Know What You’re Changing (1 of 5 Rules of Change)

by abclarke


(1 of 5 Rules)

In September of last year, I set my goal of getting to 10-12% body fat by November 2007. At the time, I was at about 20% body fat and it seemed reasonable (less than 1% per month). I had started working out again, and I knew I wasn’t an unhealthy eater. How hard could it be? My plan was simple:

  1. Continue working out, increasing the intensity to maintain the weight loss.
  2. Continue eating sensibly.

Well, it turns out losing weight is not easy (I now know that millions of people already know this). Take a look at the data from September through February and you’ll see what I mean:

The bars represent hours spent working out (blue is cardio, red is weight training). The green line is body-fat %.

If you look at the green (Fat %) line, I had some success early lowering body fat, but I plateau in December, and then start rising up again in January and February. To make matters worse, I kept getting injured, feeling weak, going up and down in energy levels. What the hell was going wrong!

In retrospect, it’s simple. I’d forgotten the first rule of change management: Know What You’re Changing.

“I Think” is the Enemy of “I Know”

When we’ve decided (or been assigned) to change something we’re often rearing to get going. Be it a professional or personal goal, “we think we know” what’s wrong, and we think we know the best way to achieve the goal. And we’ve failed before we started, because “we think we know” but we don’t actually know.

As with why Doctors Use Soap, when we’re excited about something (and hence emotionally involved) we tend to rely upon the subjective view rather than both subjective and objective information.

For example, above I wrote “I wasn’t an unhealthy eater”. Really? Well, I thought I wasn’t an unhealthy eater, but I didn’t know that.

How Do You “Know”?

So, how do you know? In a professional setting, you do three things:

  1. Write down how things work today.
  2. Identify the stakeholders involved in how things work today.
  3. Have them review what you’ve written down, and iterate until they agree that it accurately reflects what’s done today.

That’s it. You don’t try to change anything. All you want to do is get agreement on the state of the world today. Writing it down doesn’t need to be formal. A napkin can suffice, a whiteboard, a one page document, whatever. As long as someone else can hold it and read it without you around.

Amazing things happen when you write it down and review it with the people who are impacted. You discover hidden steps you didn’t know existed. You find people who you thought were involved that don’t actually matter, and people you thought don’t matter who are intimately involved. You find hidden bottlenecks and easy solutions you didn’t know about. And yet, so many people skip this step.

Knowledge is Humbling

OK, so it took me 5 months, but eventually I realized I’d made the stupid mistake of not first knowing what I was changing. I felt particularly chagrined because I’d often chastised folks on my teams for making this very basic mistake. Starting in February, I decided to change this. First, I started writing down what I ate. I did that for about 3 weeks. Here’s a quick sample:

Date

Time

Dish

Quantity

02/12/07

8:00 AM

Cream of wheat

1.5 cups

02/12/07

11:00 AM

Bananas

2.0

02/12/07

1:00 PM

Ham, cheese, MLT on roll

1 large

02/12/07

2:00 PM

Popcorn

2 cups

02/12/07

6:00 PM

Granola bar

1.0

02/12/07

7:45 PM

Ravioli & broccoli

1/2 package + 6 florets

02/13/07

5:15 AM

Bananas

2.0

02/13/07

7:45 AM

Granola + 1 banana

1 cups + 1 banana

02/13/07

10:30 AM

Raisins

1 box

02/13/07

11:30 AM

Bananas

1.0

02/13/07

12:30 PM

Chinese food

Wonton Soup, + Peanut Chicken + Rice + Fortune Cookie

02/13/07

4:00 PM

Granola bar

1.0

02/13/07

6:15 PM

Granola bar

1.0

02/13/07

8:00 PM

left over indian food

1/2 naan, 1 c rice, sauce & lamb

It was nothing too formal, just quick notes and estimates of what I was eating.

Next, I identified the stakeholders. There were two: me and J (I now know that if you try to lose weight without the support of your partner, it’s a losing game).

Lastly, we looked at the data and between the two of us we realized that I eat healthy until I get to a big meal. Then I gorge myself. It isn’t exactly clear from the notes above, but the sandwiches, Chinese food and Indian food above were huge meals – easily enough for two meals. The reality is I was a part-time healthy eater with spurts of unhealthy binge-eating thrown in.

So, know “I knew” I wasn’t a healthy eater. I also “knew” I was over exercising (because I had data that showed that).

Armed with knowledge not just opinions, I had to move to the next step: Less is More.

(which I’ll continue next week …)

– Art

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