Data Driven Living
One of this site’s all time most popular posts is entitled “Residential Behavioral Architectural 101.” In it, we show that many families use a small fraction of their home’s usable area, leading to the question, “How would you design a home if based on your behavior, not architectural convention?” The implication being that we would, in all probability, design a lot smaller than the supersized norm.
But what if we allowed data to inform, not just how we design our homes, but how we design our lives? How would we live if we let data be our guiding force, rather the forces of: A. This is the way I’ve always done it, B. This is the way my parents/family have always done it, C. This is the way everyone else is doing it, or D. Some other non-data-related rationale?
Now let me be quick to say I’m not talking about controversial things like whether you should be a Believers or a non-believer, a Republican or Democrat or even whether you should live in a city or in the burbs. I’m talking about basic stuff. Stuff where there’s a hefty body of data to suggest that yes, this is something you should do frequently, because it will improve your life in tangible ways (feeling better, happier, living longer, etc).
If you’re anything like me, you probably do a lot of stuff that flies in the face of data. I do things that I know–both intellectually and experientially–that make me feel like crap. These behaviors are often rationalized by excuses such as:
- I’m going to do it this once because I had a hard day.
- It’s okay. I should go easy on myself.
- Screw it, live a little.
Of course, all of the above excuses are BS. Let me illustrate why. First, staying up late watching TV, cutting into my sleep is why I had a hard day–not the remedy for it. Second, getting regular exercise will make me stronger and give me more energy thus making things easier, while avoiding it gives me less energy, thus making my life harder. And third, “live a little?”–as if gobbling that piece of cake, setting in motion a massive sugar high, then low, is somehow the hallmark of a life well lived. Actually, it might be the hallmark of living a little, but what if I want to live a lot? Wouldn’t I care for my body in a way that reflected that?
A few days ago I asked myself these question and made a list of behaviors–either things to include or exclude–that are pretty incontrovertible in terms of their efficacy to improve life. I determined to incorporate these things into my life every day for a week, even if it was just in small doses. Here’s most of the list (follow links for more about the data):
- Exercise everyday, mixing high and low intensity.
- Meditation. Here’s what the Mayo clinic says about it, but there are scores of other places touting its merits.
- Sleep. There’s a reason the CDC calls insufficient sleep a public health epidemic.
- Avoid refined sugar. The stuff is poison, full stop.
- Eat vegetables and, to a lesser extent fruit, with most or all meals. Here’s Harvard’s take on it.
- Stand up more. People who sit less than three hours a day, on average, live two years more than people who don’t. Two years!
- Focus on experiences, not stuff.
- Get out in nature. Sounds like soft science, but it ain’t.
- Practice gratitude. Focus on what you got, not what you don’t.
- Connect with people. Love is all you need and it even prevents getting the flu.
On a practical level this looks like using an app to do 5-15 minute intense workouts at home, meditating 3-5 minutes once a day and choosing the kale salad over a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich at the cafe I work from. Baby steps. Perhaps the biggest benefit is a tingle of integrity–taking some comfort that I’m not knowingly doing things that undermine my health and well being.
My favorite quote about editing one’s life is still from 17th Century mathematician Blaise Pascal. He said, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time” (or “Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte”). Getting to the essence of something, whether it’s a letter or a life, is often a process of attrition, removing all that is not totally necessary. If you are wondering which things are removable, it’s important to check in with yourself, but there’s no harm in checking in with the researchers either.
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