Monthly Archives: June 2014

Feeling Lost or in the Wrong Place

Building on my thought that emotions are navigational in nature, I conducted 27 additional sessions and capture 379 new Upsets using Heartmath Pro to measure heart rate coherence (HRC)  and recording my thoughts during the Upsets. I am calling the state of being out of HRC an Upset. I have found two pre-conscious navigational reactions that underpinned most of the Upsets. I was either feeling Lost or felt I was in the Wrong Place. For each type of Upset there was a different remedy that was effective.

To get at the pre-conscious feeling I observed and recorded 16 navigational concepts like “too fast” or “off position” when I moved into Upset. What that looked like was the device would trigger, I would look at what I was working on a how I felt. I expressed the description in navigational terms. So “I am angry at John” was instead described as “I am about to collide with John.” Each situation was easy to express and the concepts came very fast.

Taking the 379 points I removed those items that had too few data points to be significant and then looked at the average times move from each type of Upset based on the recovery method I used. I also looked at the standard deviation of the recovery times to see which ones tended to be more consistent when different remedies were applied. I had used five methods of recovery that included only breathing, appreciating someone, resetting my goal and reversing the belief.

What I found was that two remedies seemed to address a large group of very specific categories of navigational feelings. When I looked those Upsets that Reset the Goal solved for, they were all types of feelings that could be described as feeling Lost. When I looked at Reversing the Belief solved, they could all be described as the feeling of being in the Wrong Place.

For example if I was working on a document and felt I should be working on a different document I would trigger an Upset that I would describe as being in the Wrong Place. When I Reset the Goal and said “I will just finish this paragraph” I would return to coherence very quickly.

If I was reading a passage and did not understand what I was reading and literally got lost in the words I would trigger an Upset that I would describe as being Lost. When I thought “That is not true, I understand some of this” I returned to coherence. This is a Reversal of Belief.

I am now training on more rapidly identifying the feeling and deploying the appropriate remedy to match the feeling.

Sign up for the QuantXLaFont Newsletter
Get our lifestyle tips and studies delivered to your inbox.
Thank you! We don't spam :)

Emotion is Navigation

Michael Townsend Williams mentioned to me in a discussion about his app Breathe Sync that I might want to look at the work of Dr. Alan Watkins. I watched Dr. Watkins Tedx talk and perspective is very clear and explains a lot of the science behind coherence. I also popped his book on the Kindle and have been reading it. A lot in there, and the idea of the hierarchy of physiology, emotions, feeling and thinking brought a lot of clarity to the measurement work I have been doing with Upsets.

Watkins says, “Ask men how they feel and they tell you what they think.” That is precisely what has been happening in how I have been reporting my Upset reactions. And when I plough back through the data and look at the entries it is clear at the feeling level something else was happening entirely.

Looking at the frequency of the Upsets and their regularity, I could not imagine why I was getting Upset every two minutes. It was oddly regular. So much so, that it reminded me of my experiences doing open water swimming. The most efficient swim stroke is having your head in the water and keeping a horizontal position, but with open water swimming you have to break stride periodically and look up. It is inefficient because you disrupt your horizontal position but as a whole far more efficient than swimming smoothly and off the course. Are my “Upsets” really just a version of this navigation to ensure I am steering correctly?

I found that using work plans to focus on one thing for 25 minutes at a time removed a lot of Upsets. With that focus I did not have to question whether I was doing the most efficient activity or not. I was “in the right place” for that 25 minutes. I still was triggering based on elements of what I was doing but the entire set of questions regarding how I was using my time disappeared. I created a mental space of focus, and those navigational triggers around whether my activities were the best ones to be done at the time dropped.

I have started applying the structure to the trigger states, and sure enough each one has a feeling that can be described in roughly navigational terms. Sending a note to a friend I am judging whether it is “on the mark” or “off base,” following up on a new contact I feel that I am “moving too fast and getting too close” in the wording of the note. My hypothesis is we chunk relational information about people and how we are navigating relative to them and adjust our position accordingly using a feeling of steering to the right place. That will be the basis of my next set of measurements.

Anatomy of a Freakback

I had a classic Freakback experience while doing some free form meditation with the Heartmath device. I was sitting quietly and had achieved a Poised state while watching my Heart Rate Variability (HRV) measurement on the screen. At 2:02 I saw the line jump up and can hear myself on the audio saying “What the heck?”


After that I can hear myself trying to figure out whether the device is reading correctly (as indicated by the red lines) then getting irritated that I have sat for a minute watching the reading go wild. Finally realizing I am Freakbacking, I start doing paced breathing and emerge back to Poise about 88 seconds later.

This session took place in a room with no distractions. I was relaxed, had nowhere else to be and was entirely set up for an extended period in a state of Poise. A distraction of some sort sent my HRV up and my attachment to that not happening did the rest.

Knowing how to avoid this reaction while taking on board real time data is a critical Quantified Self skill. Reacting to the notification “you are in Upset” with more Upset is and ironic and unwanted outcome.  User Experience designers should also take note – designing interactions that pull a user deeper into being mesmerised by their reading can destroy the purpose of your design.

My recent study I measured Upsets using Heartmath over 11 days, 699 total entries. I usually sat for 1 hour session where I tweeted, worked on this blog or did email. As I did so I would make an audio recording and say what was on my mind when the device said I was in a state of Upset. When reviewing the data I saw I had a really poor session on day five.


Most of the entries were about my feeling that the work I was doing was not productive and I also saw I was trying to do too many things at once. I was constantly shifting my focus between different activities and worrying about getting other tasks done.

So after seeing that I changed how I organized my work sessions. I created simple work plans for the session where I would only focus on one thing at a time. To fill the hour I wrote a short list of things to work on so my “switching stress” would be zero. This had a significant effect on the number of Upsets where I was unsure what to do next.



I also saw that Upsets around time pressure dropped.




These are where I would work on one item and create and Upset by thinking that I should get this task completed more quickly. It was often driven by thinking I had other things to do.

So the insight for me is that the mind is quite adept at creating distractions and when I sit to engage in an activity the context I create beforehand around the goals for the activity can either worsen or improve Upsets around time pressure and the belief about productivity.

This very tactical work planning will be the basis for my next set of observations.

Closeout of Upset Study

Having just spend the last three days in Finland at the Upgraded Life Festival I had a chance to both network with an interesting group of people and bring my first measured Upset study to a conclusion. As is always the case with these studies there are always a few conclusions that are unexpected. I measured 699 Upsets over 11 days using the Heartmath Pro on my Mac. My largest takeaway is that I believe is the trend intellectually is just not so when I look at the data. Three examples:

Belief #1 – I thought that the number of Upset triggers during each session was keeping pretty steady at about one every two minutes.

Fact – Not so. Over the 11 days of data I collected the number of upsets per minute was steadily declining as shown in this graph.


Other than a really poor session on day 5 the trend shows the number or triggers dropping.

Belief #2 – I was improving my ability to return to Poise steadily over the course of the study. This graph seems to say that.


Fact – Not so. The introduction of the paced breathing was the single structural driver of the change. When I looked at the data for those Upset recoveries that occurred after introducing paced breathing the trend actually showed that Upset recovery was steadily increasing, not decreasing.


Belief #3 – By logging and recovering from Upsets that are completely Self Induced, ie I was sitting and imagining a poor outcome sometime in the future, I was improving my recovery time for that type of Upset.

Fact – Not so. After logging 160 specific Self Induced Upsets of that type after I introduced paced breathing, the recovery time remained flat as shown in this graph.



So the high level takeaway is that the introduction of the physical act of paced breathing was effective but none of the other elements of the process had a significant effect on the recoveries.

Improve with Practice

After having discovered the benefits of using paced breathing to bring myself out of the Upset state, I have practiced 391 shifts from Upset to Poise using paced breathing. The original baseline was 124 Upset events and only logging the events, which had little effect, was 169. So of the 684 shifts from Upset to Poise just over half have been using breathing. Is the average recovery time improving? Here is a graph of all 684 shifts:



Over time the trend in the amount of time is takes to recover (black line) is decreasing. It becomes even more stark when looking at the sessions pre and post the use of respiration. When in baseline (no intervention) or only logging the average recovery time from an Upset was 33 seconds. Using respiration to assist in recovery dropped the average recovery time to 17.5 seconds.

So while I have experienced that practice improves the ability to reduce the recovery time, the the big change was including respiration as a tool in the process.

Measuring When With Others

Pretty big design problem to solve is how to collect real time information when sitting with others. When by myself I can record my thoughts by speaking them or logging them when I see the device flashing red. As I described in my post on the respiration study I had a pretty clear system to recover when I was flashed into the Upset state. Yesterday I described how I want to take this work to understanding the Upset vs Poised state when in communication with others. Hard go.

I measured two interactions yesterday, one using Heartmath and the the other using SweetbeatLife. When I did the first interaction I was able to record it as it was by phone, but I was Freakbacking like crazy. I was on a call with the bank and watching the Heartmath monitor and as it flashed red I was trying to correct for it which made the situation even worse. As I was trying to talk to the woman on the phone the reading went haywire and I ended up actually going into a very high state of stress. It was a case of way too many inputs. When I listened to the recording I could hear the stress in my voice. Freakback central!

The second interaction was with a good friend over coffee who is sympathetic to the cause (and who is going to read this) and I just had the SweetbeatLife on monitoring my heart rate and HRV. We talked about a variety of things to include drones, dystopias, quantified self and monitoring oneself when talking to others. At the end I showed him that I was monitoring my own HRV during the discussion and he appropriately asked if I had recorded him, which I hadn’t. And what I got was a contextless HRV and stress line that in no way was helpful because I did not know what was being said or what I was thinking as the line moved during the discussion.

So in both measured interactions where i was looking for ways to be more engaged with people I either reduced engagement by Freakbacking or got a measurement that really was not useful even in review because I could not tag it with what was happening in that moment. Somehow I need to hack together a way to capture thoughts unobtrusively while not violating the privacy of others and transparency in connecting because somehow them knowing they are being recorded or my knowing that I am not being transparent in the measurement would cloud the connection.

Pushing Poise Outward

I spent 1.5 hours today working on getting myself back to Poise and added some imagery to see if it intensified the improvements but I feel the need to push a little harder. Rather than seeing how far down I can screw the return to Poise while working at my computer by myself, I want to take this into the realm of dealing with other people directly. So I am now going to start measuring my Upset reactions while dealing with others in person, by Skype or on the phone.



I started down this path with the 800 Number project which failed because trying to read from just heart rate and self report did not really yield much useful information. I did try multiple calls and logged them but was not satisfied it was going to go anywhere. Now with Heartmath and the satisfactory results of the previous look at respiration I am going to start exploring this again.

I feel pretty strongly that all the tech companies are going to introduce a large number of products that will help you return to a relaxed state while you sit quietly and count your breaths. Its a good thing and an excellent start point. But very soon it will not be cutting edge to sit relaxed for ten minutes a day and have your app turn green when your stress drops past a certain level.That will be center of the crowd. I want to push further afield.

To embed the learning from the past studies I am going to log 20 hours of returning the Poise while on a computer so I can lock in the sequence and have it at my disposal. Every five hours on the computer I want my 40 extra minutes of Poise so I am going to stick the basics and put in the miles.

In the meantime, I have a call with my bank in 30 minutes for which I have to get the kit set up so I can start measuring the baselines in that direction!

On we go.



Effect of Respiration on the Return to Poise

I have three comparable sets of data measuring recovery time from the Upset state. Each are five hours in length. I began with a look at my base rate for recovery which meant that I used no technique to change my Upset state at all. I just measured and let me mind do its thing. Then I looked at logging what was on my mind during the Upset state. I did this by typing into Taplog what I was thinking in that moment. The result was some change, but not a significant improvement. Over a five hour period the time spent in Upset decreased by only 4.6 minutes. My third five hour period was measuring the effect of respiration on the Upset state.

What I did in each session was use Heartmath Pro to measure my HRV. I had the software set to indicate with a tone when I entered the Upstate state. When I heard the noise, I muted the computer, noted the time on a sheet of paper and picked up my Android phone which had the Breath Pacer app open and ready. I spoke what was on my mind which was captured on an Olympus VN-711PC digital recorder that I had recording the entire session. I then focussed only on breathing at 5.8 breaths per minute which is programmed into the App. Once the software indicated I had returned to Poise by showing a green light, I would turn off the Paced Breathing App, unmute the computer and resume work. I had learned through trial and error that those specific actions avoided any Freakback in which attention gets rooted in gaming the software causing added stress versus relaxing the mind and returning to Poise.

After each one hour session I combined the data manually into a spreadsheet with columns for time, reason for Upset, and length of time in Upset. The resulting difference in recovery time is shown here:

 Stacked comparison

Respiration as a recovery tool was far more effective. Versus logging, it provided 35 minutes more time in the Poise state for a 300 minute period. Versus baseline it delivered 40 minutes more. Looking at the difference from another view, this graph compares the number of incidents based on the length of time it took to recover from each incident:


There is a clear movement of the Respiration based responses into shorter recovery times. There was not a single incident over 60 seconds, and only three over 45. The number of incidents for logging and respirations responses in total was 169 and 165 respectively, so the recovery methods did not effect the number of triggers.

So as a recovery method from the Upset state, respiration alone is a powerful candidate in the building of a Personal Performance strategy. This is not a revolutionary finding, but it is gratifying to see mathematically play out in my own studies.