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Step 1: Just measuring, not judging

Day 201/365 - One small step. . . .

When doing the Try part of Think, Try, Learn, it is natural (for me, at least) to judge my progress. For example, right now in my Overeating reset experiment I'm working on how much drinking chocolate I'm taking each day. I'm focusing in it because it feels like I've gone a little overboard on it, and I'm curious. I'm applying the TTL principle of simply observing how many servings I have each day. The key is to not judge, as much as possible. That is, instead of thinking "Damn - this is my fourth today!" I'm trying to activate my curiosity, more like "Hmm - Interesting. The subject has had his fourth cup today." The thought is that it kicks off what I call the observation -> awareness -> change cycle. Ideally I'd also track comfort/fullness, but that's too much right now, so I'll just measure and see what happens.

Note that this approach applies to any change you might want to make - diet, of course, critical thoughts or comments, or distractions or interruptions at work. In a sense it's a distillation of Kaizen where you make one small change at a time, but it's making one small measurement at a time. I found the book One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way to be a helpful introduction to the ideas. Here's how Frederick Muench puts it at Self-Monitoring Made Easy on Psychology Today:

In fact, study after study has shown that simply monitoring your behavior is a powerful intervention in itself.


Reader Comments (4)

This comment from a Facebook reader:

Thought: It's commonly agreed that observing alters that which is observed (eg- tribal culture descended on by documentary film crew). Given that, do you believe it is possible to 'simply observe' oneself and one's actions without unintentionally changing behavior? At best becoming mildly self-conscious, at worst frozen in an ever-reflective mind-loop? How can you trust what you observe? Would you *really* have had the fourth cup of chocolate if you weren't tracking it?
November 17, 2010 | Registered CommenterMatthew Cornell
Here's my response to him:

Good question, Mat! In TTL I've adapted the rigorous aspects of the scientific method with the needs of a personal application. Your point is an excellent example: How can data measurement be pure? The answer is that it often cannot be 100% objective. As you said, the measurement itself can change the observer's behavior. In fact, that's probably one reason why it works. I think of it as a localized human http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncertainty_principle . So my ultimate answer is: We should be aware of the effect, but maybe ultimately it doesn't matter because the results can still be helpful. Re: your other points:

o trusting the data: address via honesty + above awareness of limits -> still useful
o dysfunctions (self-conscious to frozen): use meta-observation of the observer -> adjust as needed (say call a psychiatrist)

And yes, my self-discipline is low, so I *will* have that fourth cup :-)
November 17, 2010 | Registered CommenterMatthew Cornell
I experienced some of this self-judgement just last week. I started taking photos of everything that I ate and drank, so that I could review my diet after a week. I quickly started to feel guilty about how much junk I was eating, and then I started cheating. Cheating who? I wasn't even going to share the results with anyone. "The key is not to judge" is very apt for me.
November 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjames
Good story, James. Step one: Awareness, right? Good work.
November 20, 2010 | Registered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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