Essay

How Do You Know Whether Your Personal Development Efforts are Working?

By Duff McDuffee on March 20th, 2012 1

I recently achieved a goal with regards to a dietary habit, but then suddenly realized I didn’t know why I was doing it and therefore had no clue whether it was working. Many of us do this–wasting time, money, and energy because we don’t have a clear outcome and ways to measure progress.

Per the Body Ecology diet, I’ve begun consuming coconut water kefir before meals and cultured vegetables after meals–both sources of probiotics. This was difficult for me to remember to do, and also the cultured veggies don’t taste all that great so that aspect was also difficult. Also both cost money, especially since I buy them at the store instead of making my own.

I have a history of digestive health issues and probiotics apparently help with that, but how much should I take and how frequently? What am I even going for here and how can I measure whether my efforts are working or not?

Thinking more about it now, my health goals are the following, in order of priority:

  • Maintain digestive health (especially no stomach pain and good “movements”).
  • Maintain balanced moods.
  • Maintain current weight at least (especially don’t lose more than 5 lbs since that has been a problem for me).
  • Gain lean muscle mass.
  • Maintain good immunity (at most one or two mild colds a year currently).
  • Improve sleep quality and eliminate need for more than 9 hours daily (I sleep too much).

Probiotics may affect several of these goals, but probably primarily the digestive health. My moods are imbalanced mostly by a) not eating frequently enough, b) eating too much sugar or drinking caffeine, c) not getting enough sleep–all of which are currently in balance. Gaining lean muscle mass mostly requires that I eat more and work out with more volume. Immunity is related to intestinal flora, so that also is a potential outcome. My sleep quality and shorter need is unlikely to improve from more probiotics, but I’d take it if it works.

So how can I measure improvement in something like “maintaining digestive health?” I could track days where I experience stomach pain as well as intensity and duration versus days I don’t. Those are very infrequent nowadays, so I’d need to keep a log because I wouldn’t remember. I don’t think I want to create a spreadsheet of my bowel movements and post it online all Quantified Self style, but some private tracking of this data set could also help determine whether my efforts were working or not. I could also track immunity in terms of frequency and intensity of illness.

I’m still not completely sure though how I can determine which quantities, frequency, and even types of probiotics are optimal for me without some sort of data crunching and experimentation with variables, but I guess my alternative is to spend time, money, and effort at something that I have no way of determining whether it is bringing me more of what I want (or give up on my outcomes altogether).

Exercise is more straight forward in some ways because it is easy to quantify. In strength training, you know you are improving if you can lift the same weight for more repetitions or a heavier weight for the same reps. But even here, you must define your outcome–is “lifting more weight” your outcome, or is it something else like “decreasing body fat percentage,” “less back pain,” or even “enjoying learning new movement skills”? Only you can determine your outcome.

It’s important to know if your personal development efforts are working, otherwise you become a “health hobbyist” or a “personal development junkie,” spending time and money on trying things for their own sake. If that’s your outcome, then enjoy! But if you’re dieting or working out or taking a communication course for a purpose, then know your purpose and figure out what measurements you need to track to know whether it’s working or not.

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