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Self Experimentation

How I’m Tracking Habits in 2019

The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken

Warren Buffett

Daily habit tracking is something I’ve wanted to do for years but I could never find a method that worked for me.

Journals lay forgotten under my bed. Apps on my phone started off well enough but eventually I’d miss a few days and find inputting the data extremely cumbersome. Excel spreadsheets saved on a mac were not compatible with my windows machine or had different versions, etc.  

But in 2018 I cracked the code. I’ve finally found a service that syncs across all my devices that’s easy to use, and best of all it’s free!

The answer, you may already have guessed, is Google Sheets.

It’s not perfect. It’s not fancy, it’s not pretty but it’s easy to use and it’s everywhere I need it to be all of the time.

Here’s a quick Pros and Cons rundown:

Pros:

  • It’s available on all my devices
  • It’s easy to use
  • It’s easy to play catch-up on
  • I can easily manipulate the data
  • I can change what I track from month to month (this has been very important)

Cons:

  • It’s not beautiful
  • Doesn’t come with pre-packaged visualization tools
  • Doesn’t come with pre-packaged analytics tools
  • Can take a few seconds to load when you have multiple tabs
  • You have to create a new sheet each month
  • Doesn’t have any notification features
  • You have to know how to use a spreadsheet

Bottom line, it works for me and I think it will work for you, if you give it a chance.  

The Evolution of My Tracking Format

Here’s a little context on how my use has evolved.

In early 2018, I started using Google sheets to track outgoing sales activities for work. Then I realized I could use the same template to track my health habits on a daily basis, as well.

Then, in April, Kevin Rose released copy of his health tracking sheet. His formatting was way better, so I switched over to using his. This is the original sheet he shared:

Download it here

Over the course of the year, I’ve made some adjustments and additions to Kevin’s sheet based on what worked for me. This is my sheet for January 2019:

Download it here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1CmrO5pwaNcoYQSD75N0XKwMVdEu-fgvdGzZTg97lZ8w/edit?usp=sharing

Kevin’s sheet and mine differ in ways that may not be apparent at first glance.

Tracking Inputs Vs. Outputs

Superficially, Kevin’s is more complicated because it tracks so many different things.

But more importantly, Kevin’s sheet tracks both inputs and outputs. For example, he tracks things like weight, and blood glucose. Which is fine. Kevin’s sheet is supposed to be a health-dashboard, not just a habit tracking sheet.

My health sheet is simpler in that it tracks fewer variables. This is a choice that I’ve come to through trial and error. More data is nice, but it can also create noise that obscures signal. It also takes more mental energy and time to catalouge.

Most important though, is that from my perspective, the variables I choose to track are what I’d call critical and influenceable input variables.

In other words, I track what I think are the three most powerful levers I can pull to influence my health and energy levels. (Someday I’ll write a post on that goes deeper into why I’ve chosen these.)

How I Use It

The best thing about Google Sheets is that it’s everywhere I need it and always updated.

It’s on my cell phone as the Google Sheets App.

And it’s on my web browser as either as shortcut on on the bookmarks bar or just a click away from my Gmail account.

This makes me feel like there’s no excuse not to do it and I have been!

That’s it. If you try it, let me know what you think.



60 Days of Meditation With The Muse Meditation EEG Device

We all know someone who meditates. And we all wonder if it actually does anything for them. And more importantly, if it would do anything for us.    

I’ve tried meditation a few times but it never took. I figured it was because either I couldn’t stick with it because I can’t seem to stick to anything or because I was doing it wrong.

So when I saw the Muse Brain Sensing Headband, I thought it would be a great opportunity to challenge myself to dive further into meditation.

I set myself a challenge. Meditate everyday for 60 days and see what happens.  

Why the Challenge

The potential benefits of mediation 

  • Increased ability to concentrate
  • Increased emotional resilience 
  • Better mood 

See if meditation would become a habit

Studies have indicated that it takes about 60-90 days of regular practice for something to become a habit. This challenge was an opportunity to see if meditation could become a habit

The chance to observe how meditation changes as I get better at it  

In a previous post, I discussed how skill changes the experience of things. Part of the attraction of this challenge was the chance to observe how my experience of meditation would change over the course of the challenge.

See if I could be consistent

Meditation is a great challenge for people who struggle with consistency because it requires so little. No need for fancy clothes, or equipment. No showing up to a gym or studio. All you need is a quiet place, a timer and time. In other words, No Excuses!

Of course, I made things slightly more complicated than that but the point is that you don’t have to.

How I Did It

Meditation Type:

Breath Awareness – There are many types of meditation. Being acquainted with breath awareness meditation, that’s what I decided to do. If it’s good enough for Yuval Noah Harari, it’s good enough for me.

Wim Hof Breathing – I used the Wim Hof breathing method as a way to prime myself before meditation. Numerous people have expressed that doing this prior to meditation improves their experience of meditation.  

Tracking Tools:

Google Sheets – Google sheets is my favorite tracking tool by far. It’s on my phone and any computer that I can get my hands on so there’s no excuse for missing a day. I put together the below simple spreadsheet for tracking my daily meditation practice.

It has columns for the date, duration of the meditation, Muse % calm score and notes. In the last few days of the challenge, I added column to record my own subjective score of how the meditation session went.

Muse Headband – This headband is a EEG device. It measures your brainwaves and translates the results into sound. Ideally, this sound provides feedback that tells you when you’ve fallen out of a meditative state so that you can bring your attention back to whatever your object of concentration is.

Using the Muse brain sensing headband was an opportunity to add an objective measure of meditation progress to what is usually a highly subjective experience.  

Notable Results

Muse headband data 

One thing I was hoping for was to observe a trend in the results provided by the Muse headband that aligned with my subjective sense of my meditation performance. No such thing occurred.

To the contrary, I had many sessions where the Muse headband indicated I had been calm for a high % of the session when in fact my mind was all over the place or I was daydreaming.  

I’m convinced that the Muse headband has little ability to detect whether or not someone is in a meditative state. It can detect if you’re moving around or materially distracted but it can’t tell the difference between daydreaming and meditation, at least for me.

The Phenomenon

By far the most interesting result occurred towards the beginning of the challenge.  

Specifically on day eight, in the hours after the session, I experienced what I can only describe as a deep and profound sense of well-being. It was a feeling seemed to encompass my entire body, a relaxation into the concept that everything was ok and I was happy to be where I was.

This feeling lasted for only an hour or two but it was so distinctly different from my normal state of existence and unique in that I could not account for it by anything other than the morning’s meditation.  

Looking back, it’ impossible to say whether this was a placebo effect or a real change in my mental state as a result of my meditation practice. I continued to hope that the phenomenon would repeat itself but it didn’t.  I did have some good meditation sessions but nothing like what experienced that day. 

I can say though that if that feeling could be an even intermittent result of a meditation practice, then I would say sign me up for two!  

Missed three days

I missed three days during the challenge. No excuses, I just forgot. The best way to combat this happening was to do first thing in the morning. Life tends to get in the way otherwise.   

Sitting down became easier 

Once change I noticed was that sitting for long periods became easier. At first, just doing a 15 minute session would leave my back and knees screaming. By the end I could easily sit for 20+ minutes without experiencing a distracting level of pain. 

Wim Hof Breathing

Wim Hof breathing method definitely seems to make meditation easier and/or more pleasurable. Doing the breathing beforehand felt like clearing the mental palate before sitting down. I was still prone to distraction and it didn’t make every session a success but it helped prime me for what could feel like a daunting task, especially when going over 20 minutes in a session.  

Diet, Sleep & Time of Day Matter

Diet, sleep, and time of day seem to meaningfully affect the quality of my meditation sessions. If I’d been eating poorly or had a long weekend of drinking, it felt much more difficult to concentrate. It was also harder to just get myself to sit down at all.

The time of day also seemed to play a big role. If I was tired I would often slip from meditating into dreaming. Most of my meditating was done first thing in the morning and I found that on many days my anxiety seemed to mount as the session progressed. 

This might be the result of rising stress hormone levels first thing in the morning. The effect could also possibly be attributed to a waning of whatever psychological state is induced by the Wim Hof breathing exercises I did before the session.

Whatever the cause, I still recommend doing meditation first thing in the morning if you can. 

Increased concentration

I can’t say that my concentration improved in any objective sense. But I can say that I did notice that when I got distracted I would remind myself that just as in meditation I needed to return my focus to the work, even though it wasn’t the most interesting thought in my head at the moment.

It would be interesting to find an objective measure of concentration and test it over the course of another challenge. 

Habit Not Formed

Meditation did not become a habit for me as a result of the challenge. While I’m definitely less intimidated by the prospect of sitting in silent concentration for 20+ minutes, I have no desire or compulsion to meditate when I wake up in the morning. Maybe it takes 90 days for me to make something a habit or maybe I need to try a different form of meditation. 

Overall thoughts

On some days doing 20+ minutes of meditation actually felt good but I didn’t see enough benefit in my day-to-day living to convince me that meditation practice was something I have to keep doing. Nor did it become a habit as I hoped it might. 

That said, I remain fascinated by “The Phenomenon” experience described earlier. If a believable person could convince me that, that type of feeling was the inevitable result of a meditation practice, then I would definitely sign up for another challenge.

What I Would Do Differently

Give yourself a subjective score

I wish I’d given myself a subjective score for each one of my practices. Even if you have an EEG device, a subjective score can be a useful tool for making a relative comparison of your results over time.

Increase the intensity

If I could do this again one variable I would want to experiment with is the intensity of my practice.

The book Altered Traits seemed to suggest that breakthrough levels of skill often occurred when meditatiors went for intensive retreats. Perhaps it’s necessary to immerse even more deeply in order to “level-up” at meditation.

Get a coach

Over the course of the challenge, I noticed a persistent anxiety as to whether or not I was doing things “right”. Despite reminding myself that the challenge was more about consistency then performance, it kept creeping back into my thoughts.

Next time, I think getting a coach would be helpful for allowing myself to feel like I was on the path to getting better at meditation. 

Resources For Doing This Yourself





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