GABA Dabba No Can Do

I conducted a straightforward test of a supplement that claims to help calm the nervous system. I had high expectations because I had read about the effectiveness of Gaba receptor inhibition but I found that Gaba Dabba no can do.

Gaba Dabba No Can Do

The supplement I used was Gaba Calm by Serene Science. The “calm” on the label seemed a good start. This product can be found on the web for about $20.

The site selling the supplement says, “GABA Calm combines two of the main inhibitory neurotransmitters, GABA and glycine, with N-acetyl L-tyrosine, which is a precursor to the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. In addition, taurine supports the calming effects of GABA.”

Reviews were mostly positive.  People claimed it worked well or that it had a mild and pleasant effect.

My Question

Would taking GABA increase my morning heart rate variability?

What I Did

I used morning heart rate variability as the measure of calmness. For 21 sessions, based on a randomly generated instruction, I either took GABA Calm or did not. Afterwards, I measured and recorded my heart rate variability (rMSSD). I then compared the effect on my heart rate variability for the two conditions to see if taking GABA changes my heart rate variability or not.

How I Did It

I generated a column of 35 random numbers that were either a “0” or “1.” These would serve as my instructions and control. When I was to determine whether I was to take GABA Calm or not I would consult the sheet. If the next unused number was “0” I did not take GABA Calm at 6:30am. If it was “1” I would take the supplement. Once I completed the session I would put the date next to the number used to show I had used that number.

At approximately 7:00am I used Heartmath EMWave Pro to measure my two-minute heart rate variabilty. During the reading, I used a paced breathing app to ensure my breath rate was similar in each reading. On the spreadsheet, I would record my rMSSD along with the date.

I conducted 21 sessions. When completed I sorted the spreadsheet results into two sets. I then compared them looking at their average and using a Student’s TTest.

What I Learned

The GABA Calm supplement had no impact on my morning heart rate variability. The averages for the two states were close and the p value for the TTest showed that the results may have well been random. A significant result is p under .05. The metrics:

Avg With GABA 62.1
Avg Without GABA 60.7
p TTEST 0.850

This study shows that GABA Calm does not increase heart rate variability 30 minutes after taking it. I use heart rate variability as a proxy for calm because if variability is high, the system is at rest or not stressed. The “calm” is profound enough that your breath raises and lowers your heart rate. If the body is in any state of excitement the variability goes down.

It is likely that the supplement makers at Serene Science would propose a different measure for stress. In their video stress occurs when we feel moody or worrisome. They claim their theanine product allows you to tap into your own calming chemistries. The instructions on the bottle say to take it 3 times a day, forever. That comes out to approximately $20 per month. How you measure the results is unclear other than you might feel less moody.

I am not a fan of taking a supplement forever to hypthetically feel less moody. The approach feels like “treating” for moodiness to create a revenue stream. That said, the idea of targetting a mood state with a single dose is also somewhat artificial. Either way, targeting heart rate variability with GABA Calm is likely not how it was intended to be sold, nor does it work.

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Are To Do Lists Really Useful?

I was grinding through my daily “To Do” list, moving and consolidating the various seemingly urgent items, when I wondered if such a practice was really effective. I was spending a lot of time tracking what needed to be done on these lists. I was using online tools, notebooks, and scraps of paper. But I had never examined the practice itself and was wondering. Are To Do lists really useful?

TODOLIST

These lists played a significant role in my day. I would start with a list early in the morning and use it until evening.  It seems we all have a complex relationship with our To Do lists. Psychologists study why we use them, and why we don’t follow them. In the tradition of Quantified Self, I decided to study my own relationship with my To Do lists.

My Question

Was my practice of making and following a To Do list really useful?

What I Did

Over the course of 21 days I logged my To Do’s as they arose. I captured my frame of mind as I first thought of the item and my feeling after I had explored it. I also logged what would happen if I did not complete the item, and what I thought was the underlying goal behind the item. I call these underlying goals Source Code Stories. I was looking for Source Code Stories that were driving the impulse to do something. For example, if the To Do was to get a report to my colleague, the Source Code Story could be that I wanted to be seen as responsive.

How I Did It

I used a Google Form and my iPhone to create a mini-survey. The format was similar to my Upset log that I have described here before. When I felt the urge to do something and log it on a To Do list, the first entry on the Form was my state of mind on a scale of 1 to 5. The next entry was the item. The third was what would happen if I did not complete the item. The fourth entry captured what I thought I was trying to achieve, which was the indicator of the Source Code Story. The fifth and final entry again rated my state of mind from 1 to 5. Using this simple survey I was able to capture 105 To Do impulses over the course of 21 days.

What I Learned

My habit of creating To Do lists was not really useful. The majority of impulses to get something done came from a stressed state and the impact of not following these impulses on my situation was negligible. My To Do lists were capturing non-essential impulses that were not driving big outcomes.  What was least useful is the existence of the list kept dragging my attention back to these small matters, robbing me of attention of being available for more creative, larger outcomes.

Looking at my state of mind when To Do’s arise, I found that 79.1% of the time I was in a negative mental state. That meant I was worried or in a state where my mind was racing. Only 20.9% of the time was I in a positive state considering creative things to do. Here is an image of my state during To Do’s:

Are To Do Lists Really Useful

Looking at what would happen if I did not take action on the To Do’s, I found that nearly all of the recorded To Do’s had no immediate impact on the situation if I did not do them. Over half, if not done, would have no impact at all. For a portion eventually I would be reminded to do the item by another person or I could do it later. Here is the breakdown of results if I did not pursue the To Do’s:

Are To Do Lists Really Useful

Only 3 of the 105 logged impulses would result in something creative and interesting that I was initiating coming to a halt. That meant that the creation of the To Do list was not driving big, creative outcomes at all. It was rooting action back in the long list of stress based low level tactical activity.

Looking at my state of mind, when I felt I had an obligation to another person my average start mood was 2.35. When the To Do was a mechanical item like getting a car washed, the average start mood was 2.9. There was a statistically significant difference in state of mind between those To Do’s that were obligations to a person versus getting something mechanical done.

This tied into my Source Code Stories. Looking at the most prominent of these stories, I found that having people appreciate my effort and seeing me as knowledgeable were the most numerous. Other stories like being organized or balancing my checkbook lagged far behind.

Looking at my Source Code Stories and counting the number of To Do’s by type, I saw that despite that fact that connecting with people had a disproportionate importance for me, 63% of my To Do lists were tactical, mechanical items. Are to do lists really useful? I’ve found they aren’t for me.

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Chipping at the Bedrock of Self

In my last post, I talked about changing a Source Code Story, which is a story that lies beneath a series of Upsets. As our idea of being a separate identity is just an illusion, I wanted to keep working down my list of Source Code Stories in a continued experiment of chipping at the bedrock of self.

chipping at the bedrock of self

My idea is that these Source Code Stories are the drivers of how we perceive the world and how we express our “selves” to others. Our “self” is a bundle of sometimes disjointed stories, and if I can change one or many of them I can recreate myself.

My Question

Could I identify and reduce the frequency and intensity of a Source Code Story?

What I Did

Using the same mini-survey protocol I used in the first experiment, I captured the Source Code Story beneath a series of Upsets and rank ordered them to find which was the most frequent. Again, I did multiple repetitions of the exploratory protocol on that story. And throughout I was doing the mini-surveys and monitoring to see if the frequency and intensity of that Source Code Story had changed.

How I Did It

Using the same Google Forms mini-survey that I had devised in the first experiment I captured a list of Source Code Stories that lay beneath various Upsets. As a review, these surveys ask five questions. The first question is my state of mind on a scale of 1 to 5. The second was a brief description of the Upset.  The third was a brief Glass Half Full opportunity within the situation. For example, if I was Upset about waiting in line, an opporunity might be I had a chance to read an interesting book. The fourth was a text entry of what I thought I was trying to protect when I was Upset. This was the Source Code Story. The fifth and final entry again rated my state of mind from 1 to 5.

The protocol for altering the Source Code Story included a different mini-survey. This broke the story down into what sensations were present, what the story that arose from the sensations and the triggering cause of the story. As I have mentioned I learned this sequence from a Guide at Liberation Unleashed. I did this exploratory protocol 25 times over the course of a week.

What I Learned

I reduced the frequency and intensity of another Source Code Story. From the list of Source Cost Stories I had gathered in the first study I determined that the next most frequent Source Code Story was my desire to work on big, important things. This took the form of me having little or no patience with tasks I had deemed were not contributing to some large and significant issue.

From the week prior to doing the protocol an Upset related to this Source Code Story occurred eleven times. This was an average of 1.8 times a day. I was spending a lot of energy feeling that I was wasting my time on tasks that were not significant. During the week, I repeated the exploratory protocol the frequency dropped to .5 per day, and after four days Upsets from this Souce Code Story stopped completely.

As I had measured my state of mind on a scale from 1 to 5 at each Upset, I had a chance to examine how the protocol changed the intensity of the Upsets. Not only did the frequency decrease, the negative state of mind decreased. With 1 being negative and 5 being positive, my average state of mind when these Upsets occurred went from 1.8 to 2.25.

Using a free Google Form and an iPhone I have moved two Source Code Stories from active to far less present in my awareness. As part of reviewing my data I checked on the frequency of the first Source Code Story I worked with, my dislike of having my decisions challenged. In the week-long period after having reduced its presence, an Upset with that Source Code Story only occurred on one occasion. Once that Source Codes Story was gone, it seems to have stayed gone.

Subjectively the amount of time my mind has been spinning due to a Source Code Story has reduced. There have been a lot of moments of relaxation. I imagine that in moments of downtime prior to this I would kick into one of these stories. I am going to conduct the protocol on the remaining list of Source Code Stories to determine what happens when they are all removed.

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How to Measure and Change Self

The word “Self” in Quantified Self demanded some investigation. According to both spiritual and scientific findings, there is no self, but rather a bundle of varied reactions that we interpret and weave into a cohesive story of self. I wanted to see how to measure and change whatever self was for me. 

Here is my personality profile on Crystalknows.com, a site that takes publicly facing information and creates a personality profile based on what a person has put online.

How to Measure and Change Self

As you can see from the underlined section, the service picked up my tendency to not like when people don’t accept my decisions or try to make them on my behalf. This one expression of “self” would be an interesting reference point as the study progressed. 

I had previously developed a method for identifying and improving my state of mind when I felt an Upset come on. I had successfully shown progress using a Glass Half Full and Reversal protocols. These techniques dealt with the irritant in the moment. What I wanted was to use this approach to dig down into the embedded stories that seem to drive my reactions, what I am calling “Source Code Stories”. 

My Question

Could I measure and change a “Source Code Story” that was driving Upset reactions?

What I Did

Using an expanded mini-survey protocol, I captured the Source Code Story beneath a series of Upsets to see which story occurred the largest number of times. Once I determined which story was the strongest, I did multiple repetitions of an exploratory protocol on that story. Once I had completed these exploratory workouts, I conducted another set of mini-surveys to see if the frequency and experience of that Source Code Story had changed.

How I Did It

Using Google Form I first captured a list of Source Code Stories that lay beneath various Upsets. Here is how that worked: When I felt an Upset, the first entry on the Form was my state of mind on a scale of 1 to 5. The second and third entries were the cause of the Upset and the Glass Half Full opportunity within the situation. The fourth entry captured what I thought I was trying to protect when I was Upset. This was the Source Code Story. The fifth and final entry again rated my state of mind from 1 to 5. This is a screen shot of the first three entries in the protocol survey:

Survey Picture

Using this protocol I captured 36 Source Code Stories of what I thought lay beneath the feeling of irritation or worry.  The list has a variety of wordings, so I did hygiene on the list to group like for like Source Code Stories came up with 5 major themes. I rank ordered these themes by frequency of Source Code Stories within. 

Once I had isolated the most frequently occurring Source Code Story, I created an inquiry to pick apart this one story several times a day for a week. I conducted this examination 15 times. It consisted of writing in a Google Form the sensations, verbal story the triggering moment that I experienced when that Source Code Story was behind the Upset. This protocol was inspired by a process I had learned working with the folks at Liberation Unleashed

Once I had done the examinations, I repeated the original protocol to map an additional 33 Upsets and their Source Code Stories. At the completion of this I could compare the story themes from before and after the examination period. 

What I Learned

I was able to isolate a Source Code Story that drove a number of Upsets and change its expression in my day to day experience. Of interest to me was that my most frequently occurring Source Code Story was having my decisions challenged which was consistent with the Crystalknows.com assessment shown above. Here were my takeaways:

  1. The most frequent story, having my decisions challenged, was the driver of upsets 57% of the time in the first period.
  2. After 15 examinations of this story, some as remembered incidents and some in real time, there was no consistent trigger of the reaction. Sometimes it was an email, sometimes a discussion and other times I reacted with no provocation. The insight is that the reaction has no consistent external trigger and therefore I was the source of the reaction.
  3. In the second period, after the examinations, this topic came up only 24% of the time and the wording went from confrontational to more generally positive. My wording went from “they challenged my decision” to “I want this decision to contribute positively.” In this shift, I was now open to feedback which I no longer saw as a challenge.

When mapping my “self”, the assumption was that I would have a large number of Source Code Stories that would be overwhelming in number and complexity. This turned out to not be true. During the first period, I had five Source Code Story themes drive all of my Upsets, the second period seven. It turned out that the negative aspect of “self” is a narrative of five to seven consistent mismatches between reality and what I thought reality should be. And I can alter them one at a time.

In my subjective experience the Source Code Story was less powerful when it did come up after I had worked on it. Both numerically and experientially I had sanded down a rough corner of my “self.” The key to this, as in any training, is repetition. I was examining the story repeatedly to have these changes occur.

The next steps are to continue altering these underlying stories which will alter the pillars of the imagined self. Over time, we’ll see if the Crystalknow.com read will change as well.

 

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Reversing Thought Reverses Upsets

I was inspired by Josh Waitzman’s concept of building a mental trigger that he described in his book “The Art of Learning.” He describes how a repeated mental process can create calm before competing in martial arts competition.

Reversing Thoughts Reverses Upsets

The concept was easy but I had never built one. For my trigger, I wanted to see if reversing thought reverses upsets.

I had made progress finding a technique to restore a calm state of mind once I had detected an Upset with my Glass Half Full work. I decided to try and adapt the reversal technique I had learned from The Work of Byron Katie in this test.

The Work has as a central tenet that all stories we use to upset ourselves can be reversed and found to be equally true. For example, if another driver on the highway comes close to me and I think “He is driving too fast,” reversing the thought to “I am driving too fast” or “He is not driving fast enough” is found to be equally true. As my judgement about the position of our cars is entirely relative a lesson is delivered about how mutable thought and story can be.

My Question

Would reversing a thought improve my outlook reliably following an Upset?

What I Did

Over the period of almost two weeks, I measured the change in my disposition after using the Reversal protocol each time I knew I was Upset. I compared these results with the Sensations and Glass Half Full protocols I had used in earlier studies.

How I Did It

I created a short survey using Google Forms and placed a shortcut to it on my iPhone home screen. The survey was a structured set of questions that walked me through the process of reversing the thought behind an Upset once I felt one coming on.

For the protocol, I would walk through survey when I felt that I was Upset. The first question would capture my mood on a scale of 1 to 5. For the next two questions, I would write out the thought that was the source of the Upset, then write its opposite. In the final question, I would again do the mood capture. This way I could see how much my state of mind improved as a result doing the Reversal protocol.

As another example of how the reversal works, I had the story that a person I was interacting with was overreacting and creating an unnecessary emergency. When I reversed the thought I wrote that I was creating the emergency. When I did that I realized that I had called the meeting and was the source of the discussion. When I saw this reversal as true the Upset evaporated. My first mood score was 2. My second score was 4. That incident has a 2 point improvement in mood.

What I Learned

Reversing a thought was as effective as Glass Half Full thinking and significantly more effective than regrounding in Sensations. Here is a graph of the improvements delivered by the Sensation versus the Reversal protocols:

Reversing Thoughts Reverses Upsets

The average improvement in mental state when resetting to sensations was .94, when doing a reversal protocol 1.64. Doing a Student’s TTest between the two data sets gave a p value of .0034. Anything under .05 is considered a statistically significant difference. Doing the reversal protocol gave a significantly better results in the improvement of my mental state.

Looking at these results and the results of the Glass Half Full study, we see that engaging with and altering the source thought that lies beneath an Upset reduces its energy. Both finding a positive in the situation and reversing the thought’s content work successfully.

When Upset trying to divert attention to a thought not associated with the Upset or sensations, the offending thought seems to remain “stuck” in the mind and continues to source Upset state. So these protocols that do not address the underlying thought are not as effective.

When you are Upset or feeling down, addressing the underlying thought using a variety of methods will likely unwind the source of the emotion.

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Glass Half Full Succeeds in Unwinding Upsets

I became interested in what mental technique could most effectively reverse an Upset. If meditation and understanding the nature of how our thoughts shape our experience is the “long game,” then having good habits around how to react at the moment of becoming upset would be the “short game.”

Defining an Upset as the moment of feeling irritation or concern about something, I compared two techniques of how to react. The first was to reground myself in my sensations in that moment. The second was to identify what was the source of the Upset and finding the opportunity in that source. I wanted to see if Glass Half Full Succeeds.

glass-half-full-succeeds

My Question

Which technique is superior, regrounding in Sensation or finding the Glass Half Full?

What I Did

I measured my mood multiple times a day for a two-week period while using a Sensations protocol each time I felt an Upset. I then measured my mood multiple times a day for a second two-week period while using Glass Half Full protocol for Upsets. When completed, I compared the two periods for mood and the results of both techniques.

How I Did It

I created two short surveys using Google Forms. I placed a shortcut to each on my iPhone home screen. One was a simple mood capture. The second was a structured set of questions that walked me through either regrounding in Sensations or finding the Glass Half Full.

For the mood capture, I set alarms on my iPhone for nine notifications a day. At each notification I would capture my state of mind on a scale of 1 (angry or worried) to 5 (very happy).

For the structured protocols, I would walk through survey steps when I felt that I had entered a state of Upset. The first question was the same mood capture scale of 1 to 5. For the next questions, I would either capture my current body sensations in a text box or write out the opportunity in the situation. The intent for this section was to move my attention to the protocol. In the final question, I would again do the mood capture. This way I could see how much my state of mind improved as a result doing the protocol.

At the end of the two capture periods I had two types of data I could compare. I had my daily mood captured up to nine times a day during the period I was using the different protocols. And I had the improvement in my state of mind for each protocol.

What I Learned

Using a Glass Half Full thought process in an Upset situation far outperformed regrounding in Sensations.

During the periods I used the different protocols my overall daily moods were not significantly different.

glass-half-full-succeeds

My average daily mood while using the Sensation protocol was 3.34. and the average using Glass Half Full was 3.52. Using a Student’s TTest to compare the two data sets, p = .18. We would want to see p less than .05 for the difference in the data sets to be statistically significant. So my overall mood was not different during the two periods.

The improvement in my state of mind during Upset incidents was higher using the Glass Half Full approach.

glass-half-full-succeeds

The average improvement using the Sensations protocol was .81 and the average using Glass Half Full was 1.54. Using a Student’s TTest to compare the two data sets, p value is .002. This means the difference in approach was statistically significant.

The potential implication in this first test is that it takes thought to offset thought. Simply moving attention to sensations does not appear to rewrite the thought. Moving attention to a positive thought works much more effectively. So when irritated or worried in the future make your glass half full.

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Meditate Better by Leaning Your Head Back

I had started using Heartmath again after hearing a great podcast by Damien Blankensopp on paced breathing and its positive effects on the autonomic nervous system. As a result, I had started doing paced breathing sessions each morning for 20 minutes. That morning ritual provided a great source of data for experiments on how to meditate better.

My friend Dr. Keppen Laszlo is a chiropractor and I mentioned to him my work with heart rate variability (HRV). He suggested I could improve my HRV by leaning my head back during my measurement session. As he explained it to me, this head position relieves negative pressure on the nerves that are connected to respiration.

If following this advice led to more stable respiration and respiration is the foundation for increasing HRV, it would be possible to capture the improvement during my Heartmath sessions. I decided it was worth investigating.
Meditate Better

My Question

Would leaning my head back while doing paced breathing meditation increase my Heartmath scores?

What I Did

Each morning I do a paced breathing session for twenty minutes during which I measure my heart rate variability using Heartmath. A paced breathing session means that I breath use an app to ensure I breathe in for seven seconds and out for seven seconds during each respiratory cycle.

For twenty-one sessions, during each session, I either leaned my head back at an approximately thirty degree angle from the verticle or leaned it slightly forward based on a randomly generated instruction. I measured the differences in outcomes of these two head positions by comparing the resulting Heartmath scores.

How I Did It

During the paced breathing sessions I used Heartmath EMWave Pro to measure a score based on the resonance between my respiratory rate and my heart rate. Heartmath gives a score for the amount of time the heart rate frequency is near .1 Hz. When the meditation is more focussed this “meditators peak” is more pronounced.

At the end of each session, I divided the total Heartmath points generated during the entire session by the exact number of minutes and seconds yielding a Points/Minute score. Some sessions were a few seconds longer than 20 minutes and I wanted a precise comparison.

Prior to the twenty-one sessions, I generated a “0” or “1” randomly in a spreadsheet for each day of the study. On the days that a “0” was generated I leaned my head slightly forward during the session. On the days a “1” was generated I leaned my head back during the session.

When the twenty-one days was complete I separated the head forward and head back data into two sets that I then compared using a Student’s TTest. I also looked at and compared the averages.

What I Learned

Leaning my head back during meditation significantly improved my Heartmath measured meditation scores versus leaning my head forward.  Here are the averages for the two data sets:

Meditate Better

The TTest p value was = .0337. Anything less that .05 is a statistically significant result. There was a clear advantage to leaning my head back during the paced breathing meditation.

I was struck at how conventional wisdom on the standard meditation posture could create a misunderstanding.

Meditate Better

If the novice meditator tries to create an upright posture by pushing the back of the head up (at red arrow) the net effect would be the head leaning forward. This would reduce the ability to keep the respiration stable and have the reverse effect of what is desired in the meditation.

If you are a meditator looking to improve your practice, consider your head position. While keeping your back and torso upright relax the neck and ensure you are not leaning forward. This will stabilize your respiration and the positive from this will be more time in meditators peak and a more robust autonomic nervous system.

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Grounding Myself to Improve Disposition

I believe that we create our own reality in how we interpret and react to the world around us. If we have a positive interpretation, we find ourselves living in a positive world. If our disposition is negative, the world reflected back to us is negative. I’ve always been interested in how to reshape my own reactions to the world through regular routines similar to those we find in physical fitness programs.

Grounding Myself to Improve Disposition

Borrowing from the various lessons I have learned from Byron Katie’s The Work, Liberation Unleashed and the writings of Anthony DeMello, I decided to test a technique of grounding that looked more like doing repetitions in the gym than any once a week spiritual routine. I designed a fast way to ground myself in simple, sensation based direct experience using a survey as one “repetition” and did nine reps a day.

My Question

Could grounding myself in direct experience nine times a day change my overall disposition?

What I Did

I created a routine that I could easily repeat multiple times a day where I captured my mood, identified any negative thinking in the previous hour then regrounded myself in direct experience.  By filling out a web-based survey on my smart phone, I walked through this process in a pragmatic and easy way. The key was for me to identify my thinking, then ground myself in direct experience.

Direct experience is a sight, sound or felt sensation in a given moment. Thinking is everything else. For example, “sound of fan” is a direct experience of hearing a sound and “fan being on is costing me money” is my thinking assessment of my situation. Understanding the difference takes practice. The idea was to in each iteration of the exercise I would bring myself out of thinking or negative thoughts and bring myself to the experience of the current moment.

How I Did It

I created a Google form on my iPhone to capture my mood, an upsetting thought, and an observable direct experience when an alarm sounded. This simple survey I could fill out in under fifteen seconds.

The process would be that the alarm would sound, I would open the form and record my mood via a multiple choice question. I could rate myself as upset (1) to completely in flow and happy (5). The form also had text entry boxes where I would capture a negative thought or worry I had from the previous period and a noticing of direct experience in that moment I was recording these impressions.

I set the alarm for nine sessions a day and captured 317 sessions over a 45 day period.

What I Learned

Grounding myself in direct experience multiple times a day improved my overall disposition. Here is a graph of my disposition over the period of the experiment.

Grounding Myself to Improve Disposition

The trend line rises over the period. Though a 3 or 4 remained a consistent state most of the time, the number of 1’s and 2’s reduced, increasing my average. So I wasn’t becoming more euphoric, I was reducing the time I spent in a grumpy state.

I had a baseline of 200 mood readings prior to this experience for comparison. When I compared the 200 baseline readings with the 317 readings post test, I found a significant difference after the test was started: PValue

My average mood score had increased and comparing the two data sets using a Students T-Test there was a statistically significant difference in my disposition (P Value smaller than .05).

The lesson for me is that improving the tendency to be grounded in the moment can be trained, like any type of fitness.  By using the interruption of thinking with a very simple self-assessment process, I had created a repeatable exercise, and with sustained repetition of that exercise had gotten tangible results.

 

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Using TDCS to Zap Subconscious Bias

A hot topic in Quantified Self (QS) circles is transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) and its ability to nudge the brain toward different types of growth. I wanted to see if I could start using TDCS to zap subconscious bias. The QS community has a love/hate relationship with TDCS. There are people who embrace it or those who slap a big warning label on it.  I decided to do my own tests to see what results I could get.

Paraphrasing Wikipdia: “TDCS uses a constant, low current delivered to the brain area of interest via electrodes on the scalp. TDCS can increase cognitive performance on a variety of tasks, depending on the area of the brain being stimulated. It has been utilized to enhance language and mathematical ability, attention span, problem solving, memory, and coordination.” This is not a photo of me, but when I do a TDCS session the application of direct current to my brain it looks like this:

Using TDCS to Zap Subconscious Bias

My Question

Could I use TDCS to change a subconscious bias?

What I Did

I took 21 subconscious bias tests while running TDCS (or not) based on a random schedule. The bias test was from a web instrument offered by Project Implicit of Harvard. You can take fourteen different tests to determine if you have a subconscious bias.

These tests can measure your bias with respect to weapons, skin tone, religion, sexual orientation, etc. I am purposely not going to report on which bias I measured so the topic of this study remains altering the subconscious vs which biases I might have. If you are curious about your own biases I recommend you try a test.

How I Did It

I generated a “0” or “1” randomly in a spreadsheet for each day I was going to do the tests. On the days that a “0” was generated I took the bias test without modification by TDCS. On the days a “1” was generated I took the test while applying TDCS.

When applying TDCS I used a commercial TDCS device to apply 2 milliamps of current to my prefrontal cortex. There are over 50,000 “montages” (placements) for TDCS electrodes so I chose a common and straightforwad one that reportedly improves learning rates. Here are the placements for the montage:

Using TDCS to Zap Subconscious BiasAfter taking the test, I translated the result of “strong, moderate, slight or no” bias into numbers (1 – 5) that would allow me to run the math on whether there was a statistically significant change to my bias when applyint TDCS.

What I Learned

Direct application of current to the learning area of the prefrontal cortex did not immediately alter my subconscious bias during that session. Over time, either due to TDCS stimulus or my getting “better” at taking the test, my subconscious bias was reduced.

When I compared those sessions where I was either using TDCS or not, I ran a Student’s T-Test on the two groups of results. The result showed the groups were not statistically different with a p-value of .38. If the p-value was under .05 the results would have been significant. This means the use of TDCS in a session did not change the bias in that session.

When I looked at the scores over time, a trend emerged. It appeared that over time my bias decreased. Here are my scores over the 21 sessions:

Using TDCS to Zap Subconscious Bias

The trend goes down. So either I learned how to take the test more efficiently or the TDCS had an effect. The tests are designed to not be modified by conscious effort so any learning is likely to have been at a subconscious level.

There is more work to do. The theory is that the TDCS current nudges the brain toward more plasticity while learning. I was not learning other than taking the test multiple times. An alternate test would be to apply TDCS while learning something new about the bias. This first study provided the basis for future views, but did not deliver a complete result. So goes science and so goes Quantified Self.

 

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OM Signal Shirt on the Slopes

I took my OM Signal shirt on the slopes at Breckinridge for the Thanksgiving weekend. This short post is attributed to a full weekend spent on the slopes and not shuffling through mounds of data nor posting my regular blog. I had a good time with family and friends:

OM Signal Shirt on the Slopes

I had gotten an OM Signal shirt as part of its initial launch last summer. Though it was a bit overdue (about a year) and the shirt chased me via post from London to San Francisco to Denver I never gave up on it because they tried really hard to make it right.

The first shirt was like a compression shirt that constricted your chest, terribly uncomfortable. This is not that shirt, but this is what it felt like:

OM Signal Shirt on the Slopes I tried to run with it…once. It was just too uncomfortable. So my two OM Signal shirts sat the summer out in my sports kit drawer.

Fast forward to the late summer and OM Signal helpfully sent me another shirt at no cost. This is the shirt I took skiing. Unlike the first one, this same sized shirt was very comfortable. There is a band inside the shirt at chest level, but it felt fine to the point that I didn’t even notice it. The rest of the shirt is form fitting, but not noticeable either. So huge improvement and thumbs up to OM Signal for the improvement.

Here are two plus hours of skiing at Breckinridge:

OM Signal Shirt on the Slopes

You can see the ski runs pretty clearly. And the breaks. I was intrigued by the respiration rate as OM Signal is the only integrated product I know of that has both heart rate and respiration for a sporting environment.

Looking at how to use the quantification to improve performance, I think the respiration might be an indicator of calmness while skiing. That may not be true, but worth a look.

The app is clean and has a nice interface. Of equal quality to a Jawbone or Fitbit. I would prefer it less structured and I realize I am not center of the bell curve for users.

So no real quantified self goodness in this post, just a report on my OM Signal shirt and a bit of time on the slopes. You will hear more about the shirt as I am now intrigued and will do some additional tests. Comments and ideas are always welcome.

 

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