Tag Archives: Cardiac Coherence

Five Meeting Heart Rate Variability Compared

I had an opportunity to compare five meetings that had similar content and the same attendees over a one month period. My colleagues and I were preparing a big launch and we were looking at the plan in a series of review meetings. In the first meeting I had created a first draft plan and had to present to executives I was meeting for the first time. I was not sure of how they liked to consume information and was on edge. So the first meeting looked like this:

Slide1

What you see here is that I was in “overdrive” 33.8% of the meeting time.Overdrive means I my parasympathetic nervous system had stepped aside and my sympathetic nervous system had me in fight/flight mode. The blue lines in the chart are those heartbeats where the difference in time between beats was under 17 milliseconds for at least 10 consecutive beats. This meeting was almost two hours long, I was answering a lot of detail and we were finding our way together so I was in overdrive for one third the time.

We returned to review the progress from the first meeting a week later. In this I had my materials memorized and I knew how the executives consumed information. The meeting went very well, and we still had a lot of work to do. Using the same definition of Overdrive here is the chart:

Slide2

This second meeting was almost two hours long and because I was so prepared I was in Overdrive only 10.8% of the time. As you can see from the chart there were only periodic physiological accelerations. Big difference. In the next meeting, the executive I was supporting and I did not have a lot of time to prepare for the meeting. We went in without synchronizing. You can see the chart here:

Slide3

I was in Overdrive 15.2% of the meeting. You can see that my physiological fight/flight lines are concentrated early in the meeting as the executive that I was supporting and I were synching up. We found our way pretty quickly and you can see the blue lines even out.

In the fourth meeting we had taken another week to make progress on the launch. A lot of the details were worked out and we were in pretty good shape. When we got together the same executives were in the room and my supervising executive and I had a chance to coordinate. You can see the results in this chart:
Slide4

Overdrive was only 4.4% of the time and the meeting was smooth. I felt good in the meeting and the readings show things went smoothly. We had one last meeting to get final check off an approval. I would through this data out because the environmentals of the meeting completely threw things off. You can see the data is very different:

Slide5

Here you see a complete physiological meltdown as I was in Overdrive 87.2% of the time. Turns out the office I was taking the meeting from was extremely hot. I was perspiring and uncomfortable. It was a distracting situation. The meeting went well. We got approval and the communications afterward were universally positive. I believe the physical discomfort overrode the comfort with the materials.

So it appeared that reviews of familiar material with the same team of people did results in less time in Overdrive. Comfort with the material and people improved my performance. The last meeting is odd and I can’t definitively explain it with the hot temperature. But the first four seem to indicate improvements.

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How Meetings Go – Physiologically

I have been measuring my rMSSD during work meetings to see what factors impact my performance when engaging face to face with others. I recently had two meetings with the same group of people on the same topic about a week apart. Before each meeting I also took my blood sugar to see if there was any information to be gleaned there. Here are the charts:

Slide1My blood sugar was abnormally high at 135 before the first meeting. I can’t account for it as I had salmon for lunch two hours before. My average rMSSD was much lower at 28.7 which is a reading of high stress. My stress point for rMSSD is 48, when I am below that reading it is an indicator that I am in stress. My experience during the meeting was of being overly excited and I breathed regularly during the meeting.

During the second meeting I was careful about my food choices for the day and had a good blood glucose level of 105. My average rMSSD for the meeting was higher at 38.8. I felt more in the zone in the second meeting physiologically. We were digging into more details in the second meeting and I felt challenged at a few points, and you can see where the reading drops to a very low rMSSD at a few points.

If asked I would have said the first meeting was more successful based on the discussion. And I would have said the second meeting was more challenging. However physiologically the second meeting was far less stressful than the first. When less stressed I imagine my actual performance was better. So my perception of the outcome was very different than the physiological reality.

Next step is to measure outcomes and see if the results correlate with the physiological state occurring during the meetings. I can’t rely on my perception of the situation so further readings will determine outcomes with physiology.

My Quantified Self Gear 2014

I have steered clear of reviewing products because I think simply buying products has very little to do with Quantified Self. And I thought it good for me to review what I used and how useful some of it was. My premise for my QS work in 2014 was to use technology to train myself to be happier.  I had used several Garmin products to successfully train for a half Ironman. Why couldn’t I train myself to be happier?

I pulled everything out of my wearables storage drawer and took this photo of everything I bought in 2014:

QSGear

The items:

I started with a Pebble smartwatch that my wife had given to me as a birthday gift. $99 from the original Kickstarter campaign. I love it and still use it daily with one app called Motiv8 that tracks activity.

Google Glass. What can I say. I fancied myself as an Explorer with $1500 burning a hole in my pocket. I once looked up the population of the state of New Jersey on it and sent my son an email saying “Hi this is my talking to my Google Glass.” That about sums it up. It has not been charged up for about 8 months now. It was so deep in the drawer it did not make the picture above and I just now remembered having it. Enough said.

Zensorium’s Tinke. Billing itself as a stress and fitness measurement device, I purchased one at the Quantified Self Europe conference in Amsterdam for over $100. Its readings made no sense to me and it went into the drawer pretty quickly.

Heartmath’s emWave2 & emWave Pro. This was over $400 worth of gear and if you follow this blog or my QS speeches at all I did get a lot of use out of both products. I conducted multiple experiments and accrued 183,843 “coherence points” – which is quite a few hours of cardiac coherence. In the end I grew out of it as coherence was not my ultimate goal. I think this product is way overpriced and was useful.

Neurosky Mindwave & Mindwave Mobile. Over $200 in cost, I could never get either headset to work consistently. I took some readings but any attempt to get the devices to reliably produce output was frustrated by bluetooth connectivity issues  of some sort. A big disappointment from Neurosky.

Emfit sleep monitor. I met the Emfit team at the QS EU conference and they helpfully offered me a free trial of their product. A combination of wireless connectivity issues and my move from London to San Francisco resulted in my never getting it working.

Mio heart rate band. Very slick implementation and a comfortable wrist band that uses pulse oximetry. I loved the idea, and it was not useful for heart rate variability experiments. The accuracy was not good enough so into the drawer it went. I paid over $100 for it.

After visiting with a friend who worked at Basis I dutifully bought the first version of the watch for around $150. I liked a lot of the ideas but did not really take to the interface or the gamification element of the online account. By the time I bought it I had eliminated pulse oximetry as reliable source of heart rate data. I gave it to a friend and he likes it.

Fitbit flex. I ended up buying two for $99 each because the first one gave out and stopped charging. The second one was spotty on charging as well. I used the product for 10 months and got a lot of value from it. In the end, the inability to charge it and a policy change that eliminated active minutes as a goal had me put it in the drawer. I replaced it with the $79 Garmin Vivofit because I do like to monitor my daily activity. So far that seems to be working out.

Sweetbeatlife & the VitalConnect Patch. Sweetbeat Life is an app that takes heart rate data from either a belt or the VitalConnect Patch. The patch seemed novel as it was convenient and comfortable. And it did not stay adhered on my chest for more than a few sessions. It was a breathtaking $199 for a set of 10 patches. I did not understand the real cost until the first patch fell off after the second use. Really cool and really expensive. I went back to the old reliable Polar H7 heart rate belt for a nice price of $80.  And one belt will last the whole year.

One thing that is not clearly stated is that you need top end smartphones to use apps associate with all this hardware. Neurosky, Fitbit, VitalConnect Patch and even my much loved Pebble need a phone with Bluetooth LE. I had an older version Android phone without Bluetooth LE so I needed to buy an iPod5 for iOS only apps and devices $199. And for Android I had to buy another device with LE so I bought a Nexus 7 tablet for $245.

So a quick add up gives me approximately $3,500 worth of gear of which 42% of that is the Google Glass. What did that expenditure do for me? It taught me through brute force that picking an area of Quantified Self to study and focussing there is 90% wikipedia work and networking with other people who have knowledge. 10% is hardware. And ultimately the majority of value came from about $500 worth of the gear I bought (Heartmath Pro, Polar H7, iPod5). The rest helped me understand some things but were not good value for money. For the Quantified Self, as in life, money cannot buy you happiness.

My Quantified Self 2014 in Review

I had a good Quantified Self year this year. As a long time logger and casual athlete I have always logged my personal data in some form. This year with the support of the Quantified Self community I was able to explore two specific areas. First, I moved stress tracking from self reporting to the use of wearable devices. Though I bought a few more devices than I would have liked I found that heart rate variability measurements using $65 worth of equipment was sufficient to track stress. Second, I was able to pull out insights about consciousness and heart rate variability that set the stage for future studies.

I explored 20 ideas this year that I organized into five umbrella studies. I started looking at the data I had collected through self reporting of “Upset Events.” I followed that up with a look at Upset intensity given different situations. After seeing the limits of self reporting I started using different devices to measure stress, settling on Heartmath used during working session. Using the device I discovered Freakback can have an effect on results. After learning how to work through that I completed a first study on how I recovered from Upsets.

As I was conducting these studies I had an emerging idea that emotion is navigation. The regularity of emotional shifts seemed like “sighting” as I worked through different ideas. As I worked on this idea I found that Heartmath was too limited in what it measures. Heart Rate Variability has a more direct measurement in rMSSD. I dropped Heartmath and started using Sweetwater HRV’s SweetbeatLife to monitor rMSSD. Using this tool I started measuring stressful events like getting a tooth drilled and firing a shotgun. I played with machine learning and straight statistical regression and determined my “stress point” when read by rMSSD. This provides me a tool to study a variety of situations going forward.

Along the way I gave five Quantied Self meetup talks, 2 in London, 1 in Amsterdam and 2 in the Bay Area. In London and Amsterdam I did my talk We Never Fight on Wednesdays, and in London my followup Don’t Just Stand There. In the Bay Area I presented my talk Every Other Minute where I talked about the navigation impulse. And finally my Bay Area presentation on heart rate variability and Flow. These talks went well and I am set up to give a presentation at the QS Global conference (QS15) in June.

Some of the 20 ideas did not pan out. My work on 800 numbers went nowhere. Ideas about reading my heart rate while doing The Work by Byron Katie did not have sufficient detail to be interesting. Several other ideas blew up on the launchpad. However, I’m pleased with the progress this year. In my next post I will talk about the lessons I have learned during this work.

Why I Like Breathe Sync

Breathe Sync is one of a host of paced breathing apps on the iOS App Store. I have tried five different apps for the iPhone and Android whose aim is to bring the breath to an evenly paced level. The formats vary. A few just offer the pacing clock and you breathe in accordance with a visual representation of the in breath and the out breath. Others use the camera phone to measure some level of cardiac coherence and give feedback, either in real time or at the end of the session.

I like Breathe Sync because it has given me the fastest and most effective path to get into a high level of coherence. I use it now to “power up” when I need a boost to coherence. The interface is very straightforward:

 BreatheSync

The circle in the middle expands and contracts based on in the in and out breath respectively. The heart in the upper right pulses to let you know that the app is picking up your heart rate. And the timer on the bottom lets you know how much time until the end of the session. You have your finger on the camera so it is reading your heart rate. And here is where Breathe Sync is different – it changes your breath pattern based on the state of your heart rate. Coherence occurs when your heart rhythm and your breath rhythm are moving on the same cycle and Breathe Sync gets you there faster as it moves your breath rhythm to your heart rhythm.

How much so? I measured my coherence using Heartmath Pro and for 25 sessions would fire up Breathe Sync for a 1 minute session when I was in low coherence according to the Heartmath coherence score. The average Heartmath coherence score increased was 2.7 points per Breathe Sync one minute session. From experience, that is a large increase. When I used Heartmath’s own breath pacer in comparison 1 minute sessions after hitting a low coherence score the improvement was .75 points per session.

The difference in approach is that Heartmath does not change the breathing based on your heart rhythm. You breath steadily and eventually the heart catches up. It works but it is much slower.

As with all disciplines there is a mixture of tools that gives good results. Heartmath gives a coherence score that lets you know how you are doing. Breathe Sync gets you to coherence faster than any other approach. And SweetBeat Life allows you to take detailed and accurate telemetry while on the road. Currently I use all three to get the best results.

Improvement Results In Upset Recovery

I am pleased to be presenting the results of this study at the QuantifiedSelf Meetup in San Francisco on 28 July.  As I have been crunching the numbers I thought I would give a sneak peek at the summary results.

Starting on 24 June and I sat for 71 sessions using the Heartmath Pro and a digitial recorder. I would do work on a computer and record verbally what I was thinking when the Heartmath indicated I was dropping out of cardiac coherence (Upset). I was measuring interruptions to coherency which roughly correspond to being distracted or Upset while working.

As the sessions progressed I developed recovery techniques to try and move back to coherence (Poise) as quickly as possible. I wanted to see if I could reduce the amount of time I was Upset during the sessions. The data shows that my techniques did reduce the amount of time I spent Upset in each session over the course of the study:

1PercentSession

What this graph means is that the % of time I spent Upset per session went from close to 35% at the baseline to 12% at completion. In time terms, that means in each 60 minutes of work I was able to add back 13 minutes and 48 seconds of productive time. When in Poise my thoughts are more focussed, clearer and my output higher.

As an example of how Poise made for more a more productive mental state, while working on multiple administrative issues I needed to recall a mailing address. In every session when I was in Poise I could do this with ease. During one particular session I was in Upset and I could not remember the address at all. I remember thinking “I know this information” but I had to look it up on my computer. When I returned to Poise I could again easily remember the address. This is one anecdote that reflects my qualitative experience of how clear my mind was when in either Upset or Poise.

My second question was if the number of Upsets were decreasing per session. The techniques slightly improved the average time between upsets, but not enough to account for the overall improvement show in the first graph:

2MinsbetweenUpsets

The average time between Upsets in each session went from 2 minutes to 2.5 minutes over the course of the study. My qualitative experience was that the sessions had a steady diet of distractions and upsets that would occur before I was even aware of it and the machine had to alert me that I had triggered. My pre-conscious awareness was knocking me into an Upset state at a pretty steady rate.

What accounted for the improvement? The techniques I developed to effectively react to the Upset look to be the driver. The length of time I spent in the Upset state once I detected it dropped over the course of the sessions:

3Minsperupset

Awareness and consistent response in this study was particularly effective in improving how fast I could reverse an Upset. The methods were based on the two navigational impulses I discussed in my earlier post on Feeling Lost or in the Wrong Place. I have now moved to measuring two sessions daily as training to embed the ability to reverse Upsets with a guide of keeping the % of session time in Upset at around 10%. So far the results have been positive.

Look forward to seeing you at the QS SF Meetup!