Statistics Changed My Life

Think you’re not a numbers person? Think again.

I’ve always been a stats geek. I love the way recording certain types of data can reveal a beautiful trend that you haven’t seen before. If you haven’t experience the mind opening clarity of great statistics, then check out the Data is Beautiful subreddit and go to top of all time.

But recently, I’ve decided to see if I can apply the statistical mindset to my own life to see if it would make any improvements.

Several catalysts led me here.

First, I read The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, the famed statistician who most accurately predicted the 2008 and 2012 election results, and had one of the closest prediction of the 2016 election. In his book, he outlines 14 different topics and how proper statistical reasoning have made them better or could make them better.

Second, I read The Four Hour Body by Tim Ferriss. Say what you want about him (I get it; he’s controversial), but there was one truth mentioned that stood out. In an anecdote, a friend decides to track his weight and see if he would lose any of it. That’s it. No changes in his eating habits. No extra exercise. Just pure tracking. What happened? Contrary to what you may be thinking, he started losing weight, all by virtue of entering it into a spreadsheet.

There was no way the calories burned from typing could’ve possibly caused this, so what did? It’s a psychological principle called the “Hawthorne Effect.” When you’re being observed, you behave differently. In other words, sit in your office alone with a computer and in an hour you may have written 600 words of good content.

Now imagine your boss watching you from behind or constantly checking in. Magically, your word count doubled! From being observed, we subconciously shift our behaviors.

So what happened in the book? From tracking his weight, the man had subconsciously shifted his behaviors to ensure that his weight would go down.

In two books, I learned two major lessons:

  1. Statistics can be powerful in the most mundane of places
  2. Tracking our life by itself is already enough to cause changes

Taking these ideas into action, I started tracking my life.

Of course, I couldn’t pile on too much data to track, so I started small. Word counts. Exercise regimens. That’s it.

And the more I tracked, the more likely I was to continue doing something. In essence, it reinforced my habits. Moreover, I began to see trends in my data. For instance, the midweek slump was indeed real. My word count had dropped precipitously during Wednesday and Thursday, but recovered by the weekend.

So yeah, statistics changed my life, and they can definitely help you too. Wondering how to start tracking your own life? Here’s an action list.

Life-tracking Action Steps

  1. Pick one or two major areas to start with. Make sure these are low friction and you’ll be able to easily stick to them. Your goal in the beginning is to start a habit, not necessarily to make any big changes.
  2. Find out how you’re going to track. Let’s say you’re trying to see how your sleep changes throughout the week. If you have an Apple watch or the Sleep Cycle Timer, you might want to use these as your default data trackers. Try to make inputting data as low friction as possible.
  3. Use spreadsheets. Excel, google sheets, numbers. Doesn’t matter. Make sure you can consolidate all your data into one place.
  4. Be consistent. That’s it. That’s the most important aspect. When Nike looked at user data, they found that tracking became a habit after five days of consecutive tracking so aim for that number.

Are you ready to use statistics to change your life?