Day 8 – N=ME and the Quantified Self (or Why it’s Good to Measure Stuff)

Today is again personal tracking day. In the n=me tracker form we have identified a number of aspects of your life that you may see small and subtle changes in as the weeks progress. If you have not done this before, you can still start doing it today. You will get a reminder of what you said the week before via email. You can also read more about this in the why are you doing the MOB.

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Download the paper version of the form

Extinguishing old, and establishing new habits, and learning to respond differently (e.g. without alcohol) to what life throws at us, takes time and practice – trial and, sometimes, error.

Your MOB is your own personal experiment on yourself (n=me). Like any experiment, at the start you can only hypothesise what problems might come up, what you will miss about alcohol, and where your biggest struggles might be. You also can’t be 100% sure that the plans you make to cope with them will work until you try them out.

Similarly you probably all had some idea (and hope) about the positive outcomes of your MOB but you can’t be sure if they will happen as you predicted. You will see in today’s email if there have been any shifts along the various areas of life that you have been tracking.

  • Has anything improved?
  • Does anything feel like it’s got worse?
  • Are any changes surprising, that you hadn’t anticipated (good or bad)?
  • Are these changes telling you anything about your relationship with alcohol?

For instance, during the October MOB some people noticed their sleep quality had improved without alcohol, whilst others had found it more difficult to get to sleep without alcohol.

The quantified self – or why it’s good to measure stuff

Generally, when we try to change, we simply thrash about: we improvise, guess, forget our results or change the conditions without even noticing the results.

The quote above is from Gary Woolf, who started the quantified self movement. He’s talking about the fact that we often approach change in a haphazard way – we have a goal, but we aren’t particularly strategic about how we tackle it and we don’t always take time to evaluate and record when and why things are working (or not). This means that we aren’t always fully aware of the variables that make a difference. Because of this, we can’t learn from the process of change, because every day is almost like starting from scratch.

All experiments need data. The quantified self and self-experimentation movements emphasise the importance of monitoring and recording data as we attempt to change our habits. We can use this data to see what is helping and what is not.

For instance, if your overall goal was to fall asleep faster at night, you would want to find out what changes you could make that would improve your ability to fall asleep. You would probably think about trying several things – no coffee after 2pm, a warm bath before bed, no TV or screen time in the hour before bed, a hot milky drink, a herbal remedy, an audiobook etc. If you try all or several of these at once, you won’t know for sure which things help and which ones don’t.

A better experiment would be to try one thing at a time, and record the time it took you to fall asleep (in minutes), and the quality of that sleep (on a scale of 1-5 for example). You can then start to work out what is the best pre-sleep routine for you. You might never fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, and you might not get full 5/5 sleep quality – but you will start to find out what gives you the best improvements.

The same applies to planning your coping strategies for your MOB. If you think the reward you get from drinking is that it helps you to relax, your first step would be to make a list of other possible things that can help a person relax: reading or audiobooks, breathing or meditation exercises or apps, a warm bath, exercise, a walk, a talk with a friend, a TV programme… You can then start to try them one by one. To understand how relaxed each thing makes you, you could measure how relaxed you feel (scale of 1-5) before trying the activity, and then how relaxed (1-5) you feel afterwards to see which gives you the best improvement.  

Four important reasons to record more data during your MOB

  • Do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t

We only know what works and what doesn’t if we take a bit of time to record what happens when we try different things.

The more data we collect on how we are feeling during our MOB, what changes we notice, and what happens when we use alternatives to booze, or try different coping strategies for our possible pitfalls, the more we learn about our habits and patterns and preferences. We can then do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

  • Helps us to focus on the process as well as the outcome

If we only focus on a single outcome (e.g. I want to lose a stone during my MOB), we increase the chance that we will become unhappy, disillusioned or demotivated if we don’t notice change on that one outcome we were expecting or hoping for. Being highly fixated on just one thing means that we are less likely to notice or value other positive change (e.g. better sleep, getting more done).

Measuring change along several dimensions more regularly in the weekly tracker will help you to have a flexible mindset to the benefits of a MOB, keep you motivated and optimistic, understand more about the impact and effect of alcohol in your life, and enjoy the process as well as the end result. This relates to the idea of healthy striving in Day 10.

  • Helps us to see change as something exciting, rather than fearful

Several people posted on the message boards and blog comments in the first week of the MOB that they felt scared and anxious about what was to come.

As the writer and self-experiment fan Matthew Cornell has written, there is an evolutionary reason for why we see change as a threat: change might involve the loss of something important, or new unknown situations that we don’t feel prepared for. This can certainly be the case when cutting alcohol out of our lives, even temporarily.

Reframing our desire to cut back on alcohol as an “experiment” in which we are trying different things out to see what works, can help us feel more in control of the change, and even start to feel excited about what we will discover and learn about ourselves and our relationship with alcohol.

  • Helps other MOBbers

Sharing the findings of your own MOB experiment in the private Facebook group or on this blog (you can comment on these posts!) will help other MOBbers learn from what has worked for you, and what hasn’t, and give everyone some new ideas and inspiration.

In a sense the MOB is our experiment too – we can’t be sure that the day’s material is always the topic you will personally most need that day – we can only hypothesise that the order we present the content is useful. Luckily you can look back at days you’ve missed, or found particularly helpful or relevant.

Measuring change – gadgets and gizmos

Although we have given you the weekly tracker to record changes in a number of areas, you might want to try using some of the new online tools, apps and tech that can help you monitor greater detail in areas such as calories consumed and burned, sleep quality and sleep cycles, physical activity, etc. Here’s Laura’s post on gadgets again if you missed it the first time round.

MOB Book Club

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is illustrated with stories about famous people and organisations to help explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. Duhigg argues that we need to understand how habits work if we want to be successful at our goals – whether that is controlling how much we drink (or stopping completely), losing weight, being more productive, or setting up a business. In the appendix Duhigg walks through his own experiment to cut out his afternoon sugary snack habit. Here you can see how he made several attempts to understand what it was specifically about that snack that rewarded him, so he could replace it with a healthier reward that met the same need. You could try applying the same technique to understand more about the ‘reward’ you get from alcohol.

Your actions for today

  • If you haven’t done it yet, visit your weekly tracker and input your ratings of areas of life like sleep, productivity etc. If you prefer you can record data in any other format you prefer. The important thing is to keep a track of it somehow.
  • Visit the Club Soda Facebook group and tell us about the results so far of your n=me experiment. Are there changes that you predicted? Are there any surprises?
  • If all of that wasn’t enough for you, we do have a little video on this topic too!

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