Manage What You MeasureSep 03, 2021
From my experience in auto manufacturing I'm very well aware of the process of gathering and interpreting data to solve problems. Root cause analysis, and the cycling of PDCA (plan, do, check, act) all deeply imbedded systems in the religion of progress. But is fixing a problem on an assembly line really in anyway comparable to the struggles we face in our search for health and happiness? I first read the saying "What we measure, we manage" not on an assembly plant bulletin board, but in a book related to personal health. Could this same type of measure and manage approach that has been so successful in the business world work just as well with personal health?
First lets think about all the things we measure, or could measure when it comes to our health. The obvious our weight, then maybe our waist size, the distance around our chest, arms, legs. Those would be measurements of our physical bodies, but how about what's going on inside. Maybe a urine sample, swab test, blood work, CGM machines, heart rate monitor, sleep monitor. Starting to sound like a lot? Well we haven't even started the conversation on calorie counting, step counting, sleep tracking, work out tracking, or a host of other segments even including measuring brain wave activity. But what is the point, what do we hope to achieve, and is any of it actually worth the effort? In other words even if the saying "what we measure we mange" holds true, should we "manage what we measure?".
The first thing we need to consider is why measure at all? The first reason is easy, to understand our current situation. Are things really that bad? This question is subjective at the best of times, and our own comfort levels differ greatly, but understanding where some of our basic metrics fit in relation to our age, and known indicators of health issues can really give perspective to how urgent our health issues might be. The second reason we would measure would be to find the real cause of our problems, or to help manage our path to improvement, basically a means to know where we are, and are we getting closer, further, or just not moving at all in relation to our goals. I would say, and I think most people would agree there is some real value in having these answers, but what's the cost?
Whenever we gather data about ourselves we have to understand what the data means, how we will want to react to the information, and how we will actually respond to information. If you step on a scale and see your weight has gone up, you might hope your reaction would be a feeling of wanting to dig deep and try harder, but the reality could be feeling defeated and just quitting on the spot. If your scale number drops more than you expected do you immediately tell yourself "I've got a little wiggle room, time to celebrate with some sugar"? How we respond to data, both the good and the bad is critical to our success. This is why our Thrive Group Coaching program puts so much energy into teaching mindset, and goal management. When we can successfully manage our emotions the next questions are "what the heck do we do we do with the data" followed closely by "am I sure I even want to do that?".
Everyone is different, but studies have shown two very important things when it comes to making your decision on what to measure. First we now understand that when we measure over time we do get better results, we do see increases in motivation. This means when you compare people using a step tracker and setting a step goal vs people just taking a walk when the mood hits the people who measured their progress and set goals, did more. So discussion over then it's decided? Not quite yet. Studies also showed that people who measure lose some or even a lot of the joy that comes from the activity. So while counting steps is likely to cause an increase in walking, and counting calories is likely to see a decrease in calorie consumption, your walks as well as the preparation and eating of your meal might have the pleasure sucked right out of them. This raises the next question, if it's not fun will I just stop and be worse off than ever?
The answer to the "do you measure or not" question like most things comes down to you as an individual understanding the risks, and rewards. If our goal is health and happiness and we put a true value on the happiness component then doing things that remove your love for doing them can be counter productive. At the same time getting good information that will help you might be a price worth paying.
I personally believe that something like counting calories can be a good form of education to understand a little bit more about what you are putting into your body. Once you have a good grasp on the concept after a few weeks or a month it might not be necessary to continue. Make each choice individually and find your own balance. Does counting steps add joy or remove it? And for the scale which is always the elephant in the room I'd say stick to a routine that is comfortable for you. Once a week would be a nice not too obsessive schedule. The biggest thing to remember when it comes to the scale is that hiding the information won't help you, but neither will overreacting to that one measurement in time. Our bodies fluctuate naturally depending on a lot of factors. Look at your trend over longer periods of time like a month or three months, and let the data serve you, you should never become a servant to the data.
By Tim Weatherall
If you would like more information about programs I offer to help people just like you reach their health goals without deprivation, restrictive diets, or unrealistic exercise regiments then check out my program offerings page or email me: [email protected]
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