CC360 Blog

The Study of… YOU

The Study of… YOU

“Human freedom involves our capacity to pause between stimulus & response and, in that pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight” (Rollo May, The Courage to Create)

What if – within that very pause, we were to develop a plan – an objective way in which we could more accurately choose that “one response toward which we wish to throw our weight”? We can – and today we’ll discuss the core essentials on how to go about doing precisely that.

The world of health, wellness & performance is rife with panaceas. Afterall, how else can an influencer capture our attention unless their “solution” fixes (seemingly) everything?!? Our rational minds understand the conundrum of repeatedly falling for this shiny object shell game, and yet our emotions, the primary driver of our actions, beg to differ. In fact, the root word “Pan-” references the sizzle while “-acea” points to the absence of any actual steak (just kidding – but it’s not far off from reality).

Treating YouTube, podcasts and blogs, where our biases (e.g., Halo effect) influence our perception of “credible” is natural, but so is downing a tub of ice cream during a late night Netflix binge. Natural doesn’t necessarily make it advisable. Originally identified by Dr. Frederick Wells in 1907, the Halo effect (where an attractive and/or fit individual is seen as being smarter or more credible) has now become a dominant player in the age of social media. Think you’re immune? When was the last time you tuned into a video featuring an overweight, balding 50-something to garner fitness insights? Would you care if he had a PhD and lectured globally on the subject? (hopefully your answer will be “yes” by the end of this column, but studies indicate that is not generally the case).

However, we don’t have to take the bait. Awareness of our biases (including but not limited to the Halo effect) can provide a similar buffer as knowing we like said ice cream but keeping it out of the house in favor of a healthier alternative. Similarly, by tapping into resources like Google Scholar (which simplifies the process of searching for studies that have passed rigorous internal and external standards), we are more likely to ignore the sirens’s song of the -literally unhealthy – alternative.

At the same time, while peer-reviewed, published research provides the gold standard when seeking out broader guidance, there are times when there’s a value in peeling back an additional layer and making it all about YOU. Then what?

Let’s say you read a study showing eye covers & ear plugs improve sleep quality by X% . Does that mean you’ll garner the same benefits? We have no idea. Ok – we have a partial idea due to the results of the study – but we don’t know if it applies to you specifically since respondents within the study cover a wide range. So what can we do? We have two options:

  1. Assume it applies to you and start using eye covers. Done. This is a reasonable strategy in the case of insights confirmed across multiple studies over several years and/or when determining your specific response is complicated or requires years of assessments. For example, the findings/guidelines related to daily levels of protein and creatine intake likely fit into this category.
  2. Create your own N-of-1 study (meaning a study of a single participant – you!) to assess whether the findings do positively apply to you. Makes sense. But how do we do this??

The first step forward is to find a time machine. We cannot make an adequate assessment without first having a consistent baseline measurement onto which we’re introducing the new variable. Time machines are difficult to get your hands on these days, so the alternative is to begin tracking something simple to set the stage NOW for future N-of-1 plans. In a nutshell, we’re trying to answer the question “How will I know” (if the change makes any difference)?

My personal favorites are morning HRV (heart rate variability) and resting heart rate. We discussed a very simple, accurate and inexpensive way of doing so on the Catalyst 360 podcast with Dr. Marco Altini here. HRV is one of the most accurate ways in which to assess the body’s response to various inputs, making it an easy and obvious choice. At the same time, you might (instead or in addition) like to track things like sleep quality, subjective stress levels (e.g., 1-10 scale), or any other quantifiable measure you can track consistently and easily, as a long-term pattern allows us to pick up on positive/negative impact on the part of the new variable.

Now, with our virtual time machine in place, or at least a month or two of data to which we can make comparisons, it’s time to add the variable. Maybe it’s a new fueling (nutritional) strategy, sleep schedule, exercise routine, our previously mentioned eye covers or any other additional (or deletion – such as eliminating alcohol or cutting back on caffeine) we want to study in ourselves.

Make the specific change. You’re now the lead researcher in a valuable, potentially life-shifting study about you. No willy-nilly “I’ll try a little of this occasionally” (that’s fine, but it’s not what you’re doing here). You identify 1, and only 1, variable to adjust and then study the results over a specific period. It’s not “less caffeine.” It involves making a specific daily change from three 12 oz cups between 6-11 AM to a maximum of 18 oz during the same period for 30 consecutive days while measuring daily HRV, resting heart rate and subjective energy levels on a 1-10 scale at 3 PM each day (or whatever you choose to change & measure).

Control other variables. “Brad – you can’t do that. Too many variables.” In our initial study, my PhD supervising professors (shout-out to Dr. Wilson & Dr. Jones!) had to regularly remind me that more variables = more error. If I’m curious about the effect of adjusting caffeine intake but simultaneously change my exercise routine & sleep schedule, then we really have clarity what the caffeine intake change produced in our personal study. We obviously can’t control everything, but we can try to minimize additional variables through the process. Sidenote: automating the core elements of life (Move/Fuel/Rest) not only makes your N-of-1 personal study far more accurate – it also improves your life. The body craves inherent stability (from which, for many, the mind can then launch into creativity and the body can explore new options). Controlling the variables provides precisely that stability from which we can grow.

Assess results, rinse & repeat! Did the change create a measurable benefit worth continuing? Or was it negligible (or maybe even produced a negative response)? Good to know! With that personal riddle solved – at least for now – we can move onto exploring our next intriguing personal question. Additionally, you now have your baseline tracking dialed in and your extraneous variables controlled, which makes each round that much easier.

We launched into this discussion considering the opportunity presented by Dr. May, which focused on a singular response, identified within the pause. As we integrate N-of-1 clarity into that pause, the singular response he identifies is likely to sprout (ongoing, individualized) wings and take us to new heights – repeatedly!

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