Tag Archives: measurement

Video: For Habits, Try the Strategy of Monitoring.

This week’s video: I’m starting a series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.

Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative. My book describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. To hear when the book goes on sale, sign up here.

Last week was the Strategy of Self-Knowledge. This is the first, crucial strategy.

This week — the Strategy of Monitoring. (Which is one of the four “Pillars of Habits, ” along with the Strategies of Foundation, Scheduling, and Accountability.)

Please excuse the typo in the video. I see it, but I can’t easily fix it. (Secret of Adulthood: Flawed can be more perfect than perfection. Right?)

 

Monitoring is an observational strategy. It doesn’t require that I change what I’m doing, only that I know what I’m doing. This is crucial to habit formation, because once I recognize what I’m doing, I may choose to behave differently.

Monitoring has an almost uncanny power. It doesn’t require change, but it often leads to change, because people who keep close track of just about anything tend to do a better job of managing it. Tracking boosts self-control in key categories such as eating, drinking, exercising, working, TV- and internet-use, spending—and just about anything else.

It’s a Secret of Adulthood for habits: “We manage what we monitor.” Self-measurement brings self-awareness, and self-awareness strengthens our self-control. And on the flip side, anything that makes us lose self-awareness weakens our self-mastery. Alcohol makes it all too easy to place giant bets at a casino; a long, stressful day can lead to a night of online binge-shopping; vacationing with a group of friends can make it easy to blow through a personal budget.

Actual measurement is crucial, because when we guess what we’re doing, we’re often wildly inaccurate. Unsurprisingly, we tend to under-estimate how much we eat and over-estimate how much we exercise.

Have you found ways to monitor yourself — and did you find that it changed your habits?

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If You Want More or Less of Something in Your Life, Measure It.

You know how when you become interested in an idea, it seems as though everything in the world relates to that idea? For example, for a long time, I kept remarking, in every possible context, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Everything reminded me of that idea.

A good friend of mine had a preoccupation of her own. She called it “the measurement problem” — the observation that measuring a value (or choosing not to measure it) changes the way we act on it. She’d quote Einstein: “‘Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.’” She explained to me, “If you want something to count in your life, it helps to figure out a way to count it.”

This idea struck me with such force that I made it one of my Secrets of Adulthood: “You manage what you measure.”

That’s one of the key reasons that my Resolutions Chart works so well. Setting myself a concrete task, and measuring each day whether I’m complying with it, makes me far more likely to stick to my resolution.

Difficult-to-measure resolutions like “Find more joy in life” or “Be present in the moment” are tougher to keep than “Once a week, make plans with friends” or “Don’t use my iPod when I’m walking to work.” It’s hard to tell if you’re getting more joy out of life, but it’s easy to score yourself on keeping a weekly outing with friends.

In my own case, with my workaholic tendencies, I realized that if I didn’t measure certain values in my life, I’d neglect them. It sounds ridiculous to make paradoxical resolutions like “Force myself to wander” or “Schedule time for play,” but if I don’t put these things on my calendar, and score myself on my Resolutions Chart, I just won’t do them. (If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, email me at grubin at gretchenrubin dot com.)

Now, some people make the point that measuring isn’t necessarily a good thing. Measuring something stifles it, they argue, or it encourages you to focus on measurable aspects at the expense of more elusive ones, or the fact that you’re measuring an experience shows you’re not experiencing it deeply. After all, when you’re fully immersed in an experience, you don’t stop to measure it.

That’s true. So I suppose I’m talking about how to get to that point. How do you lose yourself in contemplation of the clouds if you’re listening to the audiobook of Freedom? How do you throw yourself into dancing at a club if you never step away from your computer? In my case, measurement allows me to make sure that such values don’t get pushed to the side – otherwise I’m too preoccupied with answering emails or taking notes, because these are tangible items that can crossed off my to-do list.

Even reading. Reading is my very favorite thing to do — in fact, if I’m honest with myself, it’s practically the only activity I really enjoy — and when I’m reading, I lose all track of time or sense of measurement. Nevertheless, one of my resolutions is “Find more time to read.” I measure my reading time to make sure that reading doesn’t get crowded out.

Maybe there’s something you’d like to change in your life — to get more of something good or less of something bad. Try this: figure out a very concrete way to measure and track it. By counting the things that count — and pushing yourself to find a way to count the things that seem as if they can’t be counted — you make sure they’re part of your life.

How about you? Have you found that measuring something has helped you manage to get more (or less) of it in your life? How did you measure?

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

* I love time-lapse photography, and was especially pleased to see this short video of time passing in New York City, where I live. New York City! It makes me happy every day. I love it.

* Sign up for the Moment of Happiness, and each weekday morning, you’ll get a happiness quotation in your email inbox. Sign up here or email me at grubin at gretchenrubin dot com.