A while ago I read about a study with 2 groups of people trying to lose weight. The control group was told to continue living their life as usual, and the test group was told to log their meals using MyFitnessPal, a meal tracking app. After a few months, the group that logged their meals lost significantly more weight than the control group. The meal tracking group wasn't told to adopt a diet, perform exercise, or even make any changes to their lifestyle, yet they were making significant weight loss progress.
The result of the study was pretty straightforward: if you log your meals, you will lose more weight. However, I think there's a far more interesting insight hidden right beneath the surface: the action of consciously tracking a behavior can result in meaningfully improving that behavior.
I began to wonder, could you apply this insight not just to losing weight, but rather to any aspect of your life? If I wanted to bike longer distances, would the action of logging each ride ultimately let me bike farther? Would logging the time spent in a state of flow each day result in me being far more productive?
I decided this was an idea worth testing, so I wrote a simple piece of software that let me track any aspect of my life. The software would let me create an "Item", which was a type of data to track with with a set frequency (daily, weekly, monthly). For example, I created a Deep work item, and set the frequency to daily. At the end of every day, I would then simply log the number of hours I spent in a state of flow under the Deep work item. I created a handful of Items that represented aspects of my life I wanted to improve:
Daily tracked items:
- calories (an integer)
- lifted weights (a boolean)
- meditation (a boolean)
- time spent with friends (time duration)
Weekly tracked items:
- max bench, squat, and deadlift (integers)
- new foods I've tried (strings)
- new places I've visited (strings)
- my startup's revenue
A 'successful' day is a day where I've hit my target value for all items. It's sort of turned my life into an ongoing video game which is really fun.
While I've yet to use my tool on a long enough timeframe to come up with a statistically significant conclusion, it seems like I'm going to attribute most of the progress I make in my life to this tool, and the hundreds of hours spent developing it will probably prove to be the highest ROI of any project I've undertaken. It feels like I have a friend whose sole reason for existing is to help me maximize my human potential. I'm already seeing remarkable improvements in the items I'm tracking, and I'll be sure to create an update post once I have enough data to share.