Data Dive Into my Personal Life

I’ve heard the saying “what gets measured, gets done” so many times that it subconsciously drives my life. I had a quick reminder of that earlier this week.

My partner Jack and I both use physical month-at-a-glance calendars to keep track of our physical goals and accomplishments. It starts in the month of December, when we both create our personal goals for the next year. The goals include many physical goals (weight, nightly hours of sleep, hours of exercise, resting heart rate, etc.) plus bucket-list and personal goals (# of rounds of golf, # of books read, and more).

On the first day of each month, we each tally our previous month and then sit down together after dinner to see how we did. We compare it to last year’s numbers, and then talk honestly about how we feel about the previous month. I know this may sound a little crazy and neurotic, but stick with me on this one.

This past Wednesday evening, we reviewed May’s calendar. It was disappointing for both of us. With Jack’s Keytruda cancer treatment, his endurance and stamina have definitely declined in the last 11 months. Thankfully, his final infusion will be on June 28 (yeah!) and we hope within a few months that his athletic energy will start to come back. But what was interesting was that my own performance metrics declined as well.

This May, my total exercise hours for the month was 13.5 hours (less than 30 minutes a day) vs. last May, which was close to an hour a day. And, I noticed a change in the one metric which I believe is the best indicator of my total health—my resting heart rate, which has risen from 63 in January to 67 in May.

So why is all of this measuring important, and does it make a difference in the quality of my life?

Long before Jack, I started daily vigorous exercise, because my doctor told me I needed to do cardio exercise “every day, for at least 30-75 minutes a day.” The most significant way it helped me was in dealing with the stress of human life. Whether it was pressure from work, family or my social circle, taking time to do vigorous exercise every day seemed to de-stress me. It was alone time for me, and because I took my iPad with me to the gym, I got to watch fun shows on Netflix or HBO. I literally got to check out from my regular life and take a break.

After six months of daily exercise (which also allowed me to sleep better at night, and eat a bit healthier), the doctor noted that I had lost about 5% of my body weight. It was a great feeling. But I wasn’t keeping track of exactly what I did … it was anecdotal.

So, two-and-a-half years ago, I made a list of what I felt were reasonable health and fitness goals—and what I could measure to help me accomplish them. My first draft of my goals was completely unrealistic. For example, I wrote down that I wanted to walk 10,000 steps a day. I thought that was a reasonable goal, since I’ve heard so many people talk about that number. Jack pointed out to me that if I have periodic travel, business trips, evening dinners, and full days of work, that reaching an average of 10,000 steps a day was a goal that I likely would not reach. And then I would feel defeated and disappointed in myself. So, he encouraged me to set my goal at 8,000 daily steps on average, which by the way, is 2.9 million steps for the year. That’s a lot of steps!

Lo and behold, I felt a sense of accomplishment when I exceeded my 8,000-step goal on a regular basis.

We can all be our biggest critic. In this case, my biggest lesson was to set myself up for success. Don’t be so hard on myself. Perhaps that is why New Year’s resolutions are so rarely accomplished, and most are discarded by February.

So, think about your own goals and what is really important to you. Perhaps it is taking one mini-vacation every quarter (that’s on my list). Or maybe it is learning a new sport (like golf or pickleball). What are sub-goals that will help you get there (pick a destination for your vacations and figure out what weekends will work, or find the closest pickleball court and find a friend to play with)? Then set a small goal to help it happen (plan to play once a month to see if you like it).

Here are some of the things I measure to improve my quality of life:

  • nightly hours of sleep
  • daily resting heart rate (which I take after my 20-minute daily meditation session)
  • number of steps a day
  • number of miles a day (thank you iPhone for tracking this via the Heart App)
  • number of times a month I see both my daughters (a constant reminder to check in with them)
  • number of days a month I drink wine (should be significantly less than the number of exercise days)
  • number of books I read (actually listen to, via Audible)
  • number of times a year I donate blood
  • total exercise hours (I track rowing, walking, Peloton, strength training, swimming)
  • friends who I want to keep in regular contact with (I review this list monthly)

So how about you? Are you looking to feel good physically and mentally? Are you looking to change it up a bit? How about making your own short list of health and well-being goals? And come up with a reasonable list of things to track (maybe 4-5). Find a way to track them daily and then, at the end of each month, do a check in with yourself (or get an accountability partner, which is always helpful).

I would love to hear what you’re tracking and doing, and if it’s helping your mood overall. Please do share!

Karen