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Jonathan's Blog

Mindful Leadership and Technology (Mostly Software)


AuthorJonathan Fries
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Mindfulness Technology

Mindfulness, Gadgetry, Quantified Self

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I've been thinking about my earlier post related to mindfulness and gadgetry. And I believe it is possible that gadets and quantified-self measurements really can help us live more mindful lives. There's evidence to the contrary, of course, but that doesn't have to be the path that we follow.

To think clearly about the relationship of mindfulness and gadgets, let's start with a definition of mindfulness. I like this definition from mindful.org:

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.

Here's a link to that quote.

So, we're trying to be fully present in the moment.

We all know that gadgets can distract us. We've had plenty of experience with important work emails arriving at dinner time and social media posts that draw our attention. Look around most any public place you go and you will see people who are mentally elsewhere.

So, how do we use our gadgets to the best effect to help us be present in the moment?

Part 1

Technology can help us if we are using them to be conscious of ourselves.

What are some things that get in the way of this? If our quantified self goal is about the future. Something like "My resting heart rate needs to be X and I need to make a plan to achieve that." Or "I want to be in a calm state of mind for 80% of the time when I meditate, and I'm not getting there now." Well, then you are not present.

You may be making yourself more healthy, and that's good, but you are not present now. You are looking at now and reflecting on how to improve.

If our gadgets and measurements allow us to be more aware of the body. To lead us to make choices in the moment. "I"m going to go for a walk now because I'm aware of my stress." Or "It's time to go to bed because my body needs rest." Then we are more present because we're aware of how we're doing.

Gadgets and quatnitifed self measurements can help you into this awareness.

In reality, most of us probably do some of both. There's a healthy element to looking ahead and making plans. You just don't want it to overwhelm you or for it to become the only thing that you think about, or to continual make it about goals down the road and never appreciating the moment that you're in.

Part 2

If you are using some type of gadget or device to actually measure or evaluate your meditation practice, then you have an additional way that a gadget can help you.

There are risks here, too. If you are too focused on the gadgetry or the goals, it detracts from the meditation. It's happened to me before.

But if you incoporate into your routine and you don't make it ABOUT the gadget. Then it's worth reflecting on the patterns that you see.

A different kind of visualization of what your mind is doing when you're at rest is interesting and can be revealing about how you are really doing.

I mentioned my own particular challenge in this blog post. I have a challenge sometimes where my mind becomes MORE active when I am meditating. I actually start out calm and relaxed and it's during the meditation itself (when I am not distracted by other things) that my mind activates around stressful things that may have happened that day.

Here is another example - this one the app actually granted me the 'Wanderlust Award' for. This badge was awarded because my 'mind began to wander near the end of this session'. No kidding:

Screenshot_20180406-121530_Muse

Well, someone did a nice job of naming it 'Wanderlust', but that is not as fun as it sounds.

It's not that you don't know that your mind is wandering, it's something that you learn to recognize when you're meditating. It's the pattern:

Start Calm
Mind Wanders
Get Less Calm
Mind Wanders More

The gadget and app aspect has helped me to recognize this, and this is helping me be more aware and think about that situation when it happens.

It's a bit different than the 'I know I am not calm but I'm meditating anyway', because it's a bit sneakier.

Conclusion

I think there are slippery slopes in both of these scenarios. The gadgets can overwhelm you and the apps often inject elements of gamification that I am not interested in and that I think tend to draw you out of the moment. Be wary of those things.

But if you can avoid the traps and stay present, the tools are there and they can help you build your practice and stay focused in the present.

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Quantified Self Technology Heart Rate Monitor HRM Samsung S9

Samsung Galaxy S9+ and Heart Rate Monitor

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I finally replaced my old phone last week and opted to go with the S9+ because it has the built in Heart Rate Monitor (HRM). This was useful for being able to measure Heart Rate Variability (HRV) without needing an external, specialized HRM to do so.

I was also intrigued by the HRMs purported ability to measure blood pressure, which is a new feature. In the past you needed a blood pressure cuff to measure blood pressure.

Here is what I have learned so far:

  1. There is only one app (as of this writing) that can use the blood pressure technology for the built in HRM. That app is the My BP Lab app. You can find it here. This is a wellness focused app (akin to Welltory), so it does other things in addition to measuring blood pressure. The app used blood pressure along with other health/stress informaiton you provide to make lifestyle and wellness recommendations. I don't have any recommendations yet, so I don't know how well it works. You can use the app without the S9 HRM, but you need some other way to measure your blood pressure.
  2. The sensor currently requires you to input an initial blood pressure reading from an external source at the same time that you take your baseline reading using the HRM in the device. Without the additional baseline reading it can only measure differences in blood pressure as a % change from the baseline.

The ramificaiton of number 2 is that it isn't really capable of measuring blood pressure, it's measuring something and then it can measure differences from that. Those readings and changes can be interpreted into a blood pressure reading as long as you have an initial reading to go along with the baseline. It's still neat in my opinion, just something to be aware of.

It may that this changes over time and as they collect more data (from Quatified Self nerds, such as myself) they'll be able to do blood pressure directly. I'm interested to find out.

I've been using the app for about a week and I had to do one recallibration using my Qardio blood pressure cuff.

The early morning reading I got from the app seemed off to me. I double checked with another device and it was off. So I re-baselined in the app. The app allows you to do this, which seems like a good feature and also possibly a bit telling.

I don't know how it handles previous measurements if you do a rebaseline. It certainly seems to call their validity into question. I'm pretty sure that, at least for the app's purposes, it is going to assume their correct and keep them around. I don't have any reason to feel that other, earlier, readings were off. They seemed in line with what I got with Qardio throughout the day, though I wasn't comparing them side by side every time.

Yes, I own a Bluetooth blood pressure cuff. Why wouldn't I?

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Technology Simple Cloud

Sometimes Mindfulness, Sometimes Repairing the Blog Site that You Blew Up

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Today's lesson: always be smart before you're stupid. This helps you prevent some damage from your stupidity. If you're stupid first, anything can happen.

For the first time in a good long while I missed my evening meditation because I was repairing this site. Sorry if you cam here and got the 502 Bad Gateway message.

I started an upgrade process as I was leaving work, but by the time I got home I realized I had done something bad.

Blog site down. Bad Gateway! Bad! Bad, naughty, awful, shameful gateway:


Then my kids had scouts and I didn't really get to jump in and fix it until about 8:45 PM.

The solution for me was, ultimately, not to fix it. I have backups of everything, and I am not a Linux admin or even much of a user anymore. What I needed to do was:

  1. Start a new VM from my backup disk image.
  2. Delete and reimport content in ghost.
  3. Zip images on old VM and restore them on new VM.
  4. Change the DNS entries to point to new VM.
  5. Shut off old VM and release the IP address.

All of this should have taken about 20 minutes if I did it right the first time.

It took about an hour because I had to figure several of the steps out along the way.

It's kind of amazing that you can do this. You do need to be careful with backups - make sure you have them, make sure you back things up frequently and before you do anything dumb.

Always backup before you do ANYTHING that's dumb.

But once you have your backups, and once you have reached a state of self-awareness that allows you to ensure that you make them before making mistakes, the cloud makes the world a very simple place. Kudos Cloud Makers (Google in particular) you saved me a lot of time. Also, Ghost - their backup and recovery worked pretty well. I shouldn't really have had to do steps 4 and 5, but it was still pretty painless.

I'm a little sad that I couldn't fix whatever problem I created, but sometimes you must cut your losses and provision a new VM.

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Mindfulness HRV Quantified Self Heart Rate Variability

How to Improve Your Brain and Have Fun Doing It

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As I have been pursuing my journey related to mindfulness and stress-reduction, I've been applying things to my life and seeing what helps and what doesn't.

If I divvy up 20 - 30 minutes of meditation time and use 3 different biometric devices, am I getting the same value as if I just sat there for 30 minutes and meditated?

I'm probably not.

I think that a lot of meditation and mindfulness practitioners and experts would probably take exception to what I'm doing.

At the same time, it's fun for me to do it this way, I get to play amateur scientist and try out technology I'm interested in.

I also get to look at different signals from the body and understand a bit better how they work.

This is fun for me.

Also, I get to write blog posts about them and that is also fun.

On the subject of playing amateur scientist and HRV and mindfulness, I've started using Welltory.

When it comes to HRV, Welltory does a great job of providing interpreted results and education. They provide a lot of information and integrate with a lot of other products that I use (FitBit, Google Fit, Qardio).

Welltory very much encourages the 'try it and see' or 'amateur scientist' approach to quantified self, which aligns well with how I do things. They encourage you try things and see if they help.

All of this puts me squarely in the realm of 'Quantified-Self Nerd'. Which is OK with me, I think. I'm turning the stress and stress management into a fun and interesting activity, which helps reduce stress.

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HRV Heart Rate Variability Leadership Mindfulness

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and You

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Looking at HRV is not like looking at basic bio-data data like steps, calories, or resting heart rate.

As a measure of variability over time it is both more powerful and a bit harder to understand.

I'm currently using two different app/hardware combos to look at information related to HRV.

The fist app is called Biostrap. It provides hardware and software for looking at sophistcated biometric data including HRV. I'm currently only using the wristband, and only looking at HRV.

I'm also using Complete Coherence's Android App with a Polar H10 heart rate monitor. The Complete Coherence app doesn't provide you with direct information on HRV, but offers you insight on how well you are using their breathing exercises which are designed to improve HRV.

As a result, the Complete Coherence application is a little bit more intuitive, though not as clean or modern looking as Biostrap. Because you are measuring coherence (their term) and not HRV directly they're a bit freer to make it easier to consume. It's a simple 1 - 100 scale with color coding from bad (red) to good (green).

Here some example graphs that it produces after (not during) a session:

The one challenge is that it is sometimes hard to tell why I'm getting the scores that I'm getting. I'm doing the breathing exercises and mostly that makes the score go up, though sometimes it doesn't. If it doesn't, there isn't a strong indication of what I could do better. With a bit of trial and error I discovered that playing with the breath-timing settings allowed me to get more consistent results. Presumably this means that there was a breathing pattern that better suited me and changing it (changed from 6 breaths-per-minute to 5 breaths-per-minute) produced improved HRV.

But I can't actually see that directly in the app.

In contrast, Biostrap is designed to provide you directly with HRV readings. This is considerably more involved process than just strapping on a writband and having it count steps or give you your resting heartrate.

The Biostrap hardware uses a clinical-grade photoplethysmogram (PPG) to gather much more precise heartbeat data than other PPG-based fitness bands.

Because the hardware is more purpose-built for heartrate it looks a bit more utilitarian (no displays or buttons) and it requires a little more handholding. You have to explicitly tell it to do a biometric session and when you are going to sleep.

The data that comes back is much more detailed and the analysis gives you a much clearer picture of the HRV measurements the app is taking. It isn't transmuted into a user friendly number or code.

As a result I can see what my HRV measurements are: I can see averages, I can see individual data points, and I can see trend information over time. The app has a clean, modern look which you can see here:

Yes, but what does it all mean you ask? What's good? What's bad? What's average?
The first answer I found was, 'It depends' and then, 'You're better off comparing against your self over time.'

And then I found this article that at least provides some guidance.

After all is said and done, my average is a tiny bit above the average for my age and gender, so that's good, I guess. Now I have a goal to work toward which is to improve on that.

Of course, Biostrap doesn't provide me with guidance on how to improve.

For that, I'm going to continue to use the Complete Coherence system for improving HRV, along with regular exercise and meditation. Hopefully I will see long term improvement in my averages. I like the Complete Coherence program (which extends well beyond HRV into other mindfulness-related areas). I am sharing it with some colleagues who are interested in improving health and new ways to manage stress and improve energy.

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Leadership Mindfulness

Personal Energy and Leadership - How Are You Feeling Today?

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As I've mentioned in the last couple posts I'm reading Dr. Alan Watkins' Coherence: The Secret Science of Brilliant Leadership. It explores the connections between body and mind in detail as it relates to business leadership and management.

This is a subject matter that I've written about extensively on this blog.

The book has a lot of insights based on Dr. Watkins extensive medical and consulting work with business leaders, as well as brining together a lot of other science related to behavior and personal growth.

It's a powerful book and worth reading, even if you aren't interested in mindfulness or meditation. If you're interested in being a more effective leader, this book is for you, though it will almost certainly challenge your preconceived notions of what leadership consists of; how one approaches making improvements as a leader, and what a leadership book consists of.

You have never read anything like it.

One of the primary, liberating insights of this book is that time management is unimportant comapred with energy management. Our ability to be our best selves, project constructive energy, and unlock the discretionary efforts of ourselves and others is what matters as a leader in business. Managing a calendar pales in comparison to this.

How do you do this? And what are the revelatory insights presented?

You probably need to read the book to really understand them, but I will give you a brief glimpse.

Before you even begin to look at behavior or think about business results, you must consider the physiology and emotional components of our human bodies. Our higher brain functions and behavior rest on top of these foundations. If you ignore them then you are ignoring key pieces of the puzzle that affect our behavior and the behavior of others.

The book provides positive, concrete steps and exercises that can help you understand these things and use them to your advantage.

Give it a read, it is worth the time.