Feedback is critical to learning how to do anything better. For those of us that want to feel better and live better, we need to pay great and consistent attention to the biofeedback our body is giving us at any moment.
Our bodies are quite magical in their functioning. One of the most impressive systems we have is our nervous system, the sensory organs and network that allow us to "feel". We can feel everything from the quality of food in our stomach to our stress level upon hearing a certain phrase, pitch or volume of sound. We are sensory in all manners of living and the best part is that it happens automatically. All we have to do is receive and analyze the data.
But how many of these senses are we actually paying attention to and using throughout our day? We can use this biofeedback information flow to study our lifestyle and make adjustments to our sleep, movement, diet, relationships, workloads, schedule, etc.
The pace at which our society moves has created a situation where we miss most of these cues because there is simply so much going on at one moment in one single day. Technology has sped up ways to innovate, execute and communicate, but this has only increased the amount of pressure we feel on a daily basis. For this reason, we tend to tune out basic biofeedback because we focus on "more important" infotainment.
This is why mindfulness and awareness have become so big. We all need to wake up and pay attention to the basics before they turn into injuries, disease, accidents and divorce. Taking the time to slow down and observe your mind and body, as if from an outsiders perspective, is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.
Below are eight hypercritical pieces of biofeedback and how their daily monitoring can improve our quality of life. The process is simple: Rate each feeling, take notes about causal factors and do it for a few weeks until you learn from your biofeedback.
1. Sleep Quantity and Quality: 7-9 hours is the gold standard, but we each have an ideal length. Do you know what yours is? Do you make a point to follow it? Another thing to think about is quality. Are you waking up several times? Were you uncomfortable or did you feel crappy upon waking? Analyzing what you did in the hours before sleeping can give you answers as to why you slept the way you did. Rate your sleep 1-5, with 5 being deep sleep and waking rested. Track it for a couple of weeks and you will learn how to get the best sleep of your life. Sleep Cycle is an app I've found helpful as it gets me to pay attention, but a note pad next to bed works wonders as well.
2. Hunger and Thirst: Do you eat based on social cues, pleasure cues or actual hunger/thirst cues? If we pay attention, we can very easily dial up or down our intake and change the type of foods that we are eating. Focus on the feelings in your body from having energy, to stomach fullness to mental clarity. Do you need something? What do you need? If you think of food and drink as mainly a pleasure source and not fuel you will desensitize yourself and end up hurting yourself. Several food-tracking apps ask you to rate your hunger as well as track calories. Rate 1-5, with 5 being ravenous. If you are at a 1 or 2, delay eating.
3. Post-Feeding Feeling: The big issue with this biofeedback is not that we don't feel it, but that we don't connect it back to what we ate. We plow through and deal with the symptoms, but we don't turn to look at the causes. After you eat your meal or snack and you notice something like stomach upset, renewed energy, decreased energy, lightness, heaviness, etc. (which may take an hour or so) rate the feeling 1-5 , with 5 feeling great. Take a few mental seconds to remember what it was that made you feel that way. Then, each time you eat or drink, you are refining the diet that works best for you. By doing so, you will discover food allergies, sensitivities and the healthy foods that make you feel full, energized and clear headed.
4. Environmental Health: Probably the most present biofeedback markers are the ones that tell us if our environment is healthy for us to work or live in. Soothing or harsh lighting affects our alertness and mood. Toxic chemicals versus fresh air have impacts to our lungs. Mechanical versus natural sounds will weaken or strengthen our mental abilities. Colors/textures/space arrangements can make you feel depressed or creative and having too little contact with others can do the same. Rate it 1-5, with 5 being optimal physical and mental health. If you are at a 1 or 2, take the necessary steps to switch up your environment.
5. Situational Stress: Being late, wrong, hurt or feeling in danger can get blown out of proportion and out of control. If we don't face these situational stressors and address their validity, these feelings will grow and get worse. Recognize a stressful situation, breath, rate it 1-5. Maybe ask for help if you're rating your level of upset as a 4 or 5 from stress.
6. Alertness: It's critical to stay alert to avoid accidents and mistakes. If you are too tired or burnt out to focus, your senses can seem dull. Your eyes often aren't focusing well or you may be in a daze or lost in thought. But there are ways to make adjustments. Rate your alertness 1-5, with 5 being very alert and if you are a 1 or 2 it's time for a nap, walk, or break of some kind.
7. Average Speed: What's your average speed today? What about over the last month? Speed is a chronic problem of our time. We do too much, with too little down time, wearing out our immune systems. We are always on to the next thing and we often cannot enjoy what we are doing in the moment. When we get wound up in life situations, we hold our body tight and cause mechanical issues. On the other hand, when we disengage from life because it hasn't gone as planned we get lazy and let our bodies go to waste. We need to find that balanced middle speed. Rate it 1-5, with 5 being very fast and 1 being very sluggish.
8. Heart Rate: How effective is your exercise? Is it right for you? Does it feel good or does it make you want to puke? These questions can often be answered by knowing your approximate heart rate and matching that with your level of fitness and goals. Higher is not always better, but there is truth to increasing heart rate for health benefits. If you want strength and power gains you need to feel an increase in your heart rate when you lift 5-10 reps. If you don't feel that exertion than the weight is too light or you are moving too slow. The other piece of this equation is rest and how much to take between sets. You want to keep your heart rate elevated, but allow for some recovery. If you wait too long, your energy and motivation and performance bottoms out. Alternatively, if you want endurance gains then you need to be able to feel when the heart rate is elevated for sustainable periods and allow it not to drop.
Gavin McKay is the Creator and President of Unite Fitness, a Philadelphia-based fitness studio franchise offering its trademark group training, The UNITE Workout, as well as personal coaching and nutrition programs. Studios are located in Philadelphia and Mt. Laurel, NJ with new studios in the works and regional franchise territories available.