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relative quantification of health and the myth of the streak

My post on refusing streaks spawned a little discussion on twitter, which made me read Rocko's post on what his year of open source contribution has meant for his life. While his post took the streak of contributing 365 days in a row as the hook, my conclusion was that the streak itself had very little to do with the outcome (paraphrased):

A streak like that is an effect, not the cause. The whole thing hit home by combining something that is fun with something that is also successful. Somebody might personally identify a streak as causation – from the outside I cannot distinguish it from correlation.

What really made the impact, was

  • doing things regularly
  • planning and distributing them well
  • picking the right battles
  • choosing the right projects
  • finding good people
  • contributing useful work
  • and getting appreciated for it

After looking into a specific case of streak like that, I'm even more convinced than before that the streak as a binary quantification of success is not just nonsense, but dangerous. People are not binary.

On my long road of adopting my Health First™ doctrine I am very much looking for quantifiable steps. Yes, I want to do something for my health every day. But again, I am not a computer, so one single binary value won't cut it.

In Health first I wrote this:

observe if and how a health budget of 10% of waking time might work. That budget would be for both mental and physical health, so drawing and reading for example are part of it.

The observing turned out:

  • Yes, it might work.
  • That alone is not enough.
  • And 10% is a lot. If I get to do 45 minutes on average, that would not be too bad already.

Another puzzle piece:

These numbers have not left me since I saw them last year. If you accept your current state in life as the result of a steady multiplication of what happened so far, these number make total sense on a personal level. (A good example is luck = preperation * opportunity).

Then again, 1% is a actually a lot. What happens if we take just 1/10 of it?

0.999 ^ 365 = 0.69
1.001 ^ 365 = 1.44 

Huh. So, without having a unit, let's say I could have some weird generic health index. If I up that index 0.1% per day, I would have grown it by 44% within a year. Sounds pretty awesome. And sounds doable, too. But 365 days a year are the streak I loathe so much, so let's adjust for the day off every week:

1.001 ^ 313 = 1.36

That is still more than a third of growth within a year, plus I removed the stress of having to maintain a streak.

Now I have something I can track and categorize. I've made up the following set of loose rules:

  • A day where I do nothing for my health is a 0.999
  • If I fulfill more than 30 minutes of my health budget, that adds 0.001 to the day. More than 60 minutes add 0.002 (making it a 1.001).
  • Eating sugar or processed food removes 0.001
  • having more than 2 large coffees or having coffee after 14h removes 0.001
  • If I drink more than 3 litres of water, that adds 0.001 – if I drink less than 2 litres it removes 0.001

...and so forth. Also, a day cannot be over 1.001, to not get too fixated on the numbers instead of what they mean. (Not to mention that this is all complete BS from a scientific, rational point of view.)

I can now loosely track and incorporate all indicators which seem valuable to my health, and at the end of the day mark it either an 1.001 or an 0.999.

Now I have the benefit of a binary, meaningful, quantitative, longterm* indicator, combined with the qualitative analysis of all the components I deem relevant for my health.

*(In case you're wondering: maybe it's me, but if parenting has told me anything thing, it is to think in years, not weeks or months.)

I guess it is pretty clear what I have to do next: Learn all kinds of JavaScript EE and ruin a week's sleep by building a terrible dysfunct app prototype ¯\_(ツ)_/¯