Sunday, July 14, 2013

Fooling Your Stress With Data

I am on the top of Homewood on a late afternoon in early March. It's barely above freezing and the air stings me with every breath. The only warmth I can feel comes from what I hope is my sweat. This is my last run of the day. I am brutally tired.

Did I mention that I'm on Black Diamond? Or, as everyone else calls it, Ego Alley? And that it's my first time? Good, because I'm keeping it all out of my mind.

My legs are weak. My goose is bumping. 

My stress should be like this.

And yet, I am confident, for I have the data.

I am the next Jonny Moseley.

Yesterday, I did some trail runs on the slopes, progressing from easy to challenging each time up. I noted, throughout the day, that my heart was racing harder and harder, that I was working extra time, and by the time I hit my cabin, I just wanted to do this.

What I also did was wear my Basis Watch. It's a fitness band that reads not only my steps and calories but also my heart rate, perspiration and skin temperature. So I'm not only getting a read on how I'm pushing myself but also, and somewhat more importantly, how my body is reacting. It's telling me how healthy I am.

And you know what? My health was nowhere near as bad as I thought it was. My stress was my biggest obstacle and, in reality, it wasn't such a big deal.

Meaning, when I thought my heart was doing this:

My Basis told me that my heart rate was actually this:

When I thought I was overheating like this:

I was actually more like this:

I can get into the data (and there's tons on the site to sift through), but what I learned is that when I felt like I was stressed, I tend to exaggerate how my body is reacting to the world around me. I'm actually fine, but my perceptions are out of whack. And that leads to mistakes.

It's just mind games with my health. It's time to play a different game.


I'm not trying to be competitive. I'm not racing. But I do think that it's a good thing to set up a goal and achieve it while having fun throughout. I'm going to ski down this mountain anyway. Might as well see if I can take the difficult route.

I am now ten minutes down. It's not as bad as I thought it would be. I've been skiing for five years now, off and on, mostly off, and the truth is that I'm actually much better than I thought, if you don't count all those close calls. This is much more fun than my preconceptions thought it would be.

And you know why?

I read this article about dealing with stress and how, when you feel it coming on, to imagine that you're someone else. Someone successful. Someone who has the capabilities of dealing with anything that comes their way. Then become that person until your stress passes.

So I decided to keep telling myself that I am Jonny Moseley.

There's nothing this mountain can throw at me that I can't handle. Everyone is looking at me thinking I should get a medal for all this. 

None of this is true, but I'm a lot more confident.

It's just easier to believe this ridiculousness when there's data to support it.

So, in my mind, I am doing this.

OK. I'm probably more like this.

But I know I'm not this.

Because I know my body is behaving like this:

And that's enough to get me down the mountain.


I finish. I'm tired. I made it. I rule. I drink some hot chocolate and it makes me feel like this.


It's later on. I'm in my cabin. My Basis Watch is connected to my laptop. And I'm going through my results. Yep, I actually probably went a little overboard with the confidence part of it, but that's okay. It was closer to the truth than the previous me. 

The one that wasn't Jonny Moseley.


Later that night, I'm at Sunnyside. I'm drinking a beer in my honor. There's all these bunnies around me, celebrating their runs. And I can feel them looking at me, wondering "Is that him? Could it be? Didn't I see him at Homewood? No, it can't. Is it?"

It is. Today, I was him.

The bar stool next to me is a revolving door of random people. Each one concentrating on their order at hand. Nobody staying for enough time to start a conversation with someone with a story to tell.

Then this guy sits down next to me, He nods my way. I nod back. I lean to him and tell him that I went down Ego Alley today for the first time. He congratulates me, tells me that's a great accomplishment. He remembers his first time. It was special. And then, he asks me what I'm drinking and orders me another.

Nice guy. A delicious trophy.

Our drinks arrive and we toast to accomplishments and the good health that comes along with it. The bartender smiles and waits his turn to slide a menu across the bar to us.

"Anything else for you, Mr. Moseley?"

"Nothing", we both say.

(You can learn more about Basis at And yes, the data showed that the author's heart rate surged the most at the moment when he met Jonny Moseley.)

OK, we've all been there. On the slopes. Barreling down. Shredding back and forth and back again. And each time down, we're not only satisfied with our run, but we know that the fun activity we just completed was really good for us.