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Breaking it down: Start using data to power up personal change

Playing for Health: The Games & Impact Cycling Team is blogging, and racing, their way to better health and wellness. The team’s first race, the 2014 El Tour de Tucson is 5 days away and you will be able to track their progress on social media on the CGI Facebook and Twitter pages. Check out the team’s introductory post here


We live in a data obsessed culture. At any given moment you can check your credit score, find out if your child has turned in an assignment, log the nutritional profile of your lunch, see a report of your sleep quality, and check the stock market all from your nearest web browser or smart phone.

But, what do you do with the overload of information? It is easy to get lost in the data, wading through a jungle of numbers without a real sense of what they represent. Data can be more than a quick temperature read, more than something that seems positive or negative without a sense of long term implications. Used as component of your personal tool kit, data can be a very powerful tool on the road to making a change.

Data from the last Games & Impact Team training ride before our race. This is an example of how the Runkeeper app presents the workout map, elevation, and speed information.

Data from the last Games & Impact Team training ride before our race. This is an example of how the Runkeeper app presents the workout map, elevation, and speed information.

What types of goals can benefit from data collection? All of them! Of course, health and fitness related goals are some of the first to come to mind. Fitness tracking devices and apps are becoming standard on newer phones, and some companies are offering them to employees to encourage healthy behaviors. With any change you have in mind, there your starting point and your desired result. The progress between the two can be planned, realized, and measured.

Let’s break it down:

The Goal
Creating your goal is perhaps one of the most important steps to success.The key to a good goal is determining what success looks like for you. Perhaps you want to reduce stress. Great! So what does that look like? Maybe that means you want to spend 5 minutes breathing deeply each evening, or take a yoga class, or spend one evening a week with friends. Thinking about a fitness goal? Frame your fitness goals in terms of what you would like to be able to do, in my case, I want to be able to cycle 55 miles in a day.

The Plan
Successful projects start with a plan. Think of your plan as an iea of the steps needed to get from A to B and resources you need to accomplish each step. It is helpful to assign the steps to a timeline or schedule to help you keep track (collect data) on your progress. It is also helpful to be flexible with yourself as you go along. When I jumped back on my bicycle for the first time in a year just a few months ago, I was riding 7-10 miles at a time. I knew that in order to accomplish 55 miles, I would have to add a few miles to the total each week. I threw in a few rounds of hilly rides to build strength, and I had a fairly simple, reasonable training plan.

Do It!
This is the part where you have to dive in with both feet. It is easy to become trapped in “paralysis by analysis”, meaning you spend more time planning, mulling, and tweaking the plan, that you never getting around to the doing and the learning by trial. You will never really get any data to improve the plan until you test, so once you have a reasonable draft of your plan, move forward and try it! You may discover right away that there are pieces of the plan that need to be revised, the point is to that getting started will help you build forward momentum.

You will want to use some method of tracking to help you gather data about your progress. This can be a fitness tracker that you wear, a website that lets you log activities, or simply a spreadsheet that you create. We will talk more about some of the methods we are using later and you can see an example of the Runkeeper app in this post (pictured above, left). Right now though, the form is less important than the function, whatever you choose should be something you will use consistently.

Tweak and Improve
Once you begin tracking your progress, it is time to review where you are at in terms of your longer term goals. If you are meeting the progress points on your timeline, take a moment to celebrate your early successes! If you find yourself off schedule or just not making progress, take a bit of time to review the data you have collected and have an honest assessment of why you are off track. Are there factors that are interfering with your ability to consistently follow your plan? It might be that it will simply take longer to achieve your goal, in which case adjusting your timeline might be the right move.

Congratulations, you just used data to inform your plan design! Most plans will yield better results when tweaked and adjusted over time, don’t be afraid to experiment, but if you are making steady progress, don’t be afraid to stay the course.

Tracking data has been an important part of training for the Tour de Tucson with the Games & Impact Cycling Team, what data can you track to help achieve your goals?