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Using Data to
Hack My Habits and
Whip Up My Willpower
Show-and-Tell Session
Quantified Self Conference
May 2013
Mark Leavitt
mark@markleavitt.com
Using Data to
Hack My Habits and
Whip Up My Willpower
Show-and-Tell Session
Quantified Self Conference
May 2013
Mark Leavitt
mark@markleavitt.com
The Experiment
• Age: 57
• Diet: typical American
• Weight: 190 lb / 86 kg
• Activity: sedentary
• Workouts: zero
Starting Point (2007)
The Experiment
• Age: 57
• Diet: typical American
• Weight: 190 lb / 86 kg
• Activity: sedentary
• Workouts: zero
Can Quantified Self techniques
help me transform
these life-long habits?
My 4-Step Approach
1. Learn
2. Model
3. Track
4. Hack
Learn
The Willpower Instinct
Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D.
The Power of Habit
Charles Duhigg
Younger Next Year
Chris Crowley &
Henry S. Lodge, M.D.
Learn
The Willpower Instinct
Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D.
The Power of Habit
Charles Duhigg
Younger Next Year
Chris Crowley &
Henry S. Lodge, M.D.
Model: My Brain
(Oversimplified, But It Works for Me)
PRIMITIVE Loop
• Found in all animals
• Short-term rewards
• Unconscious habits
• “I want that NOW”
Model: My Brain
(Oversimplified, But It Works for Me)
ADVANCED Loop
• Sophisticated, humans only
• Long-term goals
• Conscious, willpower
• “Pause and plan”
PRIMITIVE Loop
• Found in all animals
• Short-term rewards
• Unconscious habits
• “I want that NOW”
Model: Self-Tracking
ADVANCED Loop
• Sophisticated, humans only
• Long-term goals
• Conscious, willpower
• “Pause and plan”
PRIMITIVE Loop
• Primitive, all animals
• “I want it NOW”
• Short-term rewards
• Automatic, unconscious
Self-Tracking:
Increasing my
awareness of
unconscious habits
and their effects
Model: Self-Hacking
ADVANCED Loop
• Sophisticated, humans only
• Long-term goals
• Conscious, willpower
• “Pause and plan”
PRIMITIVE Loop
• Primitive, all animals
• “I want it NOW”
• Short-term rewards
• Automatic, unconscious
Self-Tracking:
Increasing my
awareness of
unconscious habits
and their effects
Self-Hacking:
Using knowledge
and willpower to
to create / hack into
those habits
Habit 1: Nutrition / Weight
Low-fat diet +
Basic Tracking
• Initial success
• Gradual backslide
• Tracking drop-off
#FAIL
Habit 1: Nutrition / Weight
Low-fat diet +
Basic Tracking
• Initial success
• Gradual backslide
• Tracking drop-off
#FAIL
Habit 1: Nutrition / Weight
Hacks:
• Enhanced data visualization
• Go 100% vegan -- no fuzzy rules
• Use willpower upstream – at the
grocery store, not the table
Result:
• Within target zone
• Stable >18 months
#wØØt
Habit 1: Nutrition / Weight
Hacks:
• Enhanced data visualization
• Go 100% vegan -- no fuzzy rules
• Use willpower upstream – at the
grocery store, not the table
Result:
• Within target zone
• Stable >18 months
#wØØt
Habit 2: Activity
A Hack to Make ‘Seat Time’ More Active
Attached
mini-elliptical
exerciser
Hacked seat
Split keyboard in arms
Knees free to move
Habit 2: Activity
A Hack to Make ‘Seat Time’ More Active
Attached
mini-elliptical
exerciser
Real-time
red/yellow/green
feedback light
Hacked seat
Split keyboard in arms
Knees free to move
All data
captured in
self-tracking
database
Habit 2: Activity
Habit 2: Activity
Result:
• 70,000 steps/wk
Habit 3: Strength Training
Perform strength training
after aerobic exercise +
Basic Tracking
• Initial success
• Backslide after 3 months
• Compliance poor: most
weeks, I skipped 1 or 2 of
the 3 desired sessions
#FAIL
Habit 3: Strength Training
Perform strength training
after aerobic exercise +
Basic Tracking
• Initial success
• Backslide after 3 months
• Compliance poor: most
weeks, I skipped 1 or 2 of
the 3 desired sessions
#FAIL
Habit 3: Strength Training
Hacks:
• Same 3 days every week
• Early AM (highest willpower)
• Eat 1 orange before workout
(rising glucose increases willpower)
• Eat breakfast after session (reward)
Result:
• Increased strength
• 96% compliance
#wØØt
Habit 3: Strength Training
Hacks:
• Same 3 days every week
• Early AM (highest willpower)
• Eat 1 orange before workout
(rising glucose increases willpower)
• Eat breakfast after session (reward)
Result:
• Increased strength
• 96% compliance
#wØØt
Experimental Results
Starting point
(2007)
Present day
(2013)
Nutrition /
Weight
Unhealthy
American diet;
190 lb / 86 kg
100% plant-
based diet;
147 lb / 67 kg
Activity Sedentary
5 miles / 8 km
daily average
Strength Zero workouts
3 workouts/wk
96% compliance
What Did I Learn?
Life-long habits can be changed!
What Did I Learn?
Life-long habits can be changed!
Learn some science,
but beware of its limitations.
What Did I Learn?
Even life-long habits can be changed!
Learn some science,
but beware of its limitations.
Make a mental model of
willpower and habit mechanisms.
What Did I Learn?
Even life-long habits can be changed!
Learn some science,
but beware of its limitations.
Make a mental model of
willpower and habit mechanisms.
Expect first attempts to fail.
What Did I Learn?
Even life-long habits can be changed!
Learn some science,
but beware of its limitations.
Make a mental model of
willpower and habit mechanisms.
Expect first attempts to fail.
Keep iterating through track-hack cycles.
Thanks for listening!
Questions and Discussion
Contact info:
Email: mark@markleavitt.com
Twitter: @markleavitt
Website: markleavitt.com

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Using Data to Hack My Habits and Whip Up My Willpower

  • 1. Using Data to Hack My Habits and Whip Up My Willpower Show-and-Tell Session Quantified Self Conference May 2013 Mark Leavitt mark@markleavitt.com
  • 2. Using Data to Hack My Habits and Whip Up My Willpower Show-and-Tell Session Quantified Self Conference May 2013 Mark Leavitt mark@markleavitt.com
  • 3. The Experiment • Age: 57 • Diet: typical American • Weight: 190 lb / 86 kg • Activity: sedentary • Workouts: zero Starting Point (2007)
  • 4. The Experiment • Age: 57 • Diet: typical American • Weight: 190 lb / 86 kg • Activity: sedentary • Workouts: zero Can Quantified Self techniques help me transform these life-long habits?
  • 5. My 4-Step Approach 1. Learn 2. Model 3. Track 4. Hack
  • 6. Learn The Willpower Instinct Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg Younger Next Year Chris Crowley & Henry S. Lodge, M.D.
  • 7. Learn The Willpower Instinct Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg Younger Next Year Chris Crowley & Henry S. Lodge, M.D.
  • 8. Model: My Brain (Oversimplified, But It Works for Me) PRIMITIVE Loop • Found in all animals • Short-term rewards • Unconscious habits • “I want that NOW”
  • 9. Model: My Brain (Oversimplified, But It Works for Me) ADVANCED Loop • Sophisticated, humans only • Long-term goals • Conscious, willpower • “Pause and plan” PRIMITIVE Loop • Found in all animals • Short-term rewards • Unconscious habits • “I want that NOW”
  • 10. Model: Self-Tracking ADVANCED Loop • Sophisticated, humans only • Long-term goals • Conscious, willpower • “Pause and plan” PRIMITIVE Loop • Primitive, all animals • “I want it NOW” • Short-term rewards • Automatic, unconscious Self-Tracking: Increasing my awareness of unconscious habits and their effects
  • 11. Model: Self-Hacking ADVANCED Loop • Sophisticated, humans only • Long-term goals • Conscious, willpower • “Pause and plan” PRIMITIVE Loop • Primitive, all animals • “I want it NOW” • Short-term rewards • Automatic, unconscious Self-Tracking: Increasing my awareness of unconscious habits and their effects Self-Hacking: Using knowledge and willpower to to create / hack into those habits
  • 12. Habit 1: Nutrition / Weight Low-fat diet + Basic Tracking • Initial success • Gradual backslide • Tracking drop-off #FAIL
  • 13. Habit 1: Nutrition / Weight Low-fat diet + Basic Tracking • Initial success • Gradual backslide • Tracking drop-off #FAIL
  • 14. Habit 1: Nutrition / Weight Hacks: • Enhanced data visualization • Go 100% vegan -- no fuzzy rules • Use willpower upstream – at the grocery store, not the table Result: • Within target zone • Stable >18 months #wØØt
  • 15. Habit 1: Nutrition / Weight Hacks: • Enhanced data visualization • Go 100% vegan -- no fuzzy rules • Use willpower upstream – at the grocery store, not the table Result: • Within target zone • Stable >18 months #wØØt
  • 16. Habit 2: Activity A Hack to Make ‘Seat Time’ More Active Attached mini-elliptical exerciser Hacked seat Split keyboard in arms Knees free to move
  • 17. Habit 2: Activity A Hack to Make ‘Seat Time’ More Active Attached mini-elliptical exerciser Real-time red/yellow/green feedback light Hacked seat Split keyboard in arms Knees free to move All data captured in self-tracking database
  • 19. Habit 2: Activity Result: • 70,000 steps/wk
  • 20. Habit 3: Strength Training Perform strength training after aerobic exercise + Basic Tracking • Initial success • Backslide after 3 months • Compliance poor: most weeks, I skipped 1 or 2 of the 3 desired sessions #FAIL
  • 21. Habit 3: Strength Training Perform strength training after aerobic exercise + Basic Tracking • Initial success • Backslide after 3 months • Compliance poor: most weeks, I skipped 1 or 2 of the 3 desired sessions #FAIL
  • 22. Habit 3: Strength Training Hacks: • Same 3 days every week • Early AM (highest willpower) • Eat 1 orange before workout (rising glucose increases willpower) • Eat breakfast after session (reward) Result: • Increased strength • 96% compliance #wØØt
  • 23. Habit 3: Strength Training Hacks: • Same 3 days every week • Early AM (highest willpower) • Eat 1 orange before workout (rising glucose increases willpower) • Eat breakfast after session (reward) Result: • Increased strength • 96% compliance #wØØt
  • 24. Experimental Results Starting point (2007) Present day (2013) Nutrition / Weight Unhealthy American diet; 190 lb / 86 kg 100% plant- based diet; 147 lb / 67 kg Activity Sedentary 5 miles / 8 km daily average Strength Zero workouts 3 workouts/wk 96% compliance
  • 25. What Did I Learn? Life-long habits can be changed!
  • 26. What Did I Learn? Life-long habits can be changed! Learn some science, but beware of its limitations.
  • 27. What Did I Learn? Even life-long habits can be changed! Learn some science, but beware of its limitations. Make a mental model of willpower and habit mechanisms.
  • 28. What Did I Learn? Even life-long habits can be changed! Learn some science, but beware of its limitations. Make a mental model of willpower and habit mechanisms. Expect first attempts to fail.
  • 29. What Did I Learn? Even life-long habits can be changed! Learn some science, but beware of its limitations. Make a mental model of willpower and habit mechanisms. Expect first attempts to fail. Keep iterating through track-hack cycles.
  • 30. Thanks for listening! Questions and Discussion Contact info: Email: mark@markleavitt.com Twitter: @markleavitt Website: markleavitt.com

Editor's Notes

  1. Hello, my name is Mark Leavitt. At an earlier QS meeting, everyone was asked to introduce themselves in only 3 words. So I came up with: Emancipated Physician Engineer. Currently, I’m deeply engaged in a Quantified Self approach to master my personal health, and I’m grateful to have this time to share my story.
  2. Hello, my name is Mark Leavitt. At an earlier QS meeting, everyone was asked to introduce themselves in only 3 words. So I came up with: Emancipated Physician Engineer. Currently, I’m deeply engaged in a Quantified Self approach to master my personal health, and I’m grateful to have this time to share my story.