Feedback is so critical to learning how to do anything better. If we want to feel better and live better, then we need to pay consistent attention to the biofeedback our body is giving us in any given moment.
Our bodies are quite perfect and magical in their functioning and 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 super sensory in all manners of living and the best part is that it’s automatic. We don’t have to do anything except receive and analyze the data.
With all these super senses how many are we actually paying attention to and using throughout our day? Do we use this biofeedback information to study our lifestyle and make adjustments to our sleep, movement, diet, relationships, workloads, schedule, etc.?
The pace at which our society is hurtling forward has created an environment where we miss most of these cues, because there is simply so much going on at once. 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. Get more done in less time — and with more to learn. Every day, we tend to tune out a bunch of basic biofeedback, because we focus on “more important” infotainment. This is why mindfulness and awareness are trending so big right now. We all need to wake up and pay attention to the basics before they turn into injuries, diseases, accidents and divorces.
Here are eight critical pieces of biofeedback and how their daily rating and monitoring can improve our performance and 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. This doesn’t require mobile apps, just awareness, but they are surely available and helpful.
1. Sleep quantity and quality:
Seven to nine hours is the gold standard, but we each have an ideal length. Do you know what yours is? Do you make a point to get it? I know mine is just about eight. If I get less than that, I have decreased motivation and presence for my day. Too much sleep and I dream too vividly and it takes a while to get out of that daze. Another thing to think about is quality. Are you waking up several times? Were you uncomfortable or did you feel crappy upon waking? What you ate and did in the hours before sleeping are where to look for answers as to why you slept the way you did. If you aren’t paying attention in the morning, you won’t be able to point back to the culprit. One app I’ve used is called Sleep Cycle and gets me to pay attention, yet a note pad next to bed works wonders as well. Rate it one through five, five being deep sleep and waking rested. Track it for a couple of weeks and you will learn how to get the best sleep for the rest of your life.
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. Our bodies tell us everything we need to know — if we don’t let our thoughts push them out. 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. Food-tracking apps such as Food Sense ask you to rate your hunger as well as track calories. With or without an app, rate your hunger and thirst one through five, five being ravenous and if you are a one or two, delay eating.
3. Environmental health:
Probably the most present biofeedbacks with the least action taken on are the ones that tell us if our environment is healthy for us to work or live in. This can be any of your sense organs at play. It’s like an embedded irritation alerting you to make an adjustment to your environment. 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 human or animal contact can do the same. Rate it one through five, five if you’re feeling optimal physical and mental health. If it’s a one or two, seek to change it immediately by taking the necessary steps to switch up your environment.
4. Situational Stress:
Being late, being wrong, being hurt/ feeling in danger can get blown out of proportion and out of control. This can feel like anxiety that pops up instantaneously. If we don’t recognize and address its validity with our smart mind these feelings will grow and get worse. If we don’t face it out of fear, the stress with escalate even further. Instead, recognize a stressful situation, breath, rate it one through five, five being upset by the stress, then maybe ask for help if it’s a four or five.
5. Post feeding feeling:
The big issue with this biofeedback is not that we don’t feel it, we just don’t connect it back to what we ate. We plow through and take medications, for example, to deal with the symptoms we feel, but we don’t turn to look at the causes. After you eat your meal or snack and you could notice something like stomach upset, renewed energy, decreased energy, lightness, heaviness, etc. (which may take an hour or so). Rate the feeling one through five, five feeling great, and take a few mental seconds to remember what you ate that made you feel that way. Then each time you eat or drink you are refining the diet that works best for you. You will ferry out food allergies, sensitivities and the healthy foods that make you feel full, energized and clear-headed.
This biofeedback helps you to know whether you are too tired or burnt out to focus. Senses can seem dull and it’s critical to stay alert to avoid accidents and making mistakes. If you feel you aren’t alert enough you can make adjustments. Your eyes often aren’t focusing well or your mind isn’t really focused on what you are actually looking at or listening to. You may be in a daze or lost in thought. Rate your alertness one through five, five being very alert, and if you are a one or two, it’s time for a nap, walk or break of some kind.
7. Average speed:
What’s your average speed today? Rate one through five, five being very fast and one being very sluggish. What about over the last month? Talking about our speed is not in our vernacular, but it will be soon because it’s the chronic problem of our time. When we get wound up in life situations we use our thinking mind and ignore biofeedback and relationship feedback. We hold our body tight leading to mechanical issues. We do too much, with too little down time, wearing out our immune systems. We are always on the next thing and so we cannot enjoy what we are doing in the moment. When we disengage from life because it hasn’t gone as planned we get lazy and let our bodies go to waste. We are only motivated by pleasures to override the pain. We are slow to adjust to changes, none of which draws much success or happiness either. We need to find that balanced, middle speed.
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 the level of fitness you are at and what your goal is. 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 a big heart rate jump when you lift five to 10 reps. If you don’t feel that exertion, then the weight is too light or you are moving too slow in the case of power. The other piece is rest and how much to take between exercises, if at all. You want to keep your heart rate elevated, but allow for some recovery. If you wait too long your energy and motivation drops too 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 to drop.
Believe it or not, these biofeedback cues are a form of mindfulness and meditation. Taking the time to slow down and observe your mind and body, as if from an outsider’s perspective, is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Start to practice each day and before you know it you will be a much happier and healthier person.
Coach Gavin McKay