What gets measured, gets improved

December 08, 2023

The date is Christmas 2018, the most awful I physically felt since I came down from my highest ever weight of 209 lbs at the age of 14 (that’s almost 15 stones). With the scale showing 191 lbs, I felt defeated, angry and ashamed. There was no way I could let the number get up to the two hundreds again.

The truth is, people can be supportive and encouraging, but in the end it is up to you to put in the hard work. My family knew this but they wanted to help as much as they could. For my birthday in January they surprised me with an Apple Watch. This article isn’t about the watch itself (we’ll release our definitive gadget review soon!). If anything, I’d like to sell you on the merits of gathering data.

Here’s how collecting, tracking and analyzing different types of data helped me.

1. Track the unseen

When I first started using my watch, my resting heart rate and VO2Max were…less than ideal. Resting heart rate in the high 80’s, VO2Max below average. As I started exercising, these two figures showed improvement even before the scale started moving. Seeing these numbers get closer to ideal made me feel like I was achieving something almost from the get go. It also helped ease my fixation on seeing the number on the scale go down, as the complexity of my situation sinked in.

2. Identify patterns

Alongside with my exercises, and biometrics, I tracked my food intake - what I ate, how much, and when. It helped me identify which foods were helpful or detrimental to my goals, which time of the day works best for me to work out and how rest impacts my overall wellbeing.

3. See how far you’ve come

Seeing that overall trend line improve is satisfying like little else when it comes to gathering data. Seeing improved trend lines in heart rate, daily steps, quality of sleep, duration of workouts and calories burned made the anecdotal “I just feel better, you know” and the straightforward “I lost 30 lbs so far” more nuanced and tangible. All these data points serve as a constant reminder that simple practices can lead to improvements in multiple areas in life. 

4. A wake-up call when you need it

I hope this doesn’t apply to many of our readers but as an on again off again smoker/vaper, the biggest slap in the face was seeing how starkly my cardio health started to decline whenever I picked up the nicotine. While the positive feedback through improved health and habits is satisfying to see, if you are truthful in tracking you’ll be able to catch the beginning of a decline as well.

In a strange way, all this boring looking data is also reflective of my life and how its challenges influenced my willingness and ability to mind my overall health. I could show you on my graph when I was made redundant at the beginning of the pandemic, started a new job that added an extra two hours of walking to my day every weekday and when I picked up cigarettes again after a considerable heartbreak. The fact I can have all this information in an Excel sheet is mind-boggling, strange and dare I say, there’s a certain beauty to it.

Whether you decide to get wax philosophical about it like me, I am fairly convinced nobody’s ever regretted knowing more about themselves.

featured image: taseffski, Getty Images Signature 

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