No Silver Bullet

Silver BulletI have not written about tracking my calories since October.  The good news is that I have been keeping up with it at about the same rate that I was tracking back then.  Pretty much everything I eat during the day, I log in my phone. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, beer, more beer, etc. The bad news is that I have not gone back and analyzed the data all that much.  I also have not been weighing myself very frequently, so I do not really know if this tracking has had an impact on my body in a quantifiable way.  I have noticed that I am getting slightly skinnier.  My clothes fit better.  I feel like my body is fitter.  So, my tracking is definitely having an impact, just not in a way I can express through numbers.

Using a smart phone application has been invaluable.  There is no way that I would have been this consistent if I was trying to do it in a spreadsheet or a notebook. Having my phone in my pocket the entire day gave me the ability to write down what I ate, immediately after I ate it.  The tracking of an item is a fragile process. It can break by the slightest of changes to a routine.  There were a few times when I realized that I forgot to track a meal from the day before.  I attempted to think back to that day and remember what I had eaten.  That attempt was a huge deterrence towards tracking that item.  The more time between when I ate something and when I tracked it increased the likelihood of me not tracking the item at all.  My smart phone decreased that time dramatically.

How many times have you seen someone purchase an item thinking that it will completely change their behavior?  How many times have you done that yourself?And out of those times, when has that product actually changed the behavior?  I know I have fallen victim to this type of mentality quite a lot.  If I just get this new computer, I will be so much more organized and productive.  Or if I buy these new weights, I will workout more often.  And every time I buy the item, the change in lifestyle never comes from the actual product, if it comes at all.

I did not buy my phone thinking that I would use it to track everything that I ate.  I started gaining an interest in self-tracking at around the same time I decided to purchase a smart phone.  There was no conscious connection between the two. And as I read more about self-tracking and the tools that people used for it, I realized how my smart phone was exactly the tool that I needed to use for tracking.  There are plenty of people out there that do not need technology to keep themselves fit, but, for me, the combination of the desire to start quantifying aspects of my life with the ubiquitous technology of a smart phone enabled me to count my calories.  If I had just bought the phone without being ready to be consistent or ready to face unflattering aspects of my behavior, I would not have been able to keep this up for so long.

In other words, there is no silver bullet.  Recently, I have been seeing evidence of how right this idiom is over and over again.  My bosses are jumping from one idea to another attempting to find that one thing that is going to make the company hugely successful.  They can not stay focused on one goal long enough to see if it is successful or not.  And it is this very act of jumping around that causes them to miss the details of a product that could be the key to making it successful.  I’ve seen it in my life outside of work too.  And it does not just involve material things.  I think that if I just follow this certain thought process, then I am going to fulfill all my personal growth goals.  Or if I just wake up earlier, I will be more productive and happier.  Et cetera.

These new ideas, products or lifestyle changes can absolutely help me live a better life.  But they are not going to do it by themselves.  I have to be prepared to change with the help of these new things.  In order to tell if I am ready, I need to be able to realistically evaluate myself and my current environment.  What will fit, what will I ignore?  Is that really who I am?  Can I imagine myself doing that?

These type of questions can get confusing really fast.  Your own biases and preconceived notions about yourself can get in the way when trying to answer them.  And I have found that the best way to figure out if you are that type of person, or if you would be willing to do something consistently, is to try it out.  Is running the best exercise for you?  Does waking up earlier make you more productive?  If you try these things, you will be able to see if doing them will achieve what you want to achieve.  If not, then they don’t work and you find something else.  This experiential type of learning is common to both science and mindfulness.

It manifests itself in two different ways in science and mindfulness, but it is essentially the same characteristic.  When thinking through a problem scientifically, you try to be as objective as possible.  You observe all aspects of the environment.  You try to take in as much information as you can in order to create a full understanding of the situation.  You are initially open to all explanations, then you discount the ones that do not fit logically.   With mindfulness, you accept your wandering thoughts as just the way the mind works.  You gently bring your focus back to your breath.  You do not judge any of your thoughts and you do not have any expectations of where you mind will go.  You just continue to bring your mind back to your breath.  

In either case, you do not try to force an unnatural explanation or solution to the problem. You don’t try to find a silver bullet to solve all your troubles. You observe, understand and take the appropriate action.

Photo courtesy of eschipul 

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