Quantified Self may actually help you fail

14 Jan
2015

I recently finished reading The Art of Learning, and greatly enjoyed it. While I’ve always been pretty strong on the technical aspects of learning (eg precision practice, codifying routines, etc), my mental prowess when it comes to learning new things is one of my weaker points.

As I’ve also backed off more and more from Examine.com, I’ve been spending more and more time thinking about how one achieves success. Success itself is of course relative – a combination of desire, talent, time, and actual results. I’ve also been thinking a lot more about the mental aspects of it – motivation, enthusiasm, passion, and what not.

This background sets up something I’ve come to appreciate more – the quantified self movement may actually be helping you wimp out.

As someone with an analytical mindset (I did graduate as a computer engineer), I tend to love numbers and metrics. My initial move in losing weight was walking 10,000 steps a day. I have logs from the past ~5 years that cover my weight, the activities I did that day, and any other pertinent information.

So I was originally a huge fan of the idea of “tracking” my life – how well I was sleeping, how well I was recovering (HRV), and all that jazz.

The problem is we get caught up in these #s too much. For example, my highest HRV was 92 (on a scale from 1 to 100). Any time I had an HRV under 90, I had my built-in excuse – “I didn’t fully recover.” My lowest HR was 49. Any time was HR over 55, I had another built-in excuse – “I was still fatigued.”

Now I know that is not how HRV works. And I know that there are a billion factors that can affect my heart rate. But we are not rational beings. We do dumb things all the time, knowing full well that they aren’t good for us. And even though I knew better, my inferior HRV, HR, amount-of-slepe, or whatever, was still in the back of my mind.

“How you feel is a lie” is a common phrase thrown around by people in fitness, and I’m starting to believe it more and more. Greg Nuckols had a great write-up on the effects of perceived steroid usage. Basically people went to their coaches for some ‘roids, and were given placebos. Everyone got stronger. Then half of the people were told they were given a placebo. They proceeded to immediately lose their strength gains, while the other half remained as strong as ever.

The people who suddenly lost their strength gains – it’s not as if their muscle mass just disappeared! So if the physical was all the same, the mental game must have had a significant impact. And at the end of the day, there is an opportunity cost to how things impact you. What’s more important – spending 5 minutes a day figuring out your optimum omega-3 dosage, or spending those 5 minutes sharpening your mind?

The problem we have today is we are overloaded with information. We should be working on increasing our mental acuity, focus, concentration, and more. To me, the quantified self movement seems to be more problem than solution – the data may actually be shackling you.

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