Archive for May, 2015

3 Low cost, Fitness Trackers reviewed

Friday, May 29th, 2015

In the order I tried them, and as pictured above, these are the Misfit Shine, the Jawbone Move and the Fitbit Flex.  They are are all relatively simple and low priced fitness trackers.  Basically they use accelerometers to measure how active you are; you can think of them as high tech pedometers.  The thing that makes them much more useful than this is their related apps and websites that compile and track this data and combine this with other stuff to coach and motivate you. 

The Misfit Shine is the little brother of the more expensive Flash; functionally they are the same but the Shine is made of plastic and the Flash is metal.  They are both a removable disk that you can mount in either a bracelet or a clip-on carrier.  I didn’t have many issues with how this performed, either the tracker or the app, but I really was concerned about the security of the clip-on which detached from me at least three times.  When the strap snapped, that was it!  I sent it back, even though Misfit were great about replacing the strap.  I just felt that this device and I were doomed to be separated and even though it I’d only paid around £40 for it (now available for about £32 from Amazon,)  it wasn’t worth it.

I then moved to the Jawbone Move.  This was a much more robust clip.  The bracelet was also much tougher (and less attractive) but you had to buy this and it pushed the price up from £40 to £52.  The idea of all three of these is that you wear them at night  too as they notionally track your sleep.  In reality they do show when you wake, and to a lesser extent, how much you toss and turn.  Experts say that they don’t measure your sleep quality in any meaningful way,  but what all these devices do do is measure trends.  I have compared all of them with my GPS and they aren’t spot on but come within 5-10%, which is good enough for their main purpose.  Their virtue is they do push you to keep active and move.  I don’t know how much it is just the latest health vogue and how much it is serious but doctors are really hot on the negative impact of sitting too much.  I definitely do make more effort when I’m being tracked (see my earlier blog.)  The Move and I also parted company when I wore it with a thinner pair of trousers it came off.  I strongly suspect it would work just as well in your pocket and be much more secure.  The Move did survive a short spin in my washing machine, which it isn’t meant to.  However, this is another flaw in this kind of device it is very easy to forget to detach it and lose it or just break your measurement trend.  That is why I think the wrist worn device is a better solution.

That brings me to my final tracker the Fitbit Flex.  I rather like this.  It is easy to wear, you can wear it in the shower, and don’t have to move it when sleep.  None of these has a proper display.  They all have some leds.  I found the first two somewhat confusing to interpret and being on your waist, inconvenient to browse.  The Flex is simpler.  You just have 5 leds, an one lights up each time you achieve 20% of your target, simple and easy to see. 

You have to ‘tell’ these devices that you are transitioning from waking to sleeping modes by tapping them, or using the app.  Again, the Flex is perhaps the easiest to use. 

The real value of these trackers is in the accompanying apps and there is no doubt the Jawbone one is very good.  I think the other two are fine, with Misfit perhaps being slightly less useful than the Fitbit. They all pair with other apps such as My Fitness pal which you can use to track your calorie intake, and this interchange of information is very helpful.  You can, if you are so inclined, share your results with friends and colleagues and compete with them. 

I have no doubt that there is better, more clever devices coming down the pike.  This sector is developing fast, and the recent launch of the Apple watch will just speed this up.  However, unless you are in the market for a serious GPS running watch, I don’t think it is really worth paying more for the more expensive devices at this point.  The extra functionality is limited in its accuracy and probably not worth paying for.

I will keep you posted with further thoughts and progress.

Plus ça change… or…What will the general election change?

Monday, May 25th, 2015

So, despite what all the experts predicted, Mr Cameron managed to win and not just win but win an outright majority.  Millions of pounds were spent on polls and experts who were all wrong.  He doesn’t need the SNP or the Lib Dems.  So we have the same PM but now he will think he has a fresh mandate for his policies; that he was right and that we want him to pursue his vision.  Now I am certainly no political pundit, but given how wrong they were, maybe that is a good thing!  I don’t believe for a minute ‘the great British Public’ feels that way.  I suspect that either they felt that:-

  1. All the others were even more wrong or more dangerous, or
  2. At least we knew what he is like, or at least that,
  3. The Tories are least likely to make a mess of the economy,and probably
  4. That their vote would make no difference!

I suspect we believed we voted for as little change as possible and yet even though the same hand is on the helm, we are likely to get more extreme policies now than we had before, now that there is no need for a moderating influence of others.  Luckily, despite politicians best endeavours, the civil service will decide what they and we really need!  So despite the fact that we have the same man in charge, it is anyone’s guess whether we will see radical change or more of the same old thing!

Dealing with problem behaviour

Monday, May 18th, 2015

When I was training, this was labelled ‘feedback’, and everyone learnt to cringe as soon as they heard the phrase “Can I give you some feedback..”  which was inevitably an excuse for them laying into you whilst feeling superior about it all… at least that is how it felt!  However, from time to time we all have a problem with our work mates, our flat mates or our neighbours and we need to deal with it, so how should we go about it?

Firstly, never attempt this whilst you are hot under the collar, it doesn’t lead to good communication and they will just feel attacked and defend, as almost inevitably, you are attacking them.  So rule No 1, wait till you are calm and can check if the this is really worth raising.  If you still feel that it is, then, step two is to be clear what you want out of the conversation (and yes, Rule No 2 is you must do this face-to-face.)  Be able to explain what change you wish to see and how this will benefit not just you but them too. 

Do not not exaggerate when describing their behaviour and avoid words such as “Always” and “Never”, as this kind of sweeping generalisation is almost never true.  Stick to the facts, and if possible have a record of specifics, so you can give examples.

Don’t puff yourself up in expectation of a confrontation, talk to them nicely (as you would wish them to talk to you if circumstances were reversed,) expecting that they will want to see a happy outcome for both parties, that way they are much more likely to listen to you.

Be honest and clear about how it affects you, and state what you have tried to do to mitigate the issue before looking to them to change their behaviour.  If possible, show them the impact of the issue, to help them see / experience it from your point-of-view, but also take the time to look at their perspective too.

Basically, if you approach them in a calm, pleasant and factual way, you are much more likely to get what you want, and often they will be surprised that they are causing you an issue…

5 habits of effective communicators

Monday, May 11th, 2015

Habit 1:  Don’t say “But..”, say “And..”

The thing is the word “but” diminishes your previous statement; so if try telling your significant other “You look lovely BUT..”  I advise you to stand back having lighten the blue touch paper!  However, if you say when you say “And..” it builds on their point and having agreed with them, they are more amenable to accepting your suggestion.  So, “You look lovely but I don’t think those shoes work” might become “You look lovely.  (pause) And I want you to be comfy too, do you think you will be in those shoes?”

Habit 2:  Stick to the facts

We all make sweeping statements like “My neighbour does that deliberately!”  or “That will never work!”, but usually these are perceptions or projections or generalisations rather than facts.  So it is good to ask “How do you know that?”  or “What proof do you have?”  This kind of comment will limit you and your responses,  if you you stick to things which are provably true, then you are at least on firm ground moving forwards.

Habit 3:  Don’t be defensive

Regular readers will know that I have mentioned this before, but we just HATE being wrong, and we will do almost anything to avoid this.  So if we hear the other person say something which we interpret as criticism, we tend to not explore what they are actually saying or whether it is useful, true or helpful and instead bat it away.  This leads to the baby being thrown out with the bathwater and not only don’t we learn what they were trying to add, but we make them feel diminished and unlistened to.

Habit 4:  Silence is not only golden but powerful

There are two parts to this tip.  Firstly, if you are actually  listening to the other person, you need to keep schtum!  You also need to put all your attention into listening rather than thinking what you want to say in response.  The other thing is that if you keep silent, you force the other person to step into that uncomfortable space and elaborate.  As a facilitator, it can be very powerful to ask a simple question such as “What do think of that?” and then just wait.  The longer you wait, the more you will learn.  If you feel the need to jump in too soon, they can evade your question and you learn little or nothing.

Habit 5:  Make sure they heard / understood what you actually said

None of us are very good at listening, however, just because they can repeat the words you used, doesn’t mean that they interpreted them as you intended.  If it is important, take the time to check they have really understand what you meant.  If I say something like “Book me somewhere cheap..” You might find you have very different ideas of what cheap means, and that could be embarrassing!  The same is true of all those relative words like quick, simple, small etc. 

Effective communicators are like sailors… they never forget the 7 C’s

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

When communicating be:-

  1. Clear
  2. Concise
  3. Concrete – include all pertinent facts included and avoid distracting asides
  4. Correct – not only facts, but it is good to avoid spelling and grammatical mistakes (and I should know!)
  5. Coherent – can your reader easily follow your flow?
  6. Complete
  7. Courteous

9 Ways to win an argument

Monday, May 4th, 2015

Arguments aren’t good, but we are all occasionally confronted with situations where we want / need to win.  Here are a few tips to help you:-

1.  Confidence: as I have mentioned many times here before, performing with confidence is key to success and especially in an argument.  If you look, sound and feel confident, others are more likely to believe you are right

2.  Respect: if you don’t feel it, at lest fake it!  You have to listen to them, or failing that, appear to listen.  If you show you aren’t receptive, there is no way they will be.  Don’t interrupt, hear them out, don’t give facial and physical signals (like shaking your head) whilst they are speaking.  Don’t get personal.

3.  Data:  information truly is king, and he / she who wields it is more likely to appear that they know what they are talking about.  So if you are going into a situation where you know you will have to prove your point, do your research first.  It is true that facts can be used in many different ways, and it is all about how you use them, but none-the-less, you will be more credible if you are well armed.

4. Avoid own goals: There are a series of common mistakes that you can use that can blow the wheels off your waggon and leave you looking like a loser, such as:-

  1. Anecdotal fallacy:  using a single experience or story to prove something is always true, such as if you were bitten by a dog, it proves all dogs are vicious
  2. Cherry picking facts:  You can’t pay attention to information that proves you right and ignore all other evidence
  3. Correlation=Causation:  Just because because car accidents can happen when you are listening to he radio, does not necessarily mean that listening to the radio causes accidents
  4. Omniscience:  you can’t be sure that something always happens so don’t base your argument on this kind of statement.  You don’t always get mugged in certain parts of town, or always get into trouble at football games.

5. Let them go first: this has all sorts of advantages.  It shows confidence and politeness (see above), it gets them to lay out there argument so you can understand where they are coming from before you ‘attack’.  It allows them to shoot themselves in the foot and save you the trouble!

6.  Ask questions:  This builds on the point above and both enhances your understanding of their position, allows you to expose weaknesses in it and encourages them to follow your example and listen to you.

7.  Agree with them if they are right:  The chances are they aren’t wholly wrong and if they make a good point you should acknowledge it as such, but being right about one thing doesn’t mean they are right in everything.  Don’t let this throw you off course, surrender this ground and keep your powder dry!

8.  People Power:  If you are in a group setting, you can use the others in the group to swing things your way by winning them over before your opponent.

Lastly and best…

9.  Change what winning means to you:  rather than trying to prove the other person wrong, how about trying to craft a better solution for everyone?  What about ensuring that you avoid the things you sought to avoid rather than doing it your way?  What about winning respect and friendship rather than an argument?  What about learning something?  What about growing as a person by behaving graciously and conceding if after all this it turns out they are more right than you?

Here is an interesting TED talk on just this subject