Turning Quantification Into Habit

On August 5th of last year I got on a scale and didn’t like the number that I saw. With two young kids, a stressful project just ending and lots of travel over the past year, I just wasn’t feeling great. I didn’t feel good about what I was eating or how little I was exercising. I didn’t feel strong. Staring at the number on the scale I also realized I was afraid. I was afraid that the number would only go up if I didn’t change things. I was afraid of what that meant: that I would likely die younger, or be in poorer health even if I survived. I was also fearful I would have less energy to run around with my kids, less energy for my work, and that my poor health would keep me from the things I love to do or aspire to be.

The next day, I set a goal for weight loss. I started limiting what I ate to under 2,000 calories per day and going to the gym five times a week for 40 to 90 minute-long workouts. I purchased a Fitbit (Ultra, an older model) and kept track of everything I ate and drank, along with all my exercise, including walking. I stopped eating after 7pm (except for special occasions, of which there were many at the end of the year). I focused on goals which were motivating to me. One was to lose 45 pounds by my 40th birthday, an important milestone. The other was to focus on what being in shape would allow me to do: play soccer and feel good about it. The season starts next month!

There is a week to go until I turn 40 and I just reached my goal weight. This experience has been challenging and also quite rewarding. Many of my new habits took a lot of time to sink in. It took months of regularly going to the gym to feel good about it. Stopping myself from eating at 7pm is something I really never thought I could do. There’s just something about sitting in bed at night watching TV and eating food that gave me a lot of comfort. Although in the past 5 months I broke the 7pm boundary here and there, in general I kept to it pretty diligently. I also learned a lot about food and my relationship to it. I can’t say that I am fully where I want to be in dealing with my cravings. Certain foods help me cope with feelings that, at times, I don’t want to experience (buffalo wings for anger, ice cream for sadness, general gau’s chicken for anxiety). Overall, I am more aware of my cravings and able to understand them and find healthy ways to cope.

There were many things that supported me losing 45 pounds in the past 5 months. They included a very supportive family as well as a business and co-workers who kept me motivated and supported the boundaries I had set for myself. And Rob, one of the other partners at the Action Mill, even joined me at the gym a few times a week.

I also stumbled into a community of people all over the world who are using various approaches to support increased mindfulness through tracking and quantifying their behaviors and habits, some of whom organize themselves under the name Quantified Self. I am leery of measurement in certain contexts because it often leads to measurement for its own sake rather than for meeting the goals underneath the numbers. But in this case, I found that tracking behaviors supported me tremendously, especially when it came to getting in shape. In the final month of my diet I decided to stop most of the tracking I was doing because I had made my new eating and exercise behaviors into actual habits. I now eat breakfast every day, have a small snack in the mid-morning and mid afternoon. I eat until I feel full, a concept that before this process started never crossed my mind.

On February 5th the Action Mill will be hosting  the Quantified Self Philly Meetup show and tell event. At the event I plan on sharing more about my experience and also giving attendees the opportunity to share what and how they are tracking and learning. Please join us if you can.

If you are looking for support to lose weight and more importantly becoming more healthy please be in touch with me at jethro@actionmill.com or if you are comfortable, please comment in the blog. I would love to hear from you and perhaps we can learn and grow (or shrink) together. Although, at least for now, my shrinking is complete.

Jethro Heiko's picture
Jethro Heiko is a partner at The Action Mill


Good job!

Did you really have a kanban that reached the ceiling?

You either have a very low ceiling or very tall team members.

Or was one of your continuous improvement exercises "lower kanban to where we can reach it."?

That is funny Jim. That is not a kanban behind me in the February picture although it is something similar. Although when I created my first personal kanban it did fill quite a bit of wall. Thanks for all your work advancing personal kanban. It has had a profound impact on how I work and live.

Jethro Heiko is a partner at The Action Mill

This is a great post Jethro! The Fitbit is a wonderful product. I bought my dad one last year and after using it for about a year, he went from roughly 10 pills for his diabetes to 2! His waist, cholesterol and pill count is a moving in the right direction…

Thanks Matt and congrats to your father. I hope my children grow up to give me such thoughtful gifts.

Jethro Heiko is a partner at The Action Mill

This is an awesome story and post!

Thanks Greg. Would enjoy learning more about your work (I know some of it through our contract with the Ambrose Employer Group-thank you by the way!). I have just begun exploring the connections between aging, end of life services and human resources. Boomers and others are spending a lot of time and money caring for their aging and dying parents (and those of us in our 30s and 40s are in the middle of it or preparing for it) and I wonder about the impact on the workforce overall and how companies are meeting the growing challenges of our aging population and this population’s loved ones (which is all of us). Any advice on where to turn to others interested or working on this issue?

Jethro Heiko is a partner at The Action Mill