It has been a good long while since I wrote a proper blog entry. When the pandemic began three years ago, keeping up on my writing took a serious priority hit. This eventually turned into writer’s block… and then general anxiety about being out of practice. What did I have to say?
So here we are at the very tail end of 2022. I’ve been thinking a lot about what has changed in the last three years. Among all of the hype about metaverses, automation, and AI – I’ve been parsing out ideas that are presenting meaningful, lasting change that can elevate our work beyond the status quo.
Ideas that drive impact, change habits, and trend towards transformative outcomes usually take much longer to realize, require rigorous evaluation, and goal-oriented engagement.
As part of this reflection, I’ve come to realize that my personal engagement with technology is largely driven by sensibility that the hype that drives much of the discourse around technology is fleeting, uncritical, and too often driven by manipulative marketing tactics. Meanwhile, ideas that drive demonstrable impact, change habits, and trend towards transformative outcomes usually take much longer to realize, require rigorous evaluation, and goal-oriented engagement.
When it comes to ‘digital transformation’ within a business – it is often a misstep to formulate a roadmap around the immediate hype rather than the careful consideration of tactics that build up to meaningful change.
But that is not what this blog post is about… at least not directly.
The year 2022 was a year of personal reflection for me. When I look back on my personal journey in architecture, technology and business ownership, my health – both mental and physical – had largely taken a backseat in the priority list. Years of late nights, caffeine-fueled coding sessions, regular travel, and socializing over a beer had left me overweight, burnt out, and grappling with high blood pressure. In short: I felt like shit.
The breaks were put on many of these longstanding habits during the pandemic – but I also needed to find ways of reversing the longer-term health impacts of living my pre-pandemic lifestyle and replace them with healthier behavior. As a professional promoting digital innovation, I often tout that “behavior is the hardest thing to change.” As it turns out, this axiom is as true in business as much as it is true in life.
In April of this year, I turned 39 and decided it was finally time to make a few changes. I needed to lose weight, improve my cardiovascular health, and eat better. Around the same time, I began to enjoy taking my 8 year old son to the swimming pool and was reminded that swimming was something I genuinely enjoyed. I’ve never considered myself to be athletic – and I have certainly never had any form of workout routine to speak of. Nevertheless, something clicked that swimming was something that I could do, had fun with, and offered the health benefits I needed.
Swimming came with all sorts of interesting points of measurement that a data-driven junkie like myself could get into…
Additionally, swimming came with all sorts of interesting points of measurement that a data-driven junkie like myself could get into: Well established measurements of speed, distance and efficiency combined with personal outcomes for calorie burn and weight loss set the stage for a personal data-driven fitness journey this year.
Looking back, the evolution of my approach mirrors so many different data-driven recommendations I’ve made over the years – now applied to my personal well being. What better way to tell it than dissecting my process…
Phase 1 – Setting a goal + manual logging
Back in April, my most immediate goal was that I needed to lose at least 30 pounds to be ‘normal weight’ (based on BMI). As anyone who has gone on a diet knows, weight loss is a ‘calories in – calories out’ equation (easy, right?!). If you regularly consume fewer calories than you burn, you will operate at a caloric deficit leading to a drop in weight over time. A fitness routine – like swimming – can help with the caloric burn rate while also building general fitness.
As I started my journey, I knew I needed to keep things simple for myself. Too much complexity in my routine and progress tracking could make things too onerous to sustain.
As I started my journey, I knew I needed to keep things simple for myself. Too much complexity in my routine and progress tracking could make things too onerous to sustain. Note: at this phase, I also made a decision to NOT go the route of using a smart fitness tracker (like a watch) – I felt I didn’t know enough about what I was doing to determine how to best augment my process with tracking technology (more on this later in phase 3).
I knew I could easily track my daily swimming distances, caloric intake, and my daily weight with minimal effort. Each day, I would update my Excel spreadsheet with new data and refresh a simple Power BI report for review.
This first phase of my process was sustained for approximately 6 months. My day would start with a swim, filling out my spreadsheet, reviewing the report – rinse and repeat. I began to use this data to make adjustments to my daily routine with a primary goal driving calorie burn. What does the data show if I add another 400 yards to my daily distance? What is the effect if I introduce a few laps of butterfly stroke? (the highest calorie burning swim stroke)
What I learned from my V1 data reporting:
- Freestyle strokes are the best all around calorie burner that can be sustained for longer swim periods.
- Incorporating a mix of different stroke styles (usually in IM order) provided the best all around workout. Butterfly is hard but crushes calories.
- Switching up the routine mix every 1-2 weeks would help jog my body out of weight less ‘plateaus’.
Eventually I found sustainable patterns I was looking for and I was able to use this data to support my goal. After 5 months, I was 30+ pounds trimmer and felt great. But as anyone who has made introduced lifestyle changes knows: it’s easy to slip into old habits and reverse progress…
Phase 2 – Refining measurements + modular routines
With my weight loss goal achieved, I began to ask myself what other goals I could set for myself. Keeping the weight off was certainly one goal but I also became interested in ways to build speed and endurance during my swims.
At this phase, I introduced some basic workout time tracking and a perceived measure of effort. I also created more structured swim workout routines with additional label classifications that allowed for me to target different techniques. Additionally, being more structured with the data was important because pool availability was becoming more limited in the fall season. The data log became as much a record of my completed routine as it was a plan for the next session’s target.
The data log became as much a record of my completed routine as it was a plan for the next session’s target.
The data log was as much a record of my completed routine as it was a plan for the next session’s target.
Using this approach, I was able to use my data method to establish goals for improving my overall workout pace and maintaining my current weight range. Instead of basing decisions on distance and calorie burn, I was asking questions like “What routine will help me improve speed?” or “What sequence of routines should I plan during the week to improve my backstroke?”
What I learned from my V2 data reporting:
- The goal changed from weight loss to maintaining my weight and improving physical ability.
- Distance of a workout is secondary to the specific routines and focus areas.
- Mixing up ‘longer steady’ sets with ‘short fast’ sets throughout the week helped me build endurance.
- Planning the week out helped me sustain good habits as pool hours became less available during the fall season.
At this point, it also became clear that I needed to tap into additional data collection methods that would allow me to more completely track my fitness progress.
Phase 3 – Smart tracking + continuous improvement
It my surprise some that I consider myself somewhat of a technology ‘Luddite’ when it comes to my personal life. I only really adopt new technology when the need to do so becomes undeniable or when there is a clear value add to my life. As I continued my swimming routine, I wanted data that would help give me tangible targets for improving my technique, speed, and endurance. This involved measuring new things than when my goals were driven primarily by weight loss.
Last week, I picked up my first smart watch: a Garmin Swim 2. It’s a ‘no frills’ fitness watch tailored to swimmers. I can design my workouts, track pace, distance, time, heart rate, and stroke efficiency. The most appealing feature was ‘stroke detection’ – meaning it can understand if I am swimming (such as freestyle or breastroke) based on my arm motion – cool!
In even one short week, the introduction of the swim watch has changed my routine considerably. I am more aware of my level of physical exertion as well as metrics that are typically used to determine ‘how good’ of a swimmer I am. (spoiler: I’m in decent shape but you won’t see me competing any time soon!)
Instead of manually entering in log data, I am now managing more complex data and cleaning up ‘data noise’ that is often present with sensor-based data.
Additionally, the data volume I have to work with is considerably higher. Luckily, the Garmin Swim 2 lets me download spreadsheets of my swim sessions detailing statistics about each lap I take. As a result, the third iteration of my Power BI report looks quite different than my first one. Instead of manually entering in basic distance measures and tracking weight, I am now managing more complex data about my performance. I am now gaining an understanding of my efficiency, finding my best times, and continuously improving my ability with this data-driven feedback.
What I am current learning with my V3 data:
- Timed laps/intervals is helping me quantify my ability and what I can do to adjust/improve my speed in different strokes.
- Measurements for stroke efficiency are helping me understand how to gauge improvements to my technique.
- I am learning how to better balance workout ‘rest’ periods within my swim routine.
- I am gaining insight into biometric data – such as heart rate – relative to my workout routine.
Several years ago, I wouldn’t have thought about dedicating a professional blog post on the topic of my physical health. Today the time seemed right to reflect on it. The topic of ‘business health’ has been instrumental in how we, as Proving Ground, develop digital transformation strategies. Creating a healthy working culture is also something I’ve learned to value in how our company operates with an emphasis on work-life balance. This year’s journey has – for me – been a personal proving ground for demonstrating the concept of health data-driven decision making.
My journey has reinforced my belief that measurable, goal-oriented uses of technology are vital to realizing successful adoption. Furthermore, the incremental and iterative process for using data was a way for me to evolve my goals over time into a sustainable fixture of my day-to-day life.
Ultimately, this experience has been about taking on the challenge of changing behavior – the primary roadblock that needs to be cleared before realizing any kind of transformation.