All posts by NoSelfLaFont

About NoSelfLaFont

Exploring the implications of the fact that thought is a useful, but inaccurate, description of reality.

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.

 

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.

 

Smart Drugs Do Not Make Me Smart

I thought I would try a nootropic, or “smart drug,” to see how it would work for me. I really like the podcast Smart Drug Smarts, by Jesse Lawler. It is well produced, informative and entertaining. Jesse is great, however, he does not shy away from pitching his products as in each episode he encourages you to buy his nootropic, Nexus.

Smart Drugs Do Not Make Me Smart

Nexus ingredients include Aniracetam, CDP Choline, Phosphatidylserine, and Pycnogenol®. On the website the product claims to “enhance cognition, beat stress, and sharpen concentration.” It goes on to claim that it created with fast thinking and neuroprotectivity in mind. The capsules are not cheap. At $1.00 a capsule and a recommended daily dose of 2 capsules, you are in for $60 a month, or $55 if you subscribe. At that cost, it had better work.

My Question

Would Nexus improve my cognitive performance?

What I Did

I tested myself using eight cognitive tests in the Quantified-Mind app after either taking Nexus or not. I then compared scores of the group of tests where I took Nexus to the scores where I did not take Nexus to see if the smart drug improved my test scores.

How I Did It

I created a spreadsheet column of randomly assigned numbers between o and 1. Each day in the afternoon I checked the next number in the column. It if was 1, I took two caplets of Nexus. If it was 0, I did not take Nexus. Thirty minutes after I took the capsule (or not), I would open the Quantified-Mind app and take eight tests. Those tests took approximately 15 minutes. They ranged from memory tests like dual-n-back to attention and reaction tests. I took down each test score for all eight tests and put them in the spreadsheet. After 19 tests, I compared the averages in the two groups and did a student’s TTest to see if the differences in readings were significant.

What I Learned

Smart drugs do not make me smart. Of the eight tests I took during each session, there was no significant difference in the readings between if I had taken Nexus or I had not. Here are my scores:

Smart Drugs Do Not Make Me Smart

You can see that none of the tests had a statistically significant difference. If there was, the TTest P value would have been less than .05. You can argue that the sample size was too small. If we discard the TTest and just look at the averages, my scores seemed to go down in all but two of the categories.

Of interest is that on one test I seemed to do better – Attentional Focus. On that test you stare at two lines and tap a key when one gets longer. It can be difficult to maintain staring at the lines and the Nexus seemed to improve my averages there. On all the others, where I had some cognitive task to perform, my scores seemed to be degraded.

So I guess if I had an important report to write and I took Nexus I would stay focussed on the keyboard and keep typing, but the words that came out might not make as much sense.

One of the things I learned from Smart Drug Smarts podcast is that a test of one brain…is a test of one brain. The mixture found in Nexus might work for you. And I will continue being a fan of Jesse and his podcast. It is intelligent, fun, and informative. I just won’t buy his nootropics because they don’t work for me.

One thing I did learn in several sessions I had to throw out is that a lack of sleep trashes cognitive performance. On those days that I had had a poor night sleep the night before my scores were awful. I threw out those sessions, and I learned that sleep trumps nootropics with respect to performance. So in the future if I get a good nights sleep, and have an inexpensive cup of coffee in the morning my brain will be in good enough shape to handle that work report without having to resort to smart drugs.

Meditation Breakthrough With Brain.fm

As a followup to my earlier work on binaural beats, I did another tracking study using Brain.fm. After fine tuning the approach and trying it for more than a month, I had a meditation breakthrough with Brain.fm.  I found a hugely useful technique to help me have a smoother wakeup.

breakthrough with brain.fm
What it might look like to wake up without the brain working to full capacity.

Each morning I conduct a tracking routine that includes heart rate variability (HRV), blood pressure, blood glucose and various body dimension measurements. In my last study, I had used Brain.fm for five-minute sessions without any discernable effect on my physiology. With feedback from the founders of Brain.fm, I retooled the tracking approach and tried again.

What I Did

The advice I got was that it takes 10 minutes to entrain the brain using binaural beats. I redid the tracking study so that I added a 10-minute session prior to taking a five-minute HRV reading. I wanted to ensure I had enough time listening to the binaural beats so the would be effective.

To determine the efficacy of Brain.fm’s binaural beat meditation soundtrack, I compared it to similar sounding music without binaural beats embedded. I wanted to compare the effect on HRV after 10 minutes of binaural beats vs an identical period of time without the beats.

How I Did It

I created a Google spreadsheet with a randomly generated number (0 or 1) for each day in the study. On waking, I would look at the sheet to determine whether to use Brain.fm (1) or a Pandora station I called “meditation” (0) that I set up with reference artists Deva Premal and Krishna Das.

If I used Brain.fm I would turn on the unguided meditation for 10 minutes and sit relaxed with normal respiration.

breakthrough with brain.fm

On completion of the 10 minute session, I put on the Polar H7 heart rate belt and the HRV Logger from Marco Altini and took a five-minute HRV reading while continuing to listen to the Brain.fm binaural beats.

On days when I used the Pandora station I would conduct the exact same procedure listening to the meditative music without binaural beats. On completion for both music sources, I would log my rMSSD measurement in the Google spreadsheet.

What I Learned

I was unable to find a significant difference in my physiological state when using music with binaural beats or music without binaural beats. Across 30 measurements, my average rMSSD with binaural beats was 50.9 vs 49.8 without binaural beats. The T Test showed that there was no statistically significant difference between the two soundtrack types (p=.87).

The Brain.fm site says that its binaural beats would have an immediate effect, and it appears that immediate means at least longer than 10 minutes. As a tactical approach to calming the body or the mind on waking, I don’t find it practical to have a preparatory session longer than 10 minutes. So for me, Brain.fm’s binaural beats are not a good tool to assist in my morning meditation.

The Breakthrough With Brain.fm

Though the soundtrack with embedded binaural beats did not have a discernable effect on my HRV readings, I did have a breakthrough with Brain.fm. My continued use of the product showed me without question that some form of music played during morning deep breathing work made it more likely I would engage in the activity and stick with it once I started.

There is something pleasant and energizing about sitting quietly for 10 minutes while my physical system comes online and wakes up. I found myself getting out of bed more readily knowing the session was the first thing I would do. Once I started the session it seemed to go quickly. Often I was surprised when my device indicated I had successfully completed the session.

For my morning sessions, I will still use Brain.fm. It has a pleasing format, it easy to use and I like the soundtrack. It is packaged well enough to be ready for use. I am realistic about it jacking my brain with frequencies in less than 10 minutes. That does not happen. Sometimes, however, relaxing tunes is just good enough to make a product useful and for that, Brain.fm is a winner.

Muse Indirectly Crushes Meditation Training

Looking at my morning tracking routine I realized that one of the most impactful wearable devices I have used has been the Muse EEG headband. After using it for more than five months, I think that Muse indirectly crushes meditation training.

I started using the Muse EEG headband in June of this year and have sat with it 152 sessions. The data the product has given me has not been the source of value. The source of value has been that the product has helped me become a habitual meditator.

Muse indirectly crushes meditation training

Muse claims to read your EEG and give you a “calm” score. It also awards a secondary score that is cumulative as a game style mechanic to keep you coming back.

When I started with Muse I took a straightforward sporting approach to the mediation training.  I would practice each morning with a goal to get higher “calm” scores. I saw it similar to training for a 5K where I would look to my speed. The fun would be to see how much higher I could push my calm score with practice.

Unfortunately, it did not work out that way. I did not improve the score even with months of  practice.

Muse indirectly crushes meditation trainingThe calm score itself is of questionable usefulness. It did not correlate with any other physiological factor that I compared it with. For example, when looking at the correlation between the score and heart rate variability (HRV) across 145 readings, there was no relationship (Pearson r = -.016). I had taken HRV readings simultaneous with the Muse readings and they did not track together at all. Blood glucose levels (r= -.17), average resting heart rate (r = .13), blood pressure (r=.21) all were at best a weak relationship.

Thinking that the calm score might somehow be associated with how distracted or stressed I was, I looked at a morning mood score I had been keeping versus the calm score. Oddly, I found a moderate inverse relationship between the Muse calm and my perception of mood (r = -.32). That meant I was more “calm” when I was in a lousier mood that morning. That made no sense at all.

So my original idea of practicing to increase my calm score did not pan out for me.  So why do I believe Muse indirectly crushes meditation training? Because for me, meditation had been boring and numerous attempts in the last 32 years to incorporate it in my daily routine had failed miserably. Chasing the Muse score in a structured way each morning I broke the boredom and acquired the habit of meditating. And meditating has scientifically validated positive benefits.

The Muse basic session is six minutes long with a starting calibration of one minute then a five minute reading. After multiple months of starting doing these simple six minute readings with the headband I found I had started comfortably expanding the amount of time I was sitting quietly.

First, I incorporated a ten-minute session before the Muse session to test the effectiveness of binaural beats, and that ended up with me sitting quietly for fifteen minutes each morning. Then a podcast on HRV inspired me to add twenty minutes of paced breathing later in the day. I was able to expand because I had gotten comfortable with sitting during the initial months of short six minute Muse sessions.

So the paradoxical outcome presents itself. In the past when I had tried to “learn” to meditate I could not do it for long and was unsuccessful. When I introduced the game of chasing the Muse calm score I was able to get enough time sitting quietly to find meditation doable and even pleasurable. And when I had enough data to determine the score I had been chasing was meaningless I had worked my way up to 35 minutes of sitting a day. That is why Muse indirectly crushes meditation training.

I imagine the engineers who created the scoring system and the EEG technology may not appreciate my assessment. It seems better to have the scoring and EEG technology to be a valued feature. However, the product bills itself as a meditation assistant. In that, it performs its job perfectly.

To someone looking for a Quantified Self product review on Muse the answer may sound like something out of a wearables zen koan. To realize the value of the Muse product, diligently try to improve your Muse score until you are sitting in comfortable in daily meditation realizing that the score never was the point.

 

 

 

Slow Breathing Workout Increases My HRV

What is the Slow Breathing Workout?

I heard Richard Gervitz talking about a slow breathing workout as part of a daily discipline on the Quantified Body Podcast. I had started doing slow breathing sessions back in May 2014 though I had never specifically looked at the effect on my daily heart rate variability (HRV) reading. And I had fallen out of the habit so I was interested in trying it again.

slow breathing workout

A slow breathing workout means taking your respiration to a slower pace than normal with inhalations and exhalations of equal length. This is not normal breathing as it synchronizes the cardiac and respiratory systems. Gervitz recommended 20 minutes per day.

The beneficial effects of doing this breathing include a more flexible autonomic nervous system, increased resilience to physical or psychological stress, and sharpened mental clarity. Motivated by what I heard on the podcast, I decided to jump back into a disciplined slow breathing workout.

My Question

Could doing 20 minutes a day of deep, meditative breathing in the afternoon improve my morning HRV readings?

What I Did

I had a standing practice of measuring my HRV for five minutes on waking each morning. This provided a baseline of 24 readings. I began doing 20 minutes of evenly paced breathing each afternoon. This provided 18 additional morning readings that were impacted by the slow breathing workouts. I controlled for confounders by removing readings where circumstances were out of the norm like low amounts of sleep or too much food.

How I Did It

For my morning readings, I used Marco Altini’s Heart Rate Variability Logger to take a five-minute rMSSD reading.

slow breathing workout

Prior to the five minute readings I would listen to 10 minutes of soft music to settle in and ensure I was relaxed. For my afternoon HRV breathing workouts, I used a basic breath pacer app for iOS. With it, I could set the number of seconds per inhalation and exhalation. This would allow me to breath slowly and at a steady pace for the sessions.

slow breathing workout

I also like to get biofeedback as I do my slow breathing, so I used Heartmath Pro to track how effectively I got I aligned my cardiac and respiratory systems. The Heartmath dashboard shows the HRV in the top panel and the heart beat frequencies in the lower left panel.

slow breathing workout

The useful thing about the biofeedback is that I could adjust the length of my inhalations and exhalations until I found the highest level of alignment. Without feedback I would have to use levels derived from published data. With the biofeedback I had set up slow breathing exercises tailored for my physiology.

What I Learned

Starting an afternoon slow breathing workout regime increased my average morning HRV readings to a significant degree. You can see the lift in the scores on the graph of readings through the period:

slow breathing workout

Looking at my readings pre-program my rMSSD averaged 42.8 for the morning session and post-program it averaged 54.8, a 28% increase. Doing a TTest comparing the readings before and after being on the slow breathing workout showed a p-value of .037, meaning the change was statistically significant. You can see the raw data that is the basis of the calculations.

I found my optimal breathing came out at 7 seconds for each inhale and 7 seconds for each exhale. I started with 5.5 seconds per inhale and exhale and kept moving it up until I found my level.

That said, the biofeedback application is not necessary to get the benefit of a slow breathing workout. Though it is helpful to get the biofeedback readings, a simple breathing app with 20 minutes of practice each day will give you all the benefits. And I will continue with it now that I have established its value.

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.

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.