7 Ideas for Self-Quantification

December 17, 2013 by Stacey Barr

With a new calendar year just around the corner, you might be thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. These are goals just like any other: if you’re serious about achieving them, you must measure them…

Ben Greenfield is one of my fitness and health mentors. He is a self-quantification nerd, measuring everything about himself to learn and finetune his way to becoming ‘super human’. I love it, as you can imagine!

So here are seven ideas for how you can bring some self-quantification into your New Year’s Resolutions (or any other personal excellence goals you have):

1. Athletic performance

If you have goals to set a personal best for your sport of choice, you can measure your progress toward that goal. I have a goal to run 10km in under 40 minutes, for example.

So you might schedule a regular time trial or race or match for your sport, and measure your performance each time. For example, it might be a 5km or 10km time trial, a soccer match or bike criterium.

You could measure things like:

  • Average Pace – minutes per km or minutes per mile
  • Net Time – total minutes
  • Number Passes – total number of passes of the ball that move it closer to the goals

Some resources for capturing data and monitoring your measures include: Strava, Garmin Connect, Training Peaks

2. Energy in, energy out

If your goal is to lose unwanted pounds then watching your calories might be a useful strategy. It’s not as easy as just counting calories, but if you want to develop the discipline of paying attention to what you eat, then monitoring calories can be useful.

You could measure things like:

  • Calories Consumed – calories from what you have eaten
  • Calories Burned – calories from your training or exercise sessions
  • Net Calories – total calories consumed minus total calories burned in exercise/training

Some resources for capturing data and monitoring your measures include: Calorie King, My Fitness Pal

3. Nutrition

If you’re like me, you’ll be well aware that not all calories are equal. While I do often monitor my Net Calories, I even more diligently monitor the macro nutrient breakdown of what I eat.

This means monitoring the fat, protein and carbohydrate balance. I aim for a high healthy fat and low carbohydrate breakdown.

You’d measure three things at least:

  • Total Fat – total grams of fat consumed
  • Total Protein – total grams of protein consumed
  • Net Carbohydrates – total grams of carbohydrate consumed minus grams of fibre

If you can handle collecting the data manually, you could even track something like Total Healthy Fat (olive oil, coconut oil, etc…). Sadly, hot chippies and fries are not healthy fat!

Calorie King is my favourite app for tracking macro nutrient breakdown.

4. Weight and body fat

Most dieticians and weight-loss experts say to measure your weight only once a week because it will fluctuate daily. Because it fluctuates daily is why I measure it daily, with an XmR chart! Why? Because it gives me a better indication of my average overall weight and also gives me true signals of when my weight is changing.

There are a few easy ways to measure your weight or body mass or fat percentage (usually all three measures have the same end in mind):

  • Total Body Weight – weight in kilos or pounds using bathroom scales
  • Body Fat Percentage – percentage of body weight that is fat, using body fat calipers for example
  • Waistline – an easy way to approximate your progression toward leanness is to take your waist measurement roughly in line with your belly button

A useful article on body fat and how to measure it is here. You can read more about the waistline measurement and its relationship to health here.

5. Stress levels

Stress is such an important thing to manage because of its relationship to chronic disease and also to our daily enjoyment of life. You can measure stress based on your self perceptions, but there are two very concrete measures that I use every day:

  • Heart Rate Variability: the variation in the time interval between heart beats (the higher the better, counter intuitively)
  • HF Power: the power of the signal from your parasympathetic nervous system (higher is generally better)
  • LF Power: the power of the signal from your sympathetic nervous system (higher is generally better but not when the HF Power is low)
  • LF/HF Ratio: the ratio of LF Power to HF Power (above 2 is considered an indicator of stress)

You do need special devices to measure your HRV and your sympathetic and parasympathetic power. For me, I use the SweetBeat app along with a Wahoo receiver that plugs into my iPad and my usual heart rate monitor.

Learn more about HRV here: Ben Greenfield on HRV, Sweet Beat app, SweetBeat on HRV

6. Base fitness

I don’t really use the term ‘base fitness’ as a technical term, it’s really just my way of describing the physical output you can produce at an easy effort.

I’m a runner, so one of the ways I measure my base fitness is to see how many heart beats it takes me to run per kilometer, over my easy runs. Easy for me is keeping my heart rate between 140 and 150 (yours might be different).

  • Easy Run Heartbeats per Km – average heart rate for an easy run multiplied by the time taken for that run, divided by the distance covered.

7. Housework productivity

If you’re like me, you’re keen to get the boring tasks out of the way so your weekends are all about relaxing and having fun. You know the tasks I’m talking about: mowing the lawn, doing the laundry, vacuuming the house, cleaning the bathroom, and so on.

How fast you can do those boring tasks is a fun thing to measure, and easy when you use the following basic formula:

  • Task Turnaround Time – the total time from triggering the task to being ready for the next task or activity

I use a cute app called 30/30 that you can use to set target times for a list of tasks as a way to pace yourself through them.

More ideas…

There’s no end to what you can quantify about yourself. Here are some more ideas:

  • Hours or minutes of exercise each week
  • Time spent playing with your kids or engaging with your partner
  • Percentage of meetings/appointments you were early or on-time for
  • Time spent meditating each day
  • Number of books/articles read per week
  • Number of target days per week where you successfully practiced a new habit you want to develop
  • Hours of television watched
  • The health of your poop (yes, that’s right!)

So long as you can define the personal result that you want, you can find a way to measure your progress toward it. And if you do, you’re more likely to achieve it!

TAKE ACTION:

What do you quantifying about yourself, in your pursuit of personal excellence? Share your ideas and inspire others!

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  1. Hi Stacey, thank you for sharing your personal performance tips. I think that to make them even more result-oriented it is necessary to take into account a context.

    For example measuring “Hours or minutes of exercise each week” sounds good, but doesn’t necessary lead to the expected result. The context here might be: achieving specific personal objective (analogy with business objective) by doing specific exercise that a fitness mentor suggested to do (an action plan). In this way all the measures will be much more result oriented.

    • Lina says:

      Dear Aleksey,
      Totally agree with you, the performance measure should in a context to see a result. Also this may challenge and motivate you to proceed

      • Stacey Barr says:

        All performance measures need to be in context, and that context is usually an expression of the goals we want to achieve. If the goals are chosen well and tested for unintended consequences, and we use their measures while always reminding ourselves of the goals and their intention, then the measures are going to be useful for us.

        We don’t always get the measures right first time, though. It takes skill and experience to do that. Even I’m still learning how to create really powerful measures! But when our intention is clear and we are open to learning through practice, any measure can take us to a place of greater wisdom.

  2. Love it. Nice post. You cover triangulation in each offereing too! Your comment that “even you are still learning how to create really power measures” and that it’s tough to get it right the first time I find to be true also. The part that I work on a lot is comprehensiveness. I usually work to ensure that all measures which make up the metric provide a “complete” story. Along with that I look to ensure they are aligned…something that seems to be a given in every measure you offer (this is a very good thing).

    But comprehensiveness is a tough one…but if you strive for it from the beginning, you get a lot closer. There are many measures you could use for any performance question. The idea is to feel confident that the ones you’ve identified, when put together, tells the complete story. That means you get to pick and choose from the list you identify as possible measures…with the trick being that you feel good tha the ones you’ve found will give you the answer to the question…not just a hint of the answer, but the whole answer.

    Great stuff!

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