With no gift for soothsaying and poor at prophecy, my professional work as a quantitative trader in the financial markets has always been about searching for an edge, or creating one, and then exploiting it repeatedly for some benefit. That “the money is in the detail” is true in everything that we do and I spoke about it once earlier here. Exam results, medical diagnosis, haute cuisine, Olympic victories, theatre – the list is endless. The rewards, external or internal (satisfaction) are, in general, higher when the effort is greater. Most often, the difference in reward between first and second place is often vast. Sometimes that difference is obvious and in your face. One of the ladies I mentor ran a race the day before I first published this and finished in 2nd place, 20 seconds behind the 1st place – her cash prize would have been almost 50% higher if she was faster in each km by just 2 seconds. Paying attention to that 2 seconds has, in time, reaped higher rewards for her since then.
If attention to detail is important for such “performance tasks” then it should be the same with every component of our lives. And it is!
What is Detail?
In order to be aware of detail, we first need to know and be aware of what that relevant detail is. And that detail is almost always a combination of qualitative and quantitative components. Whether it’s designing fashion accessories or keeping track of your physical health. In my previous blogs I’ve spoken about how you might engage with food in a healthy manner. Choosing what (qualitative) you eat and measuring how much (quantitative) you consume are both important. In a blog to come soon, I will talk 3-D – when to eat how much of what!
But what about the result of what you eat and drink and your daily activities? Should you not measure that?
Measuring is the First Step
Studies in controlled experiments (such as this one) for weight loss have shown that people who measure their weights on a daily basis are likely to lose more weight or maintain their weight loss more successfully than those who measure their weights less frequently. This might seem magical, like in quantum mechanics where the theory goes that the act of measuring something itself alters the thing under measurement. This is not quantum mechanics of course, but recording your weight on a daily basis does often have an indirect impact on your weight over time.
Dressing up for the day in front of the mirror in the morning tends to focus on how we present our physical bodies to the world – a qualitative measure. On the other hand, measuring your weight every morning triggers off thoughts of self-awareness of your actual physical being inside those clothes – a quantitative measure. As long as you follow the same protocol daily (e.g. attire, pre-measurement consumption of food/drinks), this objective measure can remind you that you skipped dinner the previous night, or inform you that you overate at a dinner party, or that you are dehydrated before a pre-breakfast workout. Increased mindfulness! Increased self-awareness!
On a slightly longer timescale, recording your weight frequently can demonstrate objectively whether you are gaining or losing weight because of a change in lifestyle! Or show that you’ve lost weight when away on a mountaineering holiday. You may remember, that in an earlier blog I spoke about being mindful when presented with a buffet on holiday or at a party. Well, here’s what happened to me once…
Measuring without Monitoring and Control
One of the many things that I measure and record on a regular basis is my weight every morning. About 1.5 years ago, I flew to Doha (the capital of Qatar) for 5 days to teach. Although the teaching was relatively sedentary I managed to workout in the hotel gym. I even ran 36km in those few days I was there. The wide range of food in the hotel restaurant was extremely nutritious, tasty and plentiful. If you remember my blog about poison, I spoke about how we should avoid that which is bad for us and focus on eating food that is good for us, the quantities perhaps being proportional to our enjoyment and satiety levels while still maintaining a balanced diet. Being a foodie but mindful of what I should eat, I ate well. But I ate too much, and therein lay the problem… too much of food, super-healthy or not, is going to lead to weight gain. Too much fuel – my earlier blog – weight gain!
It is after returning from just 5 days away that I realized the impact of my engagement with healthy food was actually unhealthy! Not in terms of quality, but in terms of quantity. On subsequent holidays, I remained mindful. In fact, on recent holidays, too mindful!! (But it’s amazing to think that you too can go on a non-sedentary holiday, eat well at every meal and return lighter! Drop in muscle mass? Not impossible! To such an extent? Unlikely! Fat loss? Highly likely!)
With any measurement that you take, the day-to-day variability can be quite large. Your weight, for example, can vary significantly between one day and the next. This makes it especially important to measure often, rather than less frequently. Allow me to demonstrate why.
You may remember my blog about being a pacer followed by one report after another about pacing failures by others in the Mumbai Marathon for a few years. Observing my daily morning weight readings a week on either side of one of these races, one can see significant variability from one day to the next.
Measure Regularly to Iron Out Noise
This significant level of variability from one day to the next is ‘normal’. And I am mindful of that, and can recognize the extent of this ‘noise’ and the reasons for it. On the other hand if I took only weekly readings of my weight, it would leave me a little confused and lead me to wrong conclusions and incorrect further action. For instance, over that same 2 week period, there were 7 possible readings that were a week i.e. 7 days apart. Depending on which days I happened to choose to measure that ‘weekly reading’ I may reach a different conclusion and type of emotion. It is through more frequent readings that I can iron out signal from noise. Separating objectivity from emotion!
I always say that “if you do not measure, you cannot monitor, and if you cannot monitor, you cannot control, and if you cannot control, you cannot improve”. It is that feeding [sic] back of information that creates a neat corrective effect (effort!) through the year. It is subtle, but still matters. I have clients who want to gain weight (muscle mass), some who want to lose weight (to run faster) and yet others who would like to keep their weight constant but still improve their body composition. As I guide, navigate, steer them in the direction of their goals, I expect them to take greater control of their lives. The simple act of measuring various statistics, makes them aware of where they are, so that they can start to steer more confidently with increased mindfulness.
Make Your Own Big Data
And it is not just your weight that you can measure. There is a whole host of other things that you can measure if you really decide you want to progress in a certain dimension. The extent to which you can be mindful is limited only by you. The money is in the detail – count your money!
Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.