Tag Archives: Emotions as Navigation

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:


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:


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:


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:

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:


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.

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

Using the Parasympathetic Flatline

Using the Parasympathetic Flatline I analyzed a discussion with a colleague. I was following up on a topic that was not controversial. We had discussed this topic about a month prior. The colleague and I get along in a positive way.  So this should have been a relatively stress free and short meeting.

I used Marco Altini’s Heart Rate Variability Logger and a Polar H7 heart rate monitor to gather the base data while recording the meeting with my smart phone. Pulling that data into a spreadsheet I used my Parasympathetic Flatline model to determine at what point in the meeting I was experiencing physiological stress. I pulled the recording, the heart rate variability readings and the transcript into a timeline graph.


What we see here is when I talked (green), when my colleague talked (blue) and when I was experiencing a physiological event of what I call Parasympathetic Flatline (red), or stress. There are specific points in the discussion when I was amped up, but they were not what I expected.

I had a hypothesis that I was entering these states when I was putting myself “out there,” however I had one moment about 3/4 of the way through the meeting where I really pushed the boundary of a sensitive topic but I did not experience stress. I was synched with my colleague and the discussion did not trigger stress at that point.

There were four points in the discussion, however, that I entered a heightened state when I wanted the conversation to go in a different direction. My agenda was not being followed. In the first two, early in the conversation, I wanted to hear the answer to the question more directly. I was impatient. In the second two, I had the information I needed and wanted to wrap up.

It appears that difficult topics are not stress inducing when discussing them with a colleague when we are in synch, but my overall judgements about the progress of the discussion seem to trigger an aroused state. It is our judgements about the situation that may be the source of stress.

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 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.

Anatomy of an Upset & Return to Poise

I introduced the concept of the heart’s EM signature and thought I would unpack a few Upsets and returns to Poise so we could see both the context and the movement at the EM spectrum level. Both of these Upsets were during a work session yesterday. I was using Heartmath ERMPro to measure my EM signature and a simple digital recorder to hear what I was thinking at the point of Upset. The environment was quiet and without distractions while I was returning emails to colleagues to set up meetings.

Upset #1: The Undefined Meeting Date

I sent a note to a colleague suggesting a date and time to meet and immediately pinged red on the meter. I felt that I was in the “Wrong Place”, a navigational term I introduced in an earlier post. The feeling originated from not knowing if I had created a conflict with other meetings and a vague sense that this colleague had already rejected this date. All of this was at the feeling level and added up to a signal of being in the Wrong Place. The signature looked like this:


The EM signature showed my heart in the very low band, usually associated with Sympathetic Nervous System, or “fight/flight.” This Wrong Place feeling had put me on alert at a fundamental level.

Having practiced the most effective response to this is reversing the belief, I started hunting for the underlying pre-conscious picture that was creating the trigger. After some tries I hit on it – the date and time I had proposed really did not work for me either. Here is the profile:


Though this reversal process s aimed at creating a new picture that sends a signal to the heart all is OK, the process is rapid and verbal. It sounds like this “I’m not actually available Tuesday, he is not available Tuesday, he didn’t want Tuesday, I don’t want Tuesday, I want a different date and time.” Pop. The meter flashes green and the EM signature is as shows. Still with a lot of low frequency noise, but the mid-range pops online to balance it and coherence emerges. And I feel better in the process.

Upset #2: I need to reschedule

Another Wrong Place upset, this time when I had to email a colleague early in the morning and let him know I had to push a meeting off a couple of hours due to an error on my part. I felt out of place on a vaguely guilty level of doing my colleague wrong. The steps and frequency picture looked like this:


Again a big spike on the lower frequency band, so much so that is overrode the pretty active frequencies near .1Hz which is associate with coherence. As a note though this graph looks like the graph from the previous example where I am in coherence the ratios are very much mathematically different. The area under the curve for low frequency is much higher here.

Using a reversal of belief approach I begin hunting for a return to Poise. It looked like this:


The hunting for the reversal started with my commitment and feeling out of place for suggesting a last minute change, and I ranged to my colleagues displeasure, and I routed back to the fact the meeting had been rescheduled multiple times already and that we had been flexible with each other. This popped the Upset and I was back in coherence after 18 seconds. This time the lower frequencies damped down completely and the feeling was quite positive. It helped when my colleague emailed back a bit later saying “No problem.”

The reversal process is fast and iterative. The average of 18 seconds that I see on these comes from first identifying I am in Upset, moving through a Wrong Place feeling to the process of pictures and reversals. There are a lot of wrong trials so getting it below 15 seconds will be difficult.

And in the spirit of transparency, sometimes I can languish in an Upset for up to a minute due to not following the reversal of belief or misidentifying the source repeatedly.

Next I will pull together snapshots of a “Lost” upset.

Heart EM Spectrum Working & Uninterrupted Focus

Did two sessions today, one to focus for 20 minutes without any activity, the other to measure how effectively I could return to Poise after detecting an upset using the Hearmath Pro. The device also took readings of the frequency spectrum of my system and the average of my system EM power emissions over the length of the session looked like this:



By Working I mean working in a quiet environment with no immediate physical danger while editing a document. While doing the uninterrupted session I was sitting in the exact same place. Instead of editing a document I was simply focussing on paced breathing. Both sessions were of similar length, 20 and 25 minutes respectively.

Each session had a spike at the .1Hz range, which is associated with the entrainment frequency of heart rate coherence. That means when your heart and breath are entrained you see the system emit a pretty steady .1Hz.

Of interest is during the Work session, the lower frequencies associated with the sympathetic (fight-flight) nervous system also showed a spike. During that session I had 2 navigational “Lost” feelings and 13 “Wrong Place” feelings. The average recovery for both was around 18 seconds.

I can not draw any conclusion from this but it certainly gives an other dimension to the training in that I can see the shape of sessions on an EM level and connect that to the shape of the emotions as they occur while I navigate through my mental territory of the work session.