This is post is the first in a series of two-week lifestyle experiments that I’ll be undertaking in 2017. Read more about my year-long quest to become a better follower of Jesus, pastor, and family man here.
If you don’t know where you are, how do you know where to start?
Honest self-assessment is a key component of personal growth. If you don’t understand your starting point, how will you chart your course to your destination?
If you’re anything like me, taking a break for self-assessment doesn’t come easy. I’m a “type A” achiever, which means that to me, stopping to smell the flowers seems like a waste of time. Yet self-reflection and assessment has been proven to increase performance and quality of life.
Fortunately, modern technology can go a long way toward collecting the data that we need for self-assessment. Need to know how much you exercise? Wearable tech (e.g. Fitbit, Apple Watch) tracks it automatically. Where are you spending your time? Install a time tracking app to your computer and phone and you’ll have a detailed report of just how many cat videos you watched this month.
But with all of the data that we have available, technology still can’t practice self-reflection for us. That why in my first lifestyle experiment, I’m going to force myself to slow down and carve out time for self-assessment.
Self-Assessment in the Bible
To kick off my quest for self assessment, I wanted to see what the bible had to say about self assessment. It turns out that the bible has a lot to say about examining one’s heart, thoughts, and actions. Consider the passages below.
- “Let us examine and probe our ways, And let us return to the LORD.” — Lamentations 3:40. “I considered my ways And turned my feet to Your testimonies.” — Psalm 119:59
- “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” — Matthew 7:5
- “Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Consider your ways! You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.’ Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Consider your ways!'” — Haggai 1:5-7
Like I learned in Ecclesiastes, loving God and keeping his commandments is our highest priority. If that’s true, then God’s word should be the litmus test by which we compare our heart, thoughts, and actions.
Consider Psalm 1.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
— Psalm 1:1-2
The Experiment: Radical Self-Assessment
If my goal for 2017 is to better love God and enjoy life, I need to get real with myself about what variables affect those outcomes. What helps me love and honor God more? What hinders me from that goal? What about life satisfaction? What variables contribute to an experience of joy and satisfaction with life, and what variables take away from it?
To answer those questions, I’ll spend the next two weeks practicing radical self-assessment. I’ll focus on two types of analysis: quantitative (the numbers) and qualitative (the experience).
First, I want to discover objectively how I’m spending my time. I’ll be documenting the following categories:
- Time management. How am I spending my time? What activities are helping me better love God and improve my quality of life? What activities are hindering me from those goals?
- Health and wellness. Food intake, caloric intake, exercise. My gut reaction is that this isn’t immediately relevant to this experiment, but I’d like to begin collecting data now for an experiment that is more directly tied to my physical health.
I’m most interested in the effect that measuring these metrics has on my behavior. Will mere awareness change my behavior and outlook? That’s where qualitative analysis comes in.
Quantitative metrics can tell me a lot about how I’m spending my time, but those metrics alone don’t tell the whole story. How do those activities affect my experience — namely my closeness to God and my satisfaction with my life.
Science tells us that there a a number of benefits to journaling.
- Clarify your thoughts and feelings.
- Know yourself better.
- Reduce stress.
- Solve problems more effectively.
In addition to measuring the metrics, I’ll be using two journaling tools to track my experience — how I feel and act as a result of those activities.
Grid Diary (Free, $4.99 | iOS only)
- The ability to add custom prompts. I’ve added questions for my four focus areas (above).
- The ability to set reminders. I once lost my wallet in my refrigerator, so I need as much help as I can get in remembering to actually complete a task.
Self Journal ($31.99 | Best Self Co.)
While documenting where I’m spending my time is helpful, it doesn’t answer the question of where I should be spending my time. That’s where Self Journal comes in.
I’ve been using Self Journal off-and-on since September. Self Journal is a 13-week journal designed to help you set a quarterly goal, define the metrics of success that are important to you, and track your progress on a weekly and daily basis.
They offer a free PDF on their site that you can print yourself to try. I printed a two-week version to try and even went so far as to print and bind my own entire journal as a mini-experiment in book binding. Learn how and see the results here.
I found that using the Self Journal has helped me stay focused on a single goal (or set of goals) over time. Of course, staying consistent and engaged in the long term is a challenge for me — hence this experiment.
Apple Watch ($299, firstborn child | Apple)
My wife scored a great deal on the Apple watch and got us a pair for Christmas. The first text she sent me through her watch was a poop emoji. She knows me so well.
Apple Watch, paired with the Health app on my phone, tracks a number of metrics (like exercise and sleep quality) automagically.
RescueTime (Free, $9 | RescueTime)
I don’t even want to know how much time I waste online. That’s why I should probably track it.
RescueTime is a free time tracking app that automatically tracks your activity on your computer or Android phone. RescueTime isn’t available for iOS, but you can visit Settings > Battery to view the time that you’ve spent in various apps in the last 24 hours or the last week. (I just discovered that I’ve wasted 2.3 hours on Facebook in the past 24 hours. It’s just so darned easy…)
- Evernote Premium ($70). Evernote is a “store and search everything” app. I’ve used Evernote since 2009 to plan blogs and sermons, business projects, and more.
- Google Sheets. I’m a numbers nerd, and Google Sheets is like magic.
- Use Self Journal each morning and evening to set priorities for the day and review my progress.
- Use Grid Diary each evening (with a reminder set for 10 PM) to reflect on pre-generated prompts, as well as my four custom prompts (what helped me love God more/less, what helped me enjoy life more/less).
- Log exercise and activity with Apple Watch/Health app, caffeine with UP Coffee (free), food intake with Lifesum (free, premium add on available).
At the end of the two week experiment, I’ll review the data and extract what I’ve learned.
Want to join in with me?
Grab the tools above (most are available for free) and connect with me on the Twitter @roblaughter. Let me know that you’re following along and we can encourage each other along the way.