The Quantified Life: Days 0-60

Authors note: Anything you see in any of my blog posts that is underlined is either a cool external link to help you learn more or internal links to my own related content.

New Project: The Quantified Life

*Note: The Google Sheet link to John’s Quantified Life data can be found HERE.

In my last blog post, I described how I’ve designed my life around a few carefully chosen, interdependent goals. I also described, at a high level, my strategy and tactics for making progress towards those goals.

However, having inspiring goals is worthless if you don’t actually do the day-to-day hard work required to make real progress towards your goals. If last blog post was akin to “talking the talk”, this post is about actually “walking the walk.” After I wrote the True Goals vs Fuel Goals blog post, I realized that merely having goals was NOT going to be enough to ensure success. To continuously improve, I realized that I need constant monitoring and daily, objective feedback.

Legendary management consultant Peter Drucker famously said, “What gets measured, gets improved.” I largely agree with this statement and so, as of October 1, 2018, I have embarked a new project that I’m calling Quantified Life. The goal of Quantified Life is to collect data on my own personal Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) related to my goals, analyze the data, and use the insights to improve my rate of personal growth.

Richard Feynman said “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” When it comes to making progress towards your goals, the best way to ensure that you’re not fooling yourself is to have good data on your own progress (or lack of progress). Knowledge really is power in this case, and today’s modern technology - namely smartphones and wearables - make collecting and analyzing your personal data something that anyone can do.

The Quantified Self movement

This project was directly inspired by the Quantified Self movement. You can think of Quantified Self as the marriage between personal data and self-improvement. Here’s the description from the Quantified Self Wiki page:

“Quantified self, also known as lifelogging, is a specific movement by Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly from Wired magazine, which began in 2007 and tries to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person's daily life. People collect data in terms of food consumed, quality of surrounding air, mood, skin conductance as a proxy for arousal, pulse oximetry for blood oxygen level, and performance, whether mental or physical. Wolf has described quantified self as "self-knowledge through self-tracking with technology".[1]

My first step in this new project was to convert my goals into measurable data points and start tracking them daily. Below is a diagram from my last blog post that I created to visualize my goals. These are the essential goals/tasks that I’m trying to convert to measurable data points for this Quantified Life project.

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Here are some apps I’m using to collect/track this data: Fitbit, MyFitnessPal, Goodreads, Insight Timer, and Google Sheets.

The Key Metrics

What makes this project particularly interesting to me is trying to come up with ways to quantify goals that don’t typically lend themselves to easy quantification, especially personal relationships. As of right now, I’m currently tracking myself on over 30 metrics. This was my first attempt at converting my goals to quantifiable metrics and I’m certain that these goals will need to be tweaked over time. Most of the health goals are based on common health indicators and most of the non-health metrics are frequency-based. Below is a break down of many of those key metrics by goal type:

Great relationships

-Fatherhood: spend at least 60 minutes/day bonding/playing with our new baby boy

-Marriage: Have monthly date nights with my wife and do surprise “extra” chores (that she typically does) for my wife twice per week

-Son: Visit my parents every 2 weeks, on average

-Brother: Do 3 “sibling-only” meals per year with my brother and sister. No kids, spouses, or parents allowed.

-Others: Do 1 random act of kindness per week

-Network: Add 1 new, quality relationship to my network every month.

-Also, I am currently experimenting with 3 different personal CRM apps (Ryze, Cultivate, and Garden) which set up automatic, customized reminders for me to keep in touch (texting, calling, or in-person) with my family, friends, and other people in my network. Cultivate seems to be the best one so far.

Improving the World

-Donate annually to Effective Altruism-type charities. Currently, I am partial to de-worming and anti-malarial charities: Deworm the World, Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, and the Against Malaria foundation.

-Keep up with news/debates within the Effective Altruism community via the EA Facebook Group and EA community forums. (Not currently tracked)

Skills/Knowledge/Platform

-Read a book per week, on average.

-Release 1 podcast episode per month

-Publish 1 blog post per quarter

Wealth

-Maintain a specific personal savings rate %. (The rate itself is private, but I will include this as a monthly pass/fail goal as part of my Quantified Life)

-Achieve longer term salary/cash flow, investing returns, and net worth goals. (Private, and tracked outside of this project)

Physical & Mental Health

-Drink 1 gallon of water per day

-Meditate daily, for at least 10 minutes per day

-Do my 5 minute Journal daily

-Lose 40-50 ish pounds to achieve goal weight of 150lb

-Track a variety of diet metrics (net calories, net carbs, sugar, etc)

-Track running and fitness metrics (running, push ups, pull ups, etc)

-Track steps, heart rate, and blood pressure

Going Public With My Data

Am I crazy for making this data public? Maybe, but I actually don’t think so. All things considered, these data points I’m making public are pretty benign. I’m confident that the added benefits of making my commitment to improving these metrics public and of sharing that journey with all of you outweigh the risks of personal harm from making this data public. So, here you go internet…my Quantified Life database for the first 60 days. Enjoy!

Early Observations and Takeaways

After 60 days of tracking, here are some things I’ve learned:

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  1. Doing extra chores, meeting new people, and doing random acts of kindness are WAY harder than spending quality time with my family and friends. It’s not exactly surprising that I unperformed on those goals because I thoroughly enjoy spending quality time with my family & friends, but I find chores and meeting new peoples deeply unpleasant. However, it was nice to see the data confirm this weakness of mine. I will have to double down on my efforts on these particular goals.

  2. I was surprised how much sleep I’m actually getting with an infant to take care of (6.5 hours on avg). This probably means either our son is sleeping pretty well, or possibly that I’m not exactly doing my fair share of late-night baby duty.

  3. Although I’ve been very inconsistent on my diet, it was nice to see that I did lose about 7 pounds or so during the first 60 days. However, almost all of that weight loss occurred in the first few weeks, and I haven’t lost any weight in the past month or so. That is a trend I must break.

  4. My daily ritual of inputting new data points every morning and watching the graphs update really has a gamification effect that makes me much more motivated to keep striving than I otherwise would.

Goddart’s Law

One important concept that I’m a bit weary of is Goddart’s Law:

"When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure." “Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes”

While it is certainly true that linking rewards/punishments to any metric increases the risk of unintended consequences resulting from the incentive to meet that goal, I think the benefits of self-monitoring outweigh those concerns. I’ll have to be careful that I don’t cheat my own incentive system!

Future Updates

I plan on releasing an updated version of this data every 3 months or so and sharing whatever insights I gain through this blog. I expect this will be a fun project, that will reveal my own strengths and weaknesses, and help me on the path towards self-mastery.

“If you can master yourself, you will find yourself in control of a great empire.” - Publius Syrus

Thanks for reading,

John


The Power of Moonshot Thinking

Authors note: Anything you see in any of my blog posts that is underlined is either a cool external link to help you learn more or internal links to my own related content.

 

Last year, I read a fascinating book called How Google Works (2014) co-written by Google's Executive Chairman and ex-CEO Eric Schmidt and former SVP of Products Jonathan Rosenberg. While the book credited many factors to Google's unbelievable success, the one big idea that stood out to me was their concept of Moonshot Thinking.

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Moonshot Thinking is about ideas that aren't merely 10% better than what already exists, but 10X better than what already exists. Rather than small incremental improvement, Moonshots are about massive improvement.

The best Moonshots tend to also be what I call Positive Asymmetric Bets - bets where the potential payoff if the idea/project succeeds is magnitudes greater than the cost if the idea/project fails. Imagine rolling a dice with six sides. Every time you roll the dice and roll 1-5 you'll be charged $10, but every time you roll a 6, you'll get $80. Even though 5/6 individual throws will lose money, if you roll the dice enough times, you'll eventually average $5 in winnings per dice throw. Throw the die long enough, and you'll be richer than Bill Gates. That's powerful.

If you keep your eyes and mind open, you'll start to see that life is full of these happily lopsided opportunities. Finding and attempting your own Moonshots is a fantastic way to improve your life.

Here are five quick, real-world examples to get our mental juices flowing:

1) Emailing a famous person and asking for advice

2) Applying for a job way above your current pay grade

3) Starting your own podcast, blog, or other "side hustle"

4) Asking out a guy/girl who is "way out of your league"

5) Applying to an Ivy League school when you don't exactly have the grades or pedigree.

These five ideas/projects, individually, all are more likely to fail than to succeed. However, like the dice example, the payoff is so high compared to the relatively minimal downside if the idea/project fails that it still makes sense to take a chance on the idea/project because the expected value is still positive.

The secret to making moonshots work for you in the long run is making sure you're able to roll that moonshot dice with relatively high frequency. Because most moonshots will fail, it's generally pretty stupid to put most or all of your "eggs" into a single Moonshot bet. The trick is to carefully consider both the magnitude of the asymmetry and the proportion of your overall resources (time and money) that you are willing to allocate to each of your Moonshots bets. I've found that allocating 1-3 years worth of time and money to each moonshot seems to work quite well. That gives you about 12-30 good moonshots over your working life, and maybe even 50-100 moonshots over the course of a long, full life.

Famous investor Mohnish Pabrai (author of the Dhando Investor) has summed up the entire Moonshot concept in one pithy sentence: 

"Heads I win big; Tails I don't lose much."

You can watch Pabrai's great talk regarding this concept (at Google, ironically) here:

Although I didn't realize it until after I read How Google Works, I've actually been using Moonshot Thinking to vastly improve my life over the past 5-7 years. Here are some personal examples from my own experience:

MOONSHOT #1 - Applying to better Grad Schools after already being rejected by a "worse" grad school.

Low Downside: I was likely to lose $200 (and an afternoon) filling out applications. 

Huge Upside: Potentially vastly improving my career prospects, if accepted.

  • In 2013, I was getting tired of working in a call center, so I began considering my options. I worked out the upside/downside of going to business school and getting an MBA. Despite already having over $70,000 in undergraduate student debt, I applied to two business schools. School A, which was traditionally much less prestigious and easier to get into than school B, rejected me. I knew that the odds were very low that someone rejected from School A could get into the more prestigious and selective School B. However, the Moonshot reward here was vastly improved career prospects and the cost was a $200 application fee and a day spent filling out an application. I took the unlikely bet, applied to School B, and got accepted. This one moonshot seriously improved my life.

MOONSHOT #2 - Volunteering in my local community

Low Downside: I'd be "giving up" a few hours a month to do whatever volunteer work my local community needed.

Huge Upside: I could potentially connect with and befriend many of my neighbors and maybe even improving the community a tiny bit.

  • In late 2016, after 4 years of working intensely, and almost exclusively, on improving my career trajectory, I decided it was time to start spending more of my time and energy on other people. I sent an email to my local government asking if they had any volunteer opportunities available. I told them, quite literally, i'd do anything that would get me involved and contributing to the community. Like my previous Moonshots, I saw local community service as an opportunity to get to know my neighbors and maybe do some good in the process (high potential reward) for the price of just a few hours of my time per month (low potential risk). I expected to be planting flowers, or helping with the historical society, or something boring like that. Instead, I was appointed to a seat on the Board of Directors of my local library! Holy cow, what an awesome opportunity for a bibliophile like myself. I eventually was elevated to Treasurer in 2018 where I now combine 1) my love of books/libraries 2) my love of finance and 3) my goal/duty to give back to my community. That is some serious Ikigai right there! And it all started with one tiny email that took 30 seconds to write.

MOONSHOT #3 - Launching my own podcast in 2017, and blog in 2018.

Low Downside: Spending $250 on microphones and a website, and having awesome conversations about books and big ideas over delicious alcoholic beverages with my friends, but having zero listeners. (Talk about a worst case scenario!)

Huge Upside: Possibly having a successful podcast/blog that are both fun, allows me to meet and interact with cool new people, and possibly even build a small platform for myself.

  • In 2017, I started a Podcast. The podcast/blog has acted as a force multiplier for me because it gives me an excuse to have deep, 1-on-1 conversations with people that otherwise wouldn't wouldn't occur. This is both super-fun for me, but also helps me be more social. (Which is something I really struggled with growing up)
  • Inspired by the success of my podcast, I launched this blog in 2018. (Yes, the one you're reading right now!) Again, a similar asymmetry: I was already going to read constantly, take a lot of notes, collect and big ideas just for myself. Why not SHARE those good books and big ideas with the world? I have virtually nothing to lose, and potentially a TON of people on line who might gain something from my blog ideas or books reviews and vice versa.

My life has been vastly improved by consciously (and unconsciously) Moonshot Thinking and pursuing positive asymmetric opportunities, especially over the past 6 years. Moonshots are a key feature of Google's incredible success, and this mental model can REALLY help YOU in your own life. 

So keep you eyes and your mind open for Moonshots in your career, your community, and among your relationships. Say yes to Positive Asymmetries whenever you can, and good things will happen to you. 

Good luck with your Moonshots!

-John

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