How the Visual Developed

When I decided to really loose weight and exercise, I decided that I also needed to document it, mostly because I knew I would forget and having a record would help me see how I was doing. So, after my first time with my trainer, I sat down with my exercise plan and my goals, and put it into Excel. My first iteration was pretty simple. I knew I wanted to lose 25 pounds by the upcoming VizThink conference in Berlin. That worked out to 1.2 pounds per week. I charted that as my goal (the red line on the graph below). Then every time I do strength training (usually 2-3x per week) and some times I do cardio training (the other 2-3x per week) I weigh myself and record the actual values (which became the green line on the graph below).

What I quickly found is that I wanted to know more and more information, so the chart began to grow and adapt. First, I wanted to know when I was going to no longer be considered obese, by the government standards. So, I divided the graph into a red section (for obese) and yellow section (for overweight). While that wasn’t a major goal, the graph made it very easy to see when I passed it and it certainly was something to celebrate.

Originally, the graph ended at October 14th. So my first goal, was at the right side of the graph. Once I saw that I was making progress towards my goal and was actually sticking with the exercise and food plan (a topic for another post), I knew I needed to set the next goal. It was a hard choice, but I finally landed on a weight comfortable inside the “normal weight” category. So, a new section (shown as green on the graph) was added to show where “normal weight” began which for me is 154.5 pounds.

I still didn’t expand the time range on the graph at that time. I wanted to make sure I stayed focused on the first goal before looking beyond. I still hadn’t decided (and really still haven’t) if my second goal of being comfortably inside the “normal weight” category is really my final goal or if I needed a third goal. So I began some research into the “ideal” weight. It turns out there’s quite a few research studies that say people are the healthiest at a Body Mass Index of 22. That translates to a pretty low weight for me about 137.5 pounds. That would put me at the weight I was when I entered my undergraduate program. It’s now represented by the dark green line on the graph. I still haven’t decided on what to do next, but at least I can see my progress towards it.

Once I got close to the first goal, I decided to go ahead and extend the graph out through the end of the year. However, that removed my artificial representation of the right side of the graph as my goal. So, triangles were added to the timeline to represent the goals. The 2 red triangles show the first two goals and when I want to achieve them. The (currently one) green triangle makes it easier to read when I reached my first goal (a little less than three weeks ahead of goal).

The Importance of the Visual

I love numbers and have lots of spreadsheets that almost always include lots of charts. This one though became of special importance. I have become nearly obsessed with it. It’s actually fun to see the progress in the chart. Sure, I can see the numbers get lower in the tables and I consciously know the amount of weight I’ve lost, but to see it change (almost) interactively is huge motivation especially as the lines inch ever closer to the major sections and the goals. It becomes a handy tool to forecast actual vs. plan. Adding a quick trend line makes it even easier to see.

I also want to point out that the graph also shows that it hasn’t always been a straight shot. I’ve lost both a little and a lot of ground many times. The back stepping was often due to scheduling conflict where I wasn’t able to stay on my workout or eating plan due to schedule conflicts with work, family, and friends. In fact, it usually turns out that the days I can’t work out area also almost always tied to days with opportunities for over eating. Not the best combination of situations. Weight swings of 1/2 pound to a couple pounds naturally led to moments of questioning. Have I reached my limit? Am I hitting a plateau? Can I really keep this up? As time progressed though, the visual became proof of the possibilities. I had lost some ground before and been able to recover. This time would likely be the same. It became a source of comfort, in a way.

One More Important Visual

One more visual has kept me motivated. While I did decide to lose weight as a New Year’s resolution, it wasn’t really until after the VizThink event in San Francisco this past January, that I really got my motivation. Our conference photographer, Andrew Campbell, captured quite a few photos of me on stage and throughout the conference. The one of the top below was particularly unflattering (not due to his work) showing me flowing over my 36″ khakis. His photo helped push me over the edge to finally get going for real. This past week my friend and colleague, Christine Martell, took the picture of me (shown on the bottom) doing my all day workshop for the Brandon-Hall conference in my new 32″ khakis.

While I’m not where I want to be yet, the visuals tell the story better than all the words on this page. Progress is happening, and the visual is helping me get there a little each week.