Self improvement — how do you measure your progress?

A few years back, I had some free sessions with a personal trainer at my gym, and one of the most useful takeaways was this:

Unless you write stuff down, it’s too easy to “fudge the facts” in your mind.  How much pushups are you doing with good form?  What are you eating each day?  We tend to maximize the former, minimize the latter, and that’s not good.

For starters, he made me write down each day *everything* I ate and drank, along with estimated calories associated with each thing I put in my mouth.  Boy, that was a depressing but enlightening shocker!

Well, I decided to go one better and start my own personal health chart (in Excel), daily noting my progress on several fronts (weight, body fat percentage, pushups, etc.).  Alas, after a few months, that kinda fell by the wayside, so I picked it up again a year later.  And, once again, that only lasted a few months. 

I’m trying yet again, and—now that I have the regular routine of a full-time job—I’m hoping it’ll somehow be easier to keep up the list.  For the very curious, I’ve included below exactly what I’m measuring:

– E-mails still in my inbox
– Body weight
– Body fat percentage
– Pushups (#)
– Various medicines (e.g., remembering to use Nasalcrom, an allergy medicine)
– Meditation (in minutes)
– Stretching (yes/no)
– Aerobic exercise (minutes)
– Strength training (minutes)
– Mood (1-10, 1 being suicidal, 10 being euphoric)
– Mood jot (my mood in a few words… e.g. “Overwhelmed and frustrated” or “Optimistic and excited”)
– Sleep (time I went to bed, time I got up, total hours of estimated actual sleep)
– Notes (what I accomplished that day, major challenges facing me, etc.)

*  *  *

In looking over my previous efforts, I’ve noticed the following:
– My weight seems to increase the day or two after working out.
– Eating massive huge fatty meals seems to reduce my weight in the short term (!?)
– I tend to be overwhelmed/stressed more than I thought I was.
– My sleep patterns are more erratic and less healthy than I assumed.
– Surprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be a strong correlation between getting lots of sleep and feeling less tired the next day. 
– After gaining nearly 10 pounds at Google and then losing those same 10 pounds, I’m now about where I was weightwise a year or two ago (still about 15 pounds to go!)

*  *  *

Have you kept your own “metrics journal”?  What are some of the things you have measured?  Observations?  And did such a journal help you reach goals?



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5 responses to “Self improvement — how do you measure your progress?”

  1. Graham Avatar

    In college I took a class called Sleep and Dreams, and all quarter we had to keep a sleep journal, along with relative energy levels throughout the day. It was very interesting to see the patterns, and to eventually determine how much sleep I really need to function optimally.

    These days I’m experimenting with setting personal goals each quarter, for a variety of different areas of my life. Some of the things are very ongoing, so it’s hard to pinpoint a particular “I’m finished” spot, so those get goals that are more about practicing. E.g. I’m learning to speed-read, so I set a goal to speed-read (as best I can) 20 books this quarter (up to 11 so far).

    Keeping track of things like this keeps them forward in your consciousness, so they get more attention, and you’ll typically do better at most things if you pay attention to them than if you don’t. 😀 It’s kind of like the way I think affirmations work. On another level, having goals written down can be useful just as a plain old ordinary reminder to do something that you might otherwise forget. Regardless, I’m all in favor of writing down goals and tracking progress. It’s your life, so use all the tools you’ve got to do what you want with it!

  2. Joe Hunkins Avatar

    Good post Adam and it was nice to chat with you at Pubcon last week.

    As much as I’d like to be supportive,I’m noting that you are posting about weight 2 days after turkey (vs *before* the big meal when restraint is impossible).

    I’ve tracked weight for a few years and seem to have stabilized 15-20 pounds above the 175 I want for an acceptable BMI<25.  I’ve never made a really concerted diet effort so maybe it’s time. 

    I’ll get on that right after … dinner.

  3. Tobi Avatar

    Hi Adam!
    Keep up and you?ll be kept up!
    I used to workout 3-5 days per week and i have to say in the beginning a plan is good to have: to see your progress and for your own motivation. After some time (when u see the results of your efforts) this may be motivation enough and you know the basic laws of a good workout and you know what to do , how to do it and when to do it.
    Now i?m into kundalini-yoga and i have to say this is a workout for body ,mind and soul! and this one will take your stress away believe me! do my yoga now every day and i also teach kundalini yoga now.
    i still workout at the gym but estimated only 2 times per week.
    If your searching for a more wholeistic workout,Adam try Kundalini Yoga…
    All the best wishes from frankfurt germany,

  4. Adam Avatar

    Hey everyone, thanks for the thoughtful and friendly encouragement 😀  And Tobi, that’s the first I’ve heard of Kundalini Yoga—sounds tempting!

  5. Personal Trainer Newcastle Avatar

    Keeping a record sounds like a good way of tracking activities. I’ve thought about using one for my food intake to help lose weight, but never thought about a mood tracker. Maybe the two (and three, if you include physical excercise) would correlate? Think I will give this a go in the New Year, thanks!

What do you think?