Building Myself Back Up
cognition | productivity
Maggie Delano hit her head while helping a friend move. She was diagnosed with a concussion and, later, post-concussion syndrome last September. In order for her to heal, she had to give her brain a break from cognitively stimulating activities. In this talk, Maggie discusses how she tracked her progress toward recovery with Habit RPG (recently renamed Habitica) and improved her sleep with Sleepio.
Habit RPG | Sleepio
Hello everyone, my name is Maggie Delano and today I’m going to talk about tracking and habit forming post-concussion, and I’m specifically going to focus on post-concussion but if people want to talk about sort of more during the concussion processing I’ll also talk about that after.
So it was around Labor Day weekend and I was helping my friend move apartments and he rented a U-Haul van and it looks pretty much like this one here. So we were moving a mattress and the U-Haul van is about four feet tall. I’m about five feet tall, but at five feet I’m not usually worried about hitting my head. But it turns out if you lift a mattress in the back of a U-Haul van and stand up really quickly you’re going to have a bad time. So, I gave myself a concussion and what this meant for me was seven weeks of pretty debilitating headaches, brain fog, and just general tiredness and unhappiness.
And so here I’m showing how much time spent on the computer each week. So after hitting my head I was actually pretty good at resting, which is what you’re supposed to do to recover from the concussion. But then in weeks two and three I started using my computer again, which was really bad and so I rebounded and had to spend three weeks totally taking a break.
And during this time I had to think because there was nothing else I could do, and so I thought about how do I actually become a real human again once I start feeling better. So my idea was that I would focus on building habits, because I think building habits is really fun, but also because I thought it would provide a good foundation for me, and some easy wins that I could use to build myself back up over the next few months. So the whole process probably took me about three months, but by the end of the semester I was pretty much back to using my computer the way that I was before the concussion.
And so how I did it was I by coincidence, I had been using a tool called Habit RPG. And so Habit RPG is your life as a role-playing game. And it’s actually pretty fun and you have a little avatar, and there’s all sorts of tasks and different things you can do to complete. So they are kind of broken into categories like habits, dailies, to do’s, and then based on what you get from doing those things there are rewards.
I found dailies to be a particularly interesting thing, they are things that you do once a day and I thought that that might be useful for me to focus on in my habit building experiment. So, dailies are things you do every day like taking your pills or eating breakfast, and when you add a daily it starts out yellow, and as you complete dailies they turn from yellow, to green, to blue.
And so it’s a good visual indicator of how you’re doing on a given daily and the whole process will take about 12 days or longer, depending on how good you are about getting your dailies done. So I thought I could use this feature to my advantage, so I made a rule that I wasn’t allowed to add a new daily until all the existing dailies were blue. And the reason I did that was because sometimes when I’m really excited I want to try to do a lot of habits all at once, and it made me focus on just doing one at a time.
And the idea behind that was that I wanted to focus on creating a success spiral, so I would focus on one relatively small thing that I could reasonably accomplish and I would be happy with how well I was doing, and then I would be motivated and excited about adding new habits. So by the time I was ready to add a new habit I was really excited about it, and this helped me maintain my motivation throughout the course of this recovery.
So the head injury happened in the end of August, and so for the first few weeks after that I added some simple habits like taking pills and eating my breakfast. And then, as I started to recover I would add one to two, or maybe even three new dailies as I was feeling better. And I focused on picking things that I thought would be the highest impact at that particular point in time.
So, I learned a lot from this experiment and I think the first thing that was most important that I learned was that this concussion was a real inflection for me. I was motivated to do things that I had never been motivated enough to do before.
So the big example of this is sleep for me. I have always had a hard time of getting out of bed in the morning and also falling asleep at night, but post-concussion it would sometimes take me over an hour to fall asleep. And it was bad enough to the point that I really needed to do something about it. So I enrolled in this course called Sleepio, which is a six week online course that involves cognitive behavioral therapy techniques and helps you focus on different aspects with your relationship with your sleep, like your schedule or your lifestyle in your bedroom. And as part of that you have to add specific concrete habits which I put in my dailies, so things like restricting when you are sleeping, not taking naps, not drinking alcohol within four hours of bedtime, and tracking your sleep.
So, what I found is that I actually post-Sleepio I’m still doing pretty well. So here, I’m showing a histogram of when I got out of bed. So the blue is two months before Sleepio, and it’s a pretty wide distribution, but I usually wake-up between 10 and 11. Now, 4 to 6 month after that I’m waking up between nine and 10. And, if you look at the data, right after Sleepio or during Sleepio it’s actually pretty much a straight, one single bar between nine and 10. So even after 4 to 6 months after that I slipped a little bit, but I’m still really happy with how I’m doing.
The next thing I learned was that each habit is really different, and I didn’t necessarily expect this. A good example of it is flossing versus planning my day. So with flossing it’s something where I don’t like really doing it, but for whatever reason, when I commit to doing it. I just do it. And he just happens and it’s pretty easy. I floss all the teeth and it’s all good, and it’s all done.
But a different example is planning my day. I know that planning my day is really important, so I try to do it the night before, because if I don’t I would never know which of these doors that I would walk through. But for whatever reason, even with tracking it every day and trying to psych myself up to do it. It doesn’t always happen.
The last thing I learnt which I think I knew, even as I was going to this experiment was that dailies don’t work for everything. But I really do think it’s a good framework and it was helpful for me to get started.
A big example of this was running. So, I love running but even when I was running the most I wasn’t running every day and I didn’t think that was a reasonable goal. So as I was feeling better I wanted to think about what was a good way of exercising, because 10,000 steps and that sort of thing is going to be way too much for me. So my goal was to get greater than zero active minutes on Fitbit, which means active for at least 10 minutes a day, consecutively or ride my bike every day. I think this has worked really well to get me a bit more fit, but I still need to work on now adding things that I don’t do every day to my routine.
So that’s what I’ve learned so far, and I’m happy to answer any questions.