Wednesday, December 19, 2012

You Get What You ...

A while back I wrote a blog post titled "You get what you measure" discussing the importance of metrics in the change process.  A couple of days ago I read a blog post at ZenHabits on the theme "You get what you do" discussing the actual change happens in the doing.  It hit me that these two concepts are intimately intertwined. How do you change without doing and how do you understand what to do without measuring.

These two came together recently for me in the area of weight loss. I have been on a steady uphill slope with my weight and became very dissatisfied with how I felt, how out of breath I became and of course not liking looking like a stuffed sausage.  I have heard the story: "I keep reading diet books but I am not losing weight". The punch line is that you cannot lose weight by trying to understand the process, but only by actual practice.

But what is practice?  It seems to me to be a loop of measure, do, measure, do...

Back to my weight.  Several months ago I saw a program by Dr Joel Furman about changing eating habits (life style change) to focus on consuming a diet high in micro nutrients (vitamins, phyto-chemicals, anti-oxidants, etc) but low in the macro nutrients (carbohydrates, fats, protein). One premise is that we over eat because the body craves micro nutrients but the western diet is high calorie but low in micro nutrients.  Thus we over eat and get obese.

So I increased my intake of micro nutrient rich food and watched my high calorie foods. Weight kept going up. So I began to understand that the phrase "watch what I eat" means exactly that; observe the food as it move from my plate to my mouth. It is not a measurement technique, but a placebo in place of actually doing anything to moderate my input.

So with the micro nutrients, my hunger was well contained and my body felt healthier, and I was actually doing something in the right direction, but I did not have any handle on calories. What I was missing was any real measuring.

A couple of months ago one of my best friends at work came in with a high tech pedometer and an app on his smart phone, raving about how measuring his steps and logging his food was helping him lose weight. The device and app came from a company called Fitbit. 

I looked into it.  The system was very easy to use and fairly automatic.  They had a tracker device that would measure steps, stairs, distance, calories burned and if worn on your wrist at night, how well you slept. It would automatically sync through a blue tooth connection to your online account.  They also had a wifi connected scale that measured weight and fat content; which also automatically synced with your account.  Just wear the tracker and step on the scale every day.  The only piece of the puzzle that was not automatic was logging food consumed. With the phone app, you always have a tool at easy hand to do that.

Automatic enough that I would stick with it, I bought the set.  I now have the measurement tools with historical graphs, etc. I need to understand what to do and the motivation to actually do it.

I started just before Thanksgiving and slowed down the gain that first week.  During the 3 weeks after that, I lost 10 pounds.  Seems like a lot but I am a big guy so this might be more like 5 or 6 pounds for someone else.  Most days I meet my goals in calorie intake, and my goal of 10,000 steps and 10 flights of stairs. I feel so much better. My physical fitness has noticeably improved.  Better yet this system feels like something I can maintain for a very long time, ideally a permanent lifestyle change. High in micro nutrients and low in calorie measure diet with goals/feedback in a walking program.

My take away from this experience is that to be effective in making a change in your life, business, anything at all; is to dynamically steer with a constant cycle of measure, adjust, do, measure, adjust, do...

PS, just got this out before the Mayan calendar expires.. ;-)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Over the Cliff

We hear a lot about the fiscal cliff now, not quite as much as we did for the Presidential election and particularly no flood of ads.  However I think that all the rhetoric about how we have to avoid going over the cliff, how the politicians in Washington have to solve this problem before the end is a bunch of hot air.

No need to worry about it.  I predict that we are going over.  I believe that it is pretty much a done deal.

First it is to big a problem to solve in one month.  The politicians are so out of practice in compromising that it will take longer.  The same conditions that caused them to set up the cliff still exist. All the politicians are still saying that they will only accept everything they wanted a year ago.

Secondly, and probably a bigger issue, is that preventing going over the cliff is to neither Republican's or Democrat's political advantage. In fact any move to solve it will bee seen a weakness and be a major political defeat by anyone who blinks.

Most of the Republicans got elected by their district on the promise of never voting to raise taxes and reducing the cost of government.  Many Democrats got elected on the promise of raising taxes on the rich and not reducing the entitlement programs.  If either blinks, then they lose their job next election. And that is what is closest to the heart of a politician (and of course most of us) keeping their job.

But falling off the fiscal cliff solves all of those political problems!

After January 1, the baseline is drastically changed! 

Taxes are higher and government expense is reduced. It is a much better political position to negotiate from.  You can reduce the taxes for one segment of the population without voting for an increase in another.  As far as government spending, it requires some justification to increase any budget.  No one has to vote to reduce a budget and budgets don't just automatically get grandfathered at the old high levels. Everyone politician can claim to be a hero back home where they get elected.

Of course this political victory come at a cost to the economy.  The greatest is the level of uncertainty business and people will feel for the next month and as long as it takes to come to a settlement.  In uncertainty, business will avoid growth investment.  So employment will take a hit.  People will not know how to plan for 2013 taxes.  If they can save for higher taxes that reduces spending.  If they cannot afford the higher taxes, depression and panic sets in.

Given that all of this is pretty obvious and politicians are pretty savvy about protecting their political interest is why I say that going over is pretty much a done deal. I would not be surprised if this is already recognized in backroom deals and that any negotiation that is happening is already using Jan 1 as the baseline.  The question is how fast after Jan 1 will they be able to act.

Even with all this as a back drop, progress can be made if they try to create a number of smaller bills get the low hanging fruit were everyone pretty much agrees and not try to get one huge bill perfect. I have heard some thoughts in this direction, but it would be a new way for congress to operate.

I will check back to this blog entry early January and add some though about how I think I did.