My well-measured life (part 2)

In addition to tracking my time, I also spent last week keeping a food journal, and logging my runs with a bit more detail than usual. The reasons? After getting down to my goal post-baby weight in September, I gained a few pounds back that I’ve been struggling to lose (Ok, I lost them when I had that stomach bug in January, but that doesn’t really count). My husband and I signed up for a half-marathon in June and I’d like to do better than the 2:19 time I posted in November.

The well-measured life has many virtues, but I’d say the biggest one is accountability. On the food front, I was sort of feeling like I was doing everything right, so why was I not able to lose these pounds? But “everything right” is a fuzzy concept. I made macaroons about a week ago and I realized, as I kept stopping myself from grabbing them because I didn’t want to write them down, that without the log I would have eaten one every single time I walked into the kitchen. I could have eaten 8 or more in a day without giving it much thought. Frankly, I’m lucky I don’t weigh more than I do. We don’t always have macaroons in the house, but we usually have something. The week before it was dark chocolate almond bark from Costco. I am powerless in front of the dark chocolate almond bark. It is entirely possible that I ate the 2-pound package, by myself, over two weeks.

What I learned from keeping a food journal is that I like to have treats. So I just need to figure out some sort of treat that I can enjoy in moderation. I’m open to suggestions.

As for the running log, it showed (as I know) that I run a fair amount. When I run outside, I don’t pay attention to my pace. That’s great for those kinds of runs — it’s more about enjoying the fresh air and clearing my head than anything else. But when I’m at the gym, I’d like to work more on speed, if for no other reason than to make my ‘mill time go faster. Logging my pace is helping me push on that front. If I ever want to run a sub 2-hour half marathon, I need to run 9:09 miles. On a treadmill, that means locking it in at 6.6 mph (9:05). I’ve been pushing to do some bit of length (like 1.5 miles out of a 3 mile run) at that pace, and some sprints faster than that, in order to make 9:05 feel comfortable over the long haul. Because I am logging it, each gym trip I can make a decision to do a bit more.

I’m fascinated by the quantified self movement, and the concept of using data to improve your life. Logging my time, my food, and my runs is a start, but all of this involves manual entry on my part, and I know the technology exists to make this more automated (my shoes, for instance, should be able to tell my phone my miles and pace). I know there are time tracker apps, but I haven’t found a passive one for one’s work and personal life. In theory this should be doable — if you keep your phone on you, the phone should be able to see if you’re standing in front of the sink (likely doing dishes), in bed (likely sleeping, though if you’re up on an angle, you might be reading), driving, in your home office, parked in front of the TV and not moving, etc. The app could import this data to a spreadsheet, and you could fill in the details later.

Some passive mood tracking software seems to already exist, so this offers intriguing possibilities, too. You may suspect that you are a happier camper on days you work out and get enough sleep, but a mood tracker could show you this for sure. It was by more actively tracking mood that Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer found that progress was so important at work. Imagine what we might discover if all this data could be even more detailed. Better data, better you, right?

In other news: I spent some of my time this past weekend reading page proofs of All the Money in the World, which will be out in paperback this spring. If you haven’t picked up a copy, would you consider doing so? According to Kirkus reviews, my money book is “Quirky, insightful and enjoyable—a welcome corrective to the typical advice from economists and financial managers steeped in the ‘dismal science.’” I promise it is very different from any other personal finance book you’ve read, unless your personal finance reading usually involves foragers, mega-families, minimalists, and preachers with a money-back guarantee on tithing.

9 thoughts on “My well-measured life (part 2)

  1. I’m trying to cut down on the treats too after realizing that processed sugar negatively affects my mood. It’s so difficult to pass up a cookie or a brownie, though. Why are humans wired to desire the immediate pleasure even when we know it will have consequences hours, days and weeks later?
    I’ve been treating myself with half a glass of my favorite wine every night instead of dessert. I can’t overindulge as I’m still breastfeeding, and it suffices both on the satisfaction and mood scales.

    1. @Cara- I intend to write about this next week. I love Stephanie Coontz — she’s one of my favorite sources — but I think there are some other aspects to keep in mind. I’m in one of those 100-hour plus families… and that’s actually not that much time. Each person works 50 hours, sleeps 8 hours a night, that leaves 62 hours for other things. If women believe they can’t have a personal life and work 50 hours a week, I’m worried they’re buying into the same bad stories we discussed in that article on the lawyer who quit her job a few months ago. You also have to be a good advocate in your marriage. Obviously, there is social pressure, but a woman can call out her husband’s bad behavior and ask for things to be done differently without then launching into a “why women can’t have it all” manifesto.

  2. There is an old adage in management: you get what you measure. The idea is that if you set up your metrics to measure one aspect of something, that is what people will work to optimize, and it leads to all sorts of unintended problems. But I find the core of that adage to be profoundly true, and that is why I like to track my time. I probably also need to start a food diary, because I, too, have some stubborn weight that isn’t shifting.

  3. I love Cloud’s contributions to Laura’s idea and love the management tips – and the idea that you get what you manage. Weight Watchers is totally about measuring what you eat. Great program totally works, if you committed to spending a decent portion of your day, time mental energy writing down what you eat… (it is a lot of work and mental energy so I don’t do it right now and yes it means I am heavier than I would be if I did). But it does work. The questions here that Laura is asking is that without technology a lot of these tracking ideas do amount to another “job” and I need one of those right now like I need… ummm… a ton of junk food ; ) IT works, but should you be doing it is a whole other question..

  4. It’s not as passive as your shoes telling your spreadsheet what you did, but for running I enjoy an app called Map My Run — if you have a phone with GPS, you just hit record and it tracks distance, time, pace. Oh, and change in elevation. I love it, especially for half marathon training. It’s probably not perfectly accurate, but it seems good enough to me.

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