A STUDY ABOUT YOU

Do you like to find things out about yourself? Are you curious about patterns and associations? Are you interested in scientific methods of discovery? Then this might be something for you!

We all have good days (and nights) and bad days (and nights). We can approach this fact of life from different angles. One option is just to accept that there are fluctuations. Some days, I feel creative and other days I feel boring. Sometimes, I am afraid to use the phone and other times I am not. Alternatively, we can become curious about those fluctuations and wonder if there are any patterns to how we feel, when we are creative, why we are afraid to use the phone, and so on.

Science can give us some answers. For example, it can explain why we might feel less creative solving problems under stress. But those answers are based on averages. From scientific studies which include many participants, we can find out what is true for most people, but this truth may not apply to you personally. For example, you might have just thought, "Nonsense, I am more creative under stress!". Also, have you ever read new-study-finds types of media reports wondering why scientists even get paid?

We all have ideas about why we feel or behave the way we do. “I get depressed in winter”, “I am in an awful mood if I sleep less than eight hours”, “Tea makes me tired”. We all have our set of truths. Here is the thing, though. They are not always true, those truths! We may feel we know them from careful self-observations, but the problem is that our mind is prone to confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is our tendency to treat facts that agree with our thinking as supporting evidence, and at the same time, to dismiss facts that are inconsistent with our ideas as random glitches. Let me give you an example. Suppose you believe you feel awful if you sleep less than eight hours. When your experience is in line with this, you think to yourself, “Of course I feel horrible, I didn’t sleep enough.” However, if you only slept six hours and feel wonderful, you might think, “This is really weird. This is not typical of me. Maybe I am just excited about this new project.” So you will look for an explanation of this “exception” of what you believe to be the rule.

We all have confirmation bias – this is how our mind works. Even scientists, who are supposed to be the most objective people on Earth, sometimes show confirmation bias in the ways they interpret and present evidence. If you really want to know whether eight hours is the optimal amount of sleep for you, or if eating tomatoes gives you nightmares, or if meeting your boss in the elevator leads to a very productive day, you have to collect data about yourself. What does it mean to collect data? It means that every day you would have to record how much you slept, how you felt, how many tomatoes you ate, whether you had nightmares, whether you met your boss in the elevator, and how productive your day was. You would have to make these daily observations for some time. The longer you do it and the more data you collect, the more certainty you will have. Then you will need to analyze your data to see if you really find the associations you expected.

I have tried this on myself several times with some surprising results. For example, I used to believe that the less coffee I drink, the better I feel. So one day I decided to quit drinking coffee altogether. After my body recovered from the shock (quitting coffee cold turkey does hurt!), I went back to drinking coffee, but in very small amounts, and I started making observation about how I felt throughout the day. Well, after two months, it turned out that in those small amounts, the more coffee I drank, the happier I was.

Do you have any hypotheses about yourself that you would like to test? Do you want to know what triggers stress in you? Or how things you do during the day affect your sleep during the night? Or how much sleep is best for you? Or any other things that you believe might be affecting your well-being? Would you like to do a study about yourself? Then let’s do it! Email me for further details...

Green Light

Stress and Sleep Counseling

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