Unleash the Data Geek

Yes, I am a data geek.  I have been into baseball statistics since I was a kid.  I studied Math and Statistics in college, and started out as an actuarial data analyst.  Those that know me well would not be surprised that any application of Agile Best Self Principle 3 would involve analyzing my own data. Gathering data elements daily is an intentional habit.

Agile Best Self Principle #3: Build daily self-care habits.

In my travels as a senior software leader, I came into contact with Chris Dancy, known as the Most Connected Man on Earth.  The lessons he learned and the life changes he made are documented in his book, Don’t Unplug: How Technology Saved My Life and Can Save Yours Too.  I’ve heard him speak of his journey two different times, the second being at our invitation at work in 2015. For those who are not familiar with Dancy, here is a quick lead in from his publisher.  

In 2002, Chris Dancy was overweight, unemployed, and addicted to technology. He chain-smoked cigarettes, popped pills, and was angry and depressed. But when he discovered that his mother kept a record of almost every detail of his childhood, an idea began to form. Could knowing the status of every aspect of his body and how his lifestyle affected his health help him learn to take care of himself? By harnessing the story of his life, could he learn to harness his own bad habits?

Chris Dancy and Brian in 2015

Dancy has taken the idea of quantified self to its extreme and reinvented his whole world.  As a software engineer, Chris created a connected ecosystem that measured just about every aspect of his life with sensors and other data, such as social media data. He was able to hack continuous improvement by leveraging his data to create his best self. He did this by running experiments, collecting data and looking for correlation and causation. The data and the process helped him figure out what habits he needed to change to get the outcomes he desired. For example, changing the color of his credit card helped him use it less often. He tracks decibel levels, air pressure quality, humidity, time spent traveling to the dog park, restaurant visits, menu choices. The list of data elements he tracks is exhaustive and exhausting. However, this is an example of Dancy applying his own interpretation of Agile Best Self cornerstone principle:

Agile Best Self Principle #1: Our highest priority is to be our best self and enable others to be their best selves.

For Dancy to be his best self and true to his values, he wanted to track it all. This detailed measurement and tracking is more than I want to do, but I can apply his concept to my context.

Fast forward a few years — as a Scrum Master, one of the things I learned early was to promote making work visible for my team.  Making work visible to a Scrum team allows better team communication and collaboration.  I think making work visible in the context of building new habits is also important.  In recent months I have been tracking two new things: daily mindfulness practice and daily overall happiness scores.

Tracking these items has created some motivation for real change by simply doing the desired behavior just for the sake of doing it, without expectation of an immediate gain.  This was mentioned by Jeff Warren, a meditation teacher heard in the 10% Happier app (Google Play) and co-author of two meditation books with Dan Harris.  Also, in Daniel Pink’s book entitled When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, the author shares a story about the comedian Jerry Seinfeld.  He made a habit of writing comedy material every day, regardless of whether or not he felt inspired to do so.  To track his progress, he used a calendar of an entire year and placed an ‘X’ over the date each day he wrote.  For him, it became about keeping the streak alive. When that streak got long the impact became clear — a whole bunch of new material he could use to keep his act fresh. In the book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, author James Clear offers a Habit Tracking Template that accomplishes the same thing.

Credit: Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones (download, by providing email address)

So, how does this relate to Agile Best Self Principle 3, the principle of building daily habits?  For me, daily habits are much easier to build when the data points are tracked and visible.  Visibility also creates the ability to pair with an accountability partner to help keep you on track.  For the two things I am tracking, daily mindfulness and happiness, I am motivated to capture the data.  I can sustain the data capture because I reduced the friction of data collection. Chris Dancy was able to scale the number of data points he could capture by leveraging his talents as a software engineer combined with clever use of open source platforms, thus reducing friction for data collection and analysis.

Mindfulness tracking is easy.  The built-in functionality of the 10% Happier app does the work for me, with Apple Health to backing me up automatically.  Each time I do my mindfulness activity, I get that immediate feedback from the app that also provides a nice dopamine dose.  The happiness metric is a little more work, but since I need to report it to my Scrum Master, I get two benefits for the effort spent.

Seeing the data and reflecting on what the data trends mean, makes the data collection worth it. I won’t go to the level of Chris Dancy, but that is not the point. My life is my journey, not his. Over time I am confident tracking these data points and making better decisions as a result will help me become my best self.  Benefitting from neuroplasticity and understanding my happiness definitely helps me find my next best version of me, and then the next version, and the next.

Copyright © 2018 – 2023 Michaele Gardner and Brian Hackerson

Published by Brian Hackerson

My personal philosophy is to be a light.

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