Lifestyle change starts with a piece of paper
I’m quite an avid health tracker. In some previous articles, I have described how I track sleep and stress or how you could live healthier with the help of technology. You would think that I started tracking my vital parameters, when sensors got to the market. I have to disappoint you: trackers and wearables were introduced in the last couple of years, but I’ve been quantifying my health since 1997! So how did I start? On paper. On a simple piece of paper.
I gave a score from 1 to 10 to my mental, physical and emotional health, and I disciplined myself to follow through every day. It taught me important lessons about how I live. For example, if I exercise today, I can focus mentally better the next day and if I can focus well, my emotional health becomes better on the long term. Piece of cake.
Wearables help those who help themselves
When the sensor revolution began, I thought great wearables and the accompanying applications will finally help me make better decisions about lifestyle. Well, some sensors are great, but the apps are nowhere compared to what I expect them to do. They don’t motivate me for making lifestyle changes, I still have to do that myself. There are apps for changing habits, but I needed a personalized solution.
So after all these years, I had to realize people won’t start changing their lifestyle with a wearable tracker. They need a simpler, cheaper, more personalized solution. So I turned to an Excel spreadsheet on Google Docs and on the first day of 2016, I created a system that has been helping me adjust changes to how I live my life. So I set my goals – exercise more, read more printed books, learn Spanish, mediate more -, and I have been keeping track of my mental and emotional health; as well as my speaker season.
As I honestly believe that my method can motivate people to have long-lasting, impacting change in their lives, I’m keen on showing here my system, which you can adapt to your own goals, own life, own personality.
My Goals and the Results
1) Physical activity
I need to exercise almost every day to be able to focus on my cognitive tasks. Moreover, I literally want to be ready if the chance of becoming an astronaut arrives and I need to get in excellent shape. I want to be only 2-3 weeks away from that in any given time.
So I only measured moderately or highly intensive physical activity such as playing football, running, working with a personal trainer at the gym doing functional training, using TRX at home, doing push-ups or sit-ups, table tennis, squash and golf. I measure all activities in minutes, and the target number was 30 minutes per day. It’s pretty clear how the muscle inflammation I had ruined physical activities for weeks. Also, when I started working with a personal trainer twice a week, I started getting into the best shape I’ve ever had.
Final: 31,5 minutes per day!
I measure language learning in the number of lessons done on Duolingo. I finished the whole Spanish lesson series twice. My XP is over 16,000.
The target was 2 lessons per day and the final number was 3,1. I completed the Spanish lesson twice and Duolingo does not provide users with a good step forward after this so, as I enjoyed doing these so much, in 2017 I started learning 3 languages at the same time.
I measure it in number of minutes spent reading printed books without interruptions. And of course reading is not about quantitative but rather the qualitative aspects, but a geek like me gets inspiration in data. My target was 20 minutes per day and the final number was 18. It’s clear from the graph that I have the most time uninterrupted during boarding and while waiting for planes to arrive.
With my method, I managed to read some truly wonderful books. Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction written by Philip E. Tetlock helped me get new insights into how experts attempt to peak into the future. I educated myself about humanity’s creation and evolution through the narrative of Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind written by Yuval Noah Harari, the summer reading pick also by Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
As I am a science fiction fanatic, I had the urge to read about The Science of Interstellar by Kip Thorne, who had the most amazing job I could ever imagine. He worked as a scientific advisor for the movie, Interstellar. I also dived into the utopia of Dave Eggers, The Circle, which I was not able to put down and recommend it to anyone who likes to think about our digital environment and the future. And last but not least, my absolute favourite of the year was the book entitled Making It So by Nathan Shedroff & Christopher Noessel about how science fiction could be utilized in design.
I measure the changes in kilograms. My smart Fitbit Scale has also been tracking my weight but I wanted to see this in context of the other goals. Target was to stay below 83 and the final is 82,7. I had the same weight in high school. Also, it’s quite clear what a bad effect the muscle inflammation had on my weight; but also which was the day when I started working with a personal trainer 2-3 times a week.
5) Mental health
For me, mental health means a high level of cognitive abilities through which you are able to solve complex problems, you are able to focus and you are able to build up alternatives, if necessary. Thus you are flexible in your way of thinking. I measure it by using a subjective score I’ve been given to myself every day since 1997 so I have experience in it and a clear scale to put myself on. Regarding the scores, 10 was my PhD defense presentation, 5 is when I have a relaxing day and only read books without working hard.
Target was 7, the final yearly average was 7,3.
6) Emotional health
I define emotional health in connection with general well-being/happiness level and stress. Ideally, you are emotionally healthy if your general happiness level is high while your stress level is relatively low. So I created a similarly subjective score for measuring it as in the case of my mental health. On the scale, 10 is when I’m happier than ever, 1 is when something really bad happens.
Target was 7, the final yearly average was 7,1.
I measure it in number of minutes spent meditating without interruptions. I used the awesome Headspace application, and I also tried the Muse and PIP. The performance psychologist I worked with helped me find the issues behind improving my mindfulness and also reach my goals in a more peaceful way. He also persuaded me that I should stop for some time while rushing every day to think about what’s happening.
Target was 5 but the final number is only 1. I clearly failed at this. In 2017, I try to focus more on mindfulness and spend more time thinking about life without interruptions. I need to get better at this but seeing how little time I dedicated to stopping for a moment in the everyday rush motivates me to do better in 2017.
My speaker seasons are long and I wanted to improve all the skills needed for giving better and better keynotes so I started measuring how much time I spend with this. The brutal and hard seasons mean that I gave more than 50 keynotes last year which means a lot of traveling and creating so many new presentations.
The target number was dedicating 5 minutes every single day and the final number was 11. I exercised even when I was days away from a keynote and it helped me so much fine tuning my message, my tone, and the way I want to have an impact on people’s lives in the audience.
I learnt so much about myself you cannot imagine
I believe that you can only change your life for the better, if you know yourself. Afterwards you can act on the positives and try to minimize the negatives.
In my case, I know that measuring data does motivate me (I simply stayed out to run for 5 more minutes if it improved my average). And with the help of such data, I also get a clearer picture on the long-term about how I’m doing. So, it’s a double bonus!
And I know that at first it sounds scary and you believe you cannot acquire the required diligence and discipline. But believe me, once you get over the first phase, you get used to the system, and after some time, you stop cheating because you acknowledge it ruins the whole method. Sometimes I changed a habit because I cared about my average and top score. It may sounds geeky, but it’s just rational. If you invest enough energy and time into something, you don’t want to ruin it!
I also acknowledge that no system is perfect, I still do the required “maintenance” work from time to time, and I had to tweak it many times since I started off. But if you want to adapt my method, you are already one step ahead! You don’t need to start everything from scratch, you can adapt the system and substitute my goals for yours.
There is no simpler, faster and cheaper method than this.
If you want to change your lifestyle or at least learn if there is something wrong with it, don’t buy a device, but start with this method. I guarantee you that you will learn new things about yourself. If you have any questions about it, you know where to find me.