is monkey see, monkey do. When you’re watching somebody in their state, it can affect you as well. One of the earliest clinical users of Lief used our product in couples counseling. You would have two partners and they’re sitting in there talking about a stressful situation. This goes back to some of the early relational psychologists did decades ago looking at heart rate reactivity when you are recounting a fight that you might have had recently with your partner in the context of this session.
What this clinician would do is monitor when one partner or the other’s heart rate variability started to get into a danger zone. It acts like a stop or a red light. “Let’s pause. Let’s not continue. Let’s breathe. Let’s get back into a good zone, and then we’ll continue what we were doing.” You can use these abilities to connect people better and to also avoid maybe having conversations where you’re very triggered and activated, and maybe things don’t go the way that you would want them to.
I’m excited to play around in so many interesting studies that I’d like to see how that affects this and that and the other thing. I’m sure we’ll connect on that on the side. Thank you for all that you’ve shared so far. I have two last questions, and then we’ll wrap up the show. One is, I like to ask everybody this question and I love how everybody has a different answer. What is your definition of productivity and why?
My definition of productivity is doing what you set out to do in the time you set out to do it. I say that maybe instead of knocking a bunch of workouts every day as productivity because sometimes in a day, you don’t want to be productive. My goal is not to have output. It’s to slow down, relax, and let go. That’s what I would say.
That’s productive. That’s why I get so many different definitions. Some people feel like it’s do, do, do. That is the definition of productivity. Some people just talk about the output. It’s all over the place. It’s all good. There’s no answer. I think that productivity is a byproduct of focusing on the things that matter most. What didn’t I ask you that you think people need to know before we end the show?
You covered so much of the space and this is a deep topic. Scientists are working on a lot of these technologies still, and it’s a new type of wearable. It’s a new type of tool that hasn’t been around for people for very long. One thing that might be interesting for people to ponder and ask themselves a question is, “If I could be a little bit more relaxed, a little bit more calm, a little bit more focused, and a little bit more present, what would that mean for my life?” What would the impact be on your life? I think that’s a question that’s worth thinking about for any of us.
We’d be willing to test it and see what difference it could make in our lives. The only way to know is to test it.
We’re sending you one.
I’m saying for everybody who’s tuning in. I’m going to test it and I’m going to talk about it. I’ll engage in that test and then I’ll share it with the audience so that they know, “I hear you, Rohan. I’m going to test it.” What’s the timeframe that you feel is a good test? Is it something like 30 days or would we see a result faster?
We did a clinical trial that we published in the APB, which is a neuroscience journal. It’s basically, taking people to focus on anxiety but a similar type of thing, where it’s using biofeedback over the course of a couple of months. That’s usually the right amount of time because, depending on where you’re starting, you may need a little more help or a little less. I tell people eight weeks so that they have a realistic and practical thing in their mind as to what it’s going to take to see a change.
I did come up with one additional question. You can keep it short but there are a lot of people thinking about AI and how AI is affecting everything. Is AI going to have an impact? What does your future product look like with AI?
We’re experimenting with that a little bit internally, nothing that’s public yet. I think what would be interesting is if you could know how you were feeling in real time and if you wanted to talk to someone about it, which you can never do with a therapist. You’re only in a therapy session maybe once a week or once every couple of weeks.It would be fascinating if you had the ability to know how you were feeling in real-time and you wanted to talk to someone about it, which you can never really do with a therapist. Click To Tweet
You need it in the moment.
You need it in the moment, so how might you use something like that to help people?
That sounds cool and that sounds like it would be a huge benefit for so many people. I’d love to see that.
This has been so much fun. Thank you so much, Penny. This has been great.
Tell us where people can reach you and buy the product.
Our website is GetLief.com. You can find us there. Any questions, we are on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and all of the places. Shoot us a message or an email anytime. We’re happy to talk and chat, even if you want to see if the product is right for you, or if you have questions related to anything that we’ve talked about today, we’d love to connect.
Thank you so much.
You too. Take care.
Thank you all for being here. You’ve got a chance to become a professional noticer, to have reset moments throughout the day that can help to regulate you so that you can be calmer, more focused, and be more present and productive. Who doesn’t want that? You can be more productive and more calm at the same time.
Try it out. Eight weeks of wearable to make yourself a professional noticer. You can maybe have a little journal and identify what you have noticed in that period that’s changed, how you are more present, and how you are more calm. Give it a try. These are things that we need to do for ourselves. Please don’t wait until you have a health problem to decide that you need to do something like this. Do it now and see the benefit, and be happier and live longer. That’s all I want for everybody. Thank you all for being here. We’ll see you in the next episode.
About Rohan Dixit
Rohan Dixit is the founder and CEO of Lief Therapeutics (https://getlief.com), a digital mental health company built around a breakthrough wearable device. Formerly a Harvard and Stanford neuroscientist, his work has been featured on The Today Show, CNBC, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, NBC, CBS and Forbes magazine.
Rohan believes in the power of science to help us understand the human mind.
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