Friends and loved ones often ask for advice. Whether it’s to lose body fat, get stronger physically or mentally, most folks are working toward a goal. I often ask them to start logging their behaviors and activities. Understanding our practices is critical when trying to understand ourselves. Matt Paré developed his mind’s strength when he didn’t expect to. He’s been taking a deep dive into quantifying his own development. Check it out and see for yourself.
I didn’t discover my thirst for a strong mind until my sophomore year at Boston College. It was as if I had opened a benevolent Pandora’s box that required a key of inspiration.
I got lucky with my college roommate, Sam. He became a lifelong friend. More importantly, he taught me several lessons. My freshman year, I put more of an emphasis on my baseball goals than my academics. I wasn’t a bad student by any means, but school was just a means to an end. Three years and I’ll be drafted…
Sam wasn’t a D1 athlete, but but man, did he train like one. He got after it so hard that the fitness center attendant demanded he stop doing power cleans because olympic lifts weren’t allowed. This was clearly marked on the mirror in front of where Sam was lifting, but better to ask for forgiveness rather than permission, right?
Sam taught me that I could train AND study at the same time. We lived in a traditional dorm room with bunk beds, so I saw first hand how driven and passionate he was about education. He was in the Honors Program, majoring in International Studies and Economics. He opened my eyes to how my classes could benefit all areas of my life, including baseball.
I changed my major from Communication to Human Development, an area that truly inspired me. The curriculum had a heavy focus on optimizing the mind. I was on a quest at that point – how can I optimize my (human) development and performance?
This is when I stumbled upon the quantified self movement, also known as self-tracking. From Wikipedia:
The Quantified Self is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical).
I’m certain most of you have done it in some shape or form. Whether it’s tracking your food intake on Myfitnesspal, logging the weight and reps working towards your back squat PR or even just counting your steps to be more active, most of us are measuring something.
What gets measured, gets managed. – Peter Drucker
This isn’t about obsessing over numbers, though. The ultimate goal is to bring self-awareness to areas that need attention and make an action plan to change the necessary habits.
Self-tracking can be overwhelming if you try to do it all at once, so starting small is key. For example, sleep is easily quantifiable with the SleepCycle app and takes little added effort as most nights you are setting an alarm anyway.
By tracking what we’re actually trying to change about ourselves, we can customize the plan for our bodies. We all have unique needs and challenges, but many people just skim the headlines of magazines in the grocery store checkout, see a new superfood and decide that’s the cure to all their problems.
We all have different genetic predispositions. We have different vitamin and mineral deficiencies, personal and heavily influenced by our specific environment and diet. Self-reflection and analysis are key — it’s an N of 1 study of yourself. In order to conduct the study, I needed to understand the base I was starting from. In May, I decided I wanted to venture into blood analysis. This meant that I was measuring particular biomarkers, such as testosterone or sodium, that are important for optimal health and performance.
The full results can be overwhelming. Trying to change a ton of habits at once usually leads to making no progress at all. Luckily, I didn’t need to. From The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss:
Pareto’s Law can be summarized as follows: 80% of the outputs result from 20% of the inputs.
Using the 80-20 Principle, I focused on the 20% of the red zone biomarkers that would give me 80% of the biomarkers changes I wanted. In my case, I found that vitamin D was the force multiplier. That is, it was the biomarker that could correct multiple areas that were suboptimal.
I’ve now done the study and know what I needed to change. Add more vitamin D into my diet. It’s a small change that goes a long way and is simple enough for me to stick with. Unfortunately, Kind of over the smell of fish since I’ve been carrying a backpack around that had a D3-fish oil capsule explode in it. I guess that’s karma for using supplements.
Got any suggestions, Kap?
First, I would challenge your assumption. Baseball players may not be getting as much sun as we think. In a hat, with long pants, you may only be getting a little bit of sun on your forearms and neck. If you slather sunscreen on in addition to that, you’re cutting your exposure down even further. I’d consider spending a few minutes soaking up Augusta’s natural sunlight, sans sunscreen. Additionally, I know my daily egg consumption goes beyond anything reasonable. I’m not suggesting you eat 7 a day, but a combination of 3 or 4 eggs and a few minutes more of sun daily may raise those levels naturally. Of course, you could learn to appreciate a plate of buttery sashimi. That would be an equally optimal outcome.
Part of the Quantified Self movement is taking charge of optimizing our own health and well-being instead of blindly following general trends. In part 2, I’ll share the specifics of how I studied my own body and blood, narrowed down my focus to center on vitamin D and the action plan I’m taking. Take a look on Homeless Minor Leaguer.