Monthly Archives: October 2015

Network Effectively With This Simple Trick

I wanted to know if Quantified Self techniques could be useful in improving how I keep in contact with people and give me tools to network effectively. I am not a natural networker so I knew that some awareness and daily habits would help.

network effectively
What Quantified Selfers Would Look Like If They Knew How to Network – And Wore Suits

My Question

How could I organize my daily communication habits so that I could network effectively?

What I Did

I tried three different approaches to tracking and daily contact follow-up. Each day I would set aside time to contact people. At the end of the day I would log the number of people contacted and the resulting positive outcomes if any. At completion I had enough data to compare the three approaches.

How I Did It

I kept a Google Spreadsheet of contacts that included the number of maximum number of days I wanted to elapse before I followed up with someone. Each day would update a field when I had connected with someone.

network effectively

A formula would then calculate the “next contact” date. With this mechanism, I could count the number of people I had on the list and the number with whom I was up to date with. I also made a note each day when I had some positive outcome from my networking.

What I Learned

How I approached the reason for contact made a significant difference in my effectiveness and stamina. Contacting people, regardless of approach, yielded a similar amount of positive outcomes. It is true that if you contact people regularly a number of them are happy to help you.

My first approach was to put 150 interesting people from my LinkedIn and personal network on the list. I thought that having a subset of people that I knew well and I liked would make for a better experience and I would “network” for a more sustained period. Here are my results from that approach:

network effectively

I had five positive outcomes during the first thirty days. That means I had job offers, proposals for collaboration or some significant project brought to me as a result of my outreach.

I maintained contact with that list for about forty days, then my efforts petered out. I was never able to be up to date with the entire list. And significantly, I dreaded sitting down daily and seeing I had five to twelve emails to write.

I tried again two months later. Thinking that the size of the list was too large on the first approach, I slimmed the list down to fifty people for the second. Here are the results:

Network Effectively

Again, I had five positive outcomes in the first thirty days and I lost interest at about the same point in time, about forty days in. I built the list to fifty people quite easily. I tried to push the list larger on 3 June, but five days later just stopped contacting people.

After these two trials I knew I had to change the framework to keep the effort going past forty  days. My approach prior had been when it was time to contact a person I looked at the last communication with that person and tried to come up with some news. Each night was a bit stressful. I had to alter that experience.

On the third approach, I did not start with a predetermined list. I put people on the list if I had a request for them. On my tracking sheet I created three notes sections. In one I wrote what I wanted from them. In the second I wrote how I could contribute to them. The third was a short note on the nature of the last contact. This is the result of organizing my communication this way:

Network Effectively

I had eight positive outcomes in the first 50 days, making for a very consistent results on all three approaches. On this final approach, I easily went past the forty day mark and am still going strong nearly sixty days in.

The trick was designing for the moment that is was time to reach out to someone. Where before I had a blank page in front of me, in this third approach I focussed on what I can contribute to them. This mde the outreach easier because I know I am giving them something and that type of contact is usually welcome. I ask them for something only on when they respond or it is appropriate to the conversation.

So the key to maintaining momentum is lowering the barrier to taking action each day. By removing that tiny hesitation when it is time to reach out the result the result was I kept at it longer. And with the consistent and clear positive outcomes that arise out of keeping in touch with people, applying a trick to sustain momentum is the obvious thing to do.

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Tracking Upsets Yields Insight

I find tracking Upsets yields insight as it tells me about the events that trigger negative reactions in me. These things can be immediate dangers or just imaginings I might have. With this insight I can understand some of my behavior. In my first quantified self study I tracked Upsets and learned a lot. I wanted to repeat the study eighteen months later.

Tracking Upsets Yields Insight

I have explored many techniques to reduce the number and duration of my Upsets. I wanted to see if I could measure changes in the source of Upsets based on the work I had done. And I wanted to see if the proportion of Direct and Self Induced Upsets had changed.

A Direct Upset is the result of something happening in the moment like a car nearly hitting me in the crosswalk. Some element of actual danger is occurring in that moment. An Upset is Self Induced when I am sitting in a quiet room worrying about whether my insurance policy is properly paid up. There is no environmental reason for the worry. I am creating that disaster scenario from pure thought.

My Question

Had my Upsets changed source and type in the last eighteen months?

What I Did 

I logged Upsets for 27 days. There were two conditions for me to log an Upset as occurring. The first was if I had a repeated negative thought. The second was I felt a heat in my body that I associated with being irritated or worried.

How I Did It

I set up my DIY Tracker on an iPhone. The entry was a text box in which I would write the source of the Upset. In a spreadsheet I added three categories to each Upset which were Self Induced/Direct, past/present/future, and source.

What I Learned

Work, other people’s actions, a move to a new house and travel were the leading topics that triggered Upsets in this study:

Tracking Upsets Yields Insight

Eighteen months ago the source profile was similar. Adjusting for different category names, I was thoughtful about work and other people’s actions 50% of the time versus 46% in this study. Technology malfunctions moved from 5% to 10% due to a house move that put me in the position of having to set up a lot of new gadgets. I was on the road much less so the percent for travel dropped from 11% to 6%. Overall the categories had not changed much and where they had the reasons were understandable.

The majority of Upsets were Self Induced. For most of the logged events I was sitting in a comfortable environment dreaming up disaster scenarios:

Tracking Upsets Yields Insight

In the first study I had done the percentage of Self Induced had been much higher. Here are the percentages from the three studies:

Apr-14 May-14 Oct-15
Self Induced 77% 62% 66%
Direct 23% 38% 34%

Tracking Upsets yields insight and the awareness that results seems to reduce the amount of time spent dreaming up disaster scenarios which is a good thing.

As in the earlier studies I was more concerned for the future than regretful of the past.

Tracking Upsets Yields Insight

Looking at only Self Induced Upsets shows that the vast majority of my disaster scenarios are anticipating something bad in the future.

Tracking Upsets Yields Insight

Eighteen months ago my Upsets about the past were 16%. I’m pleased that the past Upsets remain a small percent. There is nothing I can do about a meeting I screwed up in the past. Regret is a fruitless exercise.

Scientists may dislike this type of tracking as it is self reported and completely subjective. Data points about thoughts and emotion are difficult to control for and make statistical validity nearly impossible. Wearables companies are wise to avoid it as they would have no market making potential. Measuring thought is very distant from step counts.  I, however,  find this type of tracking hugely useful as it gives me insight about myself. And that is what quantified self is all about.

Binaural Beats Had No Five Minute Payoff

I conducted an N of 1 study on the effect of binaural beats during a five minute meditation.  My colleague Tim Hanrahan had turned me on to Brain.fm after having written a post about them.

I have always had a soft spot for binaural beats since I discovered the Monroe Institute and hemispherical synchronization while a cadet at West Point. As an aspiring Intelligence Officer, the promise of listening to some frequencies and being upgraded to being able to do remote viewing was too good an opportunity to resist. I envisioned a career of thwarting the Soviet threat armed only my mind and a Sony Walkman. I thought I would be the one to write books like this:

PSYCHIC SOLDIER

But alas, many hours of listening to my special cassette tapes never yielded enough remote viewing skill to be assigned to the psychic corps. All my snooping ended up being electronic. Ho hum. With this background using binaural beats I was ready to try a far less grandiose use case using Brain.fm’s service.

My Question

During a five minute meditation, will using binaural beats be effective in increasing my heart rate variability (HRV) and thus my physiological calm during the session?

What I Did

For 52 sessions of five minutes each, I measured my HRV while either listening to Brain.fm’s unguided meditation soundtrack or to no sound at all.

brain.fm

To ensure I controlled for differences in time of day and physiological condition, at each sitting I did two consecutive five minute sessions, one with the beats and the other without. I used a random number generator to determine whether I used beats first or second in each session. This way each beats session had a corresponding control session with the same physical conditions present.

How I Did It

I used the Brain.fm site while wearing a standard set of earbud headphones and wearing a Polar H7 heart rate belt bluetooth connected to Marco Altini’s Heart Rate Variability Logger app. The HRV measurement I tracked was rMSSD.

All readings were sitting relaxed in a chair breathing at a constant rate, and mental strategy was just the simple “in/out” verbalization of basic meditation.

At the end of the period, I looked at the difference in rMSSD using both a TTest and Wilcoxon ranked sum test.

What I Learned

For me, binaural beats had no five minute payoff. There was no significant difference in my HRV levels when using them or sitting in silence. Both the TTest and the Wilcoxon confirmed this with P values of .98 and .52 respectively.

My subjective experience was that the time in meditation seemed to go much faster when listening to the beats and the associated music. Perhaps the mind was engaged in some way and in doing that the experience of time quickened.

My interest in using binaural beats was as a quick modifier to  my physiological state prior to a meeting or one on one conversation. It would have been useful if I could do a quick frequency induced calming session like I can with BreatheSync. For that specific use binaural beats would not contribute any value.

I reached out to the founders of Brain.fm for their thoughts.They engaged in the discussion and wrote that entrainment does not begin until 10 minutes into the session. I had never seen that written anywhere but I have definitely confirmed that nothing happens at the five minute mark. They also shared a peer reviewed study on the use of brain entrainment to elevate HRV. In that study, the participants listened to the frequencies for 20 minutes and had their HRV measured.

Though I won’t think of binaural beats as a useful preparatory tool at the office I am still interested in seeing if I can replicate the effect reported in the study. I am designing a followup to that end. If you would like updates on this and other studies, make sure you sign up for the QuantXLaFont newsletter and stay tuned here as we look for truly effective ways to heighten alertness and performance.

A look ahead to Sherbit: taking control of your data

By: Tim Hanrahan

I wanted to take a look ahead to Sherbit, and app I saw as a first time attendee at the annual Quantified Self summer conference in San Francisco. I took note of the many smartphone apps in development. The collection of apps there was bountiful and it was exciting to discover new ones each of the three days.

Naturally, there’s a bit of overlap in terms of function. Some apps focus on niche markets (sleep tracking, for ex.) and everyone is selling what makes them unique to their competition, vying for their piece of the pie.

Sherbit stood out. It aggregates all of the data collection from your smartphone and emphasizes taking your own control over the data amidst increasing privacy concerns.

Here’s a quick intro the app released this week:

One of the cool initial takeaways is how Sherbit is aggregating all of the apps you use everyday. Your socials, your locations, your Fitbit, your health data… everything. Ok, sure. But then what?

Well, it looks like they’ll be delivering new conclusions about your daily/weekly/monthly patterns. They can easily track how moving around (or maybe the lack of) could be affecting your energy. Moreover, Sherbit even stresses that they can track your coffee intake’s effect on your sleep (where was that for my post last week?!), why you may be stressed, and even if your workout routine is an optimal one.

This is the exciting potential for Sherbit that I’m most eager to see play out, even more than their focus on privacy. Their aggregate tools, and beautiful interface display already, can naturally test many quantified self experiments without us having to do more than the minimal work, even none at all. That’s a huge step for many beginners who are just discovering the power of the quantified self to improve our own lifestyle.

look ahead to Sherbit
Examples of Sherbit’s applications to receive new insights about yourself.

Where I’m curious to know more about Sherbit comes from their stance that “your data doesn’t just belong to internet companies — it belongs to you.” We can all get behind that if we feel our privacy is threatened, and I’m sure you or someone you know has some digital privacy horror story. That may outweigh the counter benefits of, for example, advertisers having access to our Facebook data. We see more sponsored posts and ads in our feed of products or news in our areas of interest that we like. For now though, Sherbit rates the privacy policies of all of your favorite apps, as they say in their introductory video earlier this year.

Sherbit is currently in Beta form and there currently exists a long wait list to try the app. However, you can find out more through Sherbit’s site (and informative blog on wearable/tech news) and join the wait list there. After speaking to founder Alex Senemar in San Francisco, he’s assured me and the attendees that applications are being readied ASAP to get everyone on the wait list in soon. Between Sherbit and my previously positive first impressions of Compass, I think we’ll be in great hands with a couple of go-to apps who aggregate.

Looking forward to getting my hands on Sherbit next. The app has some great promise, and again, stood out amongst what had to be over 40-50 other booths. You’ll definitely see a follow-up with my first impressions, QS experiments, and more of the benefits I’m sure to discover. To make sure you don’t miss it, take a moment to sign up for our QuantSelfLaFont newsletter below. We only send cool updates, like this week’s where Paul went on a five-day water fast (!)

 

Water Fast Yields Ketosis And Halitosis

I am a regular listener and a fan of Damien Blenkensopp’s The Quantified Body podcast. He podcasted excellent coverage and reportage of his five day water fast so I decided to try it and report back to compare and contrast my experience.

Before the fast I was intimidated by the idea of doing it. Despite hearing evidence from Damien’s experience, I had the idea that I would be in a stupor for five days. I also envisioned that I would have hardcore hunger pain.

man2andemptyplate

I had an embedded fasting advantage and simultaneous disadvantage in the fact that during my military days I attended and graduated from the Army Ranger School. Small ration amounts and long patrols allowed me to experience true near starvation and the associated pain that goes with it. I remembered those pains and dreaded experiencing them again. I was pleased to find the fast was in no way as stressful as Ranger School.

Ranger School Pic

During the fast I took about 3 liters of water a day and had no other liquid or food of any type. Not a single cheat. The closest I came to opening the glove compartment in the car and seeing a box of Tic-Tacs. I resisted though I had lust in my heart.

Why I did it

Other than being inspired by The Quantified Body podcast, I have been trying to test my food and supplement intake to drop my blood glucose levels. I thought a fast would be a way to see my glucose and ketones in a food free state. And I liked the challenge of it.

What I measured

For the fast I measured:

What I Found

Overall, I found that fasting for five days is not stressful, does not put me into a stupor and my glucose level dropped to a range Damien and his co-fasters reported seeing. As a technique, a water fast yields ketosis like I had never experienced before. I lost 10 lbs. And I had horrible bad breath for four of the days. Here are the details.

Heart Rate Variability

My heart rate variability (HRV) averaged an rMSSD of 44 during the fast and my average over multiple months prior was 50. The lowered period on the graph just prior to the fast was due to travel.

1. HRV&Fasting

Glucose & Ketones

Fasting glucose clearly dropped from an average of 101 down to 69 for days 3, 4 and 5. Of interest is that it took my body two days to adjust.

2. WakingGlucose

It took me the two days to bring my ketones up to a point where they were more plentiful than my dropping glucose. I had three days of the glucose-ketone ratio being under 1.0, which reportedly has a therapeutic effect. This was a great outcome. Here are my afternoon (postprandial) readings:
3. Glucose & Ketones

Weight

Obviously weight was going to drop as I was not eating. I was an average of 192 pre-fast and lost 10 lbs by the end of the fast.

4. Weight

Here is a before and after picture that shows for me what losing 10 lbs looks like. Picture on left was the night before the fast, right the last day of the fast.

Fast Yields Ketosis and Halitosis

Awake

Nine times a day I measured how alert I felt because my story was that I would be in a stupor. A measure of 3 is normal, 2 would be actually yawning. You can see I was yawning tired in the first few days then my body compensated. I was never exhausted.

6. Awake Readings

Hunger

I felt hunger pangs throughout but intermittently. Only once did I have a headache related to the fast which was the end of day 2. Notably day 3 on my awareness of hunger diminished and you can see the jump in scores (higher is less hungry).

5. Hunger Graph Fast

Muse Calm

My Muse calm score seemed to drop off through the fast. I felt calm and good each morning on waking you can see the drop when the fast started. Bears further investigation.

8. MuseCalmFast

Blood Pressure

My diastolic blood pressure was completely unaffected and my sistolic popped up a bit on days 3 & 4.
9. Blood Pressure

Notes On The Experience

My original idea was to have a five day period to focus on the fast and be sequestered away to save energy, but life intruded. I had several social commitments that had been scheduled well before I decided to do the fast to include a Meetup and a charity event.

One significant drawback is my breath was awful. According to Damien and his fellow fasters, this is due to increased acetone that comes out through the breath. When you are discussing deep thoughts at a charity event while spewing breath that can knock a buzzard off a manure wagon you have discovered the downside of fasting.

Anecdotally I felt great when I was focused on a task and was able to get a lot of work done. But when I was interrupted or had a something suddenly come up I experienced fairly hot and palpable irritation. This seemingly lowered ability to handle context switches deserves further study.

This is the most meaningful and impactful experiment I have done. I ended the fast having experienced the fact that our bodies have a deep reserve of nutrients and that eating huge meals three times a day is completely unnecessary. Doing this has raised my interest in finding my own optimal nutrient level. Thanks for Damien for the inspiration. Good times ahead.

Part 2: Takeaways from pre-workout caffeine’s effects on performance

Post by: Tim Hanrahan

About 6 weeks ago, I came to a realization. I had been trying to drink coffee 30 minutes before a workout based on some hearsay and research to confirm its positive effect… but I had never been tracking my pre-workout caffeine’s effects on performance. I thought I was feeling good, but sometimes I didn’t really feel any change. How can I know for sure? And because I do different forms of workouts at different times of the day, what’s the best combination of variables for the highest boost?

That’s what I was intrigued to find out and I tracked and reported my initial takeaways at the end of August. The summary: I found that drinking coffee 30 minutes before a workout does in fact give me a boost, but it varied between how much of a boost it gave me. Going forward into September, I wanted to hone these results in even more and test a few more variables.

Below is a breakdown of my process, results, and new takeaways.

 

Process:

I again used Apple Health to track the quantity and frequency of caffeine consumption. By the end of my last tracking period in August, I had become a 3-cup a day coffee drinker, primarily using my trusty Kuerig and K-cups that contained 150mg of caffeine.

I also used QXL’s own DIY Tracker to gauge my feelings after a workout and analyze my performance. I was extremely disciplined to record my results and in general reflect about my fitness. I was of course hoping for that “Very High Boost” and the results began to show a pattern after another month tracking my progress.

pre-workout caffeine's effects on performance
My custom survey to rate how big a boost the caffeine had on my workout, using the QXL DIY Tracker.

 

Results:

As part of my initial tracking, I made sure to note when I was having coffee before working or with breakfast in the morning. It was good background information to have, but after 4 weeks, I began to understand my daily routine and didn’t feel the need track these instances. This decluttered my data to only show the times of my workout routines and my boost rating from there, noting on the side the days I had 2 or 3 cups of coffee.

Having said that, here’s a look at my data of my reflections on the caffeine’s effects, illustrated through the DIY Tracker’s automatic recordings to a Google Doc.

pre-workout caffeine's effects on performance
An overview of my September data, focusing more on just the caffeine intake before a workout.

 

Takeaways:

I believe I have found my sweet spot.

When only focusing on my desired “Very High Boosts”, the common element was that it came after a 3rd coffee, before I played basketball at night around 8pm. During these instances, I felt a noticable change multiple times. I was playing with a sharp attention span and ability to make quick decisions, essential for being a point guard. I play recreationally in competitive leagues and had some of my best games in the past 2 months with these pre-workout variables lined up. In fact, drinking a 3rd cup of coffee 30 minutes before playing basketball led to an 89% chance of getting the optimal “Very High” boost.

To also arrive at this conclusion, I compared my “3rd cup of coffee” variable to my performance playing at the same time (8pm) but having only 2 cups of coffees during the day (1 of which, 30 minutes before). I also included my performance after doing a Pilates workout, which was almost always after my 2nd cup of coffee during the day. I noticed there was a high propensity for a boost, whether slight or solid 79% of the time, but only the optimal “Very High” boost 14% of the time.

Conversely, I compared the boosts to a few morning pilates workouts I did during this time period too. I failed to really feel more than a slight boost, providing the first piece of evidence to me that I’m just not a morning person (as my routine also dictates now). This inspires me now to research… What is the cummulative effect of caffeine throughout the day as more and more is consumed?

Finally, I was also able to quickly answer one of my other questions from back in August. I wanted to test the variable of consuming more caffeine than usual during the 30 minute pre-workout period and see how that would affect my performance. I already felt comfortable with my K-cup amount, but I had to see if even more would be even better.

pre-workout caffeine's effects on performance
I tried a large Dunkin Donuts coffee (20 fl. oz, 244mg caffeine) because I had to play in a tournament in the morning. I felt the jitters and it affected my game. Too much caffeine?

Au contraire. It actually made my performance worse. The added caffeine made me too antsy and anxious. I actually was conscious of quick, edgy, and fidgety movements that translated poorly on the court. I played like I was trying to do much and go too fast instead of letting the game come to me. In basketball, just like in consuming caffeine, or life in general, it’s all about finding that balance. I’m glad it only took me a couple of different gamedays (and losses) to keep my caffeine intake in moderation. Sometimes it means going too far the other way to better hone in the optimal place along the spectrum.

It took 6 weeks, and some untracked experiences before that, to A.) confirm my research and hypothesis that caffeine 30 minutes before a workout positively impacts my performance, and B.) find the right balance of how much caffeine both at the time and throughout the day yields my optimal boost for best performance. It’s a gratifying point in my journey: to understand myself even more to gain a better chance to achieve my goals on the court. That’s what QS is all about and that’s what you can do too. Everyone’s different, so you can create the DIY Tracker to help you follow whatever passion you want to pursue too.

pre-workout caffeine's effects on performance
This was me, but playing basketball. This could be YOU: rock climbing or _____________.