Reducing Uncertainty: The Guide to Self-Experimentation

March 12, 2020

As a high performance coach and athlete, I’ve always been interested in amplifying behaviors associated with sustained levels of motivation, perseverance, and innovation. In my experience, “performance,” whether we want to accept it or not, is largely a choice. We choose behaviors that support performance, or we choose behaviors that hurt performance. If we want to sustain performance, then it’s necessary to understand our physiological and psychological variables that ultimately influence our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, so we can manage them over time. With the new WHOOP Journal feature, WHOOP gives you the opportunity to see how these variables truly affect your performance, so you can conduct your own self-experiment. In this article, my goal is to define how WHOOP Members can apply the scientific method to the WHOOP Journal as a guide to self-experimentation.

“Experimental Life” As a Way of Being

We all adapt to training, food, stress (you name it!) differently. One approach is not going to fit all. Self-experimentation can be a way to better understand your optimal set points and behaviors. For example, controlled mini experiments help us isolate the impact an old or new behavior might have on our physiological and psychological processes.

One thing I realized very quickly when trying to optimize my own performance is that while the variables are quite universal, my response to these inputs differs greatly depending on my behaviors. Self-experimentation is an excellent way to hone in your optimal set points and behaviors. Instead of typical scientific experiments that have a number of research subjects, self-experiment is just you, and you are in control. Over the last 4 years, I’ve run a lot of mini experiments with clients/athletes on the WHOOP platform as well as with myself. These experiments have lasted anywhere from 1-4 weeks and many of them have resulted in transformational improvements in mental, physical, and emotional well-being.

In this post, I’ll talk about:

  1. How to form an experimental question,
  2. Determine the evaluation criteria
  3. Define experimental conditions, and
  4. Identify/control confounding factors
  5. Reviewing your results

1. How to Form An Experimental Question:

  • A healthy exercise is to identify some of the known factors that influence mental, physical, and emotional capacity (hydration, alcohol type and quantity, meal timing, expressions of gratitude, medications, natural supplements, mindfulness etc).
  • Come up with a simple sentence summarizing your experiment or “title”. You can think about it as if it was going to be published in a scientific journal. For example, “15mg CBD oil pre-bed and its influence on WHOOP Sleep Metrics”.
  • In this title, we have an independent variable or input (CBD oil) of the experiment that is being manipulated and a dependent variable that is being evaluated (Sleep Metrics).

Using the WHOOP Journal: Come up with your experiment title based on the behaviors listed in the WHOOP Journal. Commit to filling out your journal each day with the selection you’ve made.

2. How to Determine the Evaluation Criteria

  • You will need to come up with an operational definition for the dependent variable (i.e., the sole reason for the experiment) and how each variable is to be measured. It is important that the last 30 days on WHOOP (your baseline) did not include more than 5 instances where the dependent variable was in play.
  • In this case, you are interested in knowing how CBD oil close to bed-time influences your WHOOP Sleep Metrics.
  • The experiment is defining and sticking to a specific regimen related to CBD use pre-bed. Dosage, timing should be consistent. 

Using the WHOOP Journal: Choose the variable you want to monitor over the next 30 days. It may be helpful to start your experiment on the first day of the month, that way when you receive your Monthly Performance Assessment, all of your data will be in a single report. Stick to a regimen and do not deviate.

3. Experimental Conditions

  • The independent variable (CBD oil pre-bed) is defined and tested to see their effects on the dependent variables (WHOOP Sleep Metrics).
  • It is important that the dependent variable is as specific and measurable as possible. However, since you have to manipulate them, there is an additional requirement: they must be controllable.
  • In the above example of testing the effects of CBD oil on WHOOP Sleep metrics, the different experimental conditions would be adding other supplements and or interventions pre-bed. Sleep mask, hot shower, meditation, (my sleep cocktail!) would all be viable experimental conditions here.

Using the WHOOP Journal: You can track other valuable experimental conditions within the categories of lifestyle, nutrition, bedtime routines, and more.

4. How to Identify/Control Confounding Factors

  • "Confounding factors" are things you are not trying to manipulate but nonetheless can impact the results of the experiment.
  • Scientific experiments have the benefits of multiple participants which can reduce the influence of these confounding variables.
  • In a self-experiment, with only one subject, any major confounding factor can crush all of your effort. It is critical that you keep the confounding factors as constant as possible.
  • Consider the CBD oil experiment. If your goal it to understand its influence on WHOOP sleep metrics, you will need to make sure you don’t confound the experiment by selectively drinking alcohol close to bed as this would greatly influence your sleep metrics. Another factor might be meal timing. Keep your meal timing during the experiment as constant as possible.
  • Identifying and then controlling for the most influential confounding factors is key to a successful experiment (this might take a bit of research!)

Using the WHOOP Journal: Pay attention to the timing of your activities, which you can log in the journal. Overall, it’s up to you to be aware of confounding factors that may influence your WHOOP data. If you change your routine, you can make a note of this in your WHOOP Journal for future recollection.

5. Reviewing Your Experiment Results

At the end of each month, you’ll receive a behavioral analysis report in your Monthly Performance Assessment. Here, you’ll see a summary of everything you logged in the WHOOP Journal and its relationship to WHOOP data. While the assessment is not 100% conclusive, a notable relationship may allow you to infer a correlation based on the concrete physiological data collected via WHOOP. Over time, and with continued experimentation, patterns may emerge in the monthly assessment that give you clear insights into what behaviors are driving WHOOP metrics.

Overall, self-experimentation requires intention, awareness, and commitment to a plan. See what you can learn, so you can continue to unlock your best performance yet!

 

 

Kristen Holmes

Kristen Holmes (6 Articles)

Kristen is the VP Performance Science at WHOOP. Before joining WHOOP in 2016, she was the Head Field Hockey Coach at Princeton University. One of the most successful coaches in Ivy League history, Kristen won 12 league titles in 13 seasons, and one National Championship. She was also a 3x All American and a 2x Big 10 Athlete of the year at the University of Iowa, competing in both Field Hockey and Basketball Previously a 7-year member of the U.S. National Field Hockey Team, Kristen blends her background in athletics, coaching, performance technology, psychology and sports performance to drive research and partnership initiatives to strengthen WHOOP as a leader in Human Performance.

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