August 15, 2013 | Posted in Self-tracking
Watching ‘Monitor Me’, the BBC Two documentary on self-tracking, got me reflecting on my reasons for leading a quantified life. The documentary did a decent job of outlining some benefits of self-tracking, but I’m not sure it hit home to the layman just how the pursuit helps us be more awesome. So here’re my top five reasons for why you should hop aboard the quantified self bandwagon.
Lack of motivation it the number one obstacle hampering our pursuit of better health. It takes motivation to hit the gym after eight hours in the office. Motivation helps us swap that doughnut for a diet soda, and it turns 15 minutes of regular meditation from a chore into a habit.
Data showing exactly where you’ve come from and how you’re currently performing is a powerful antidote to poor motivation. As the trajectory of your weight creeps upwards, or your sleep quality tanks, it’s hard not to be forced into action.
2. Achieving Goals
In our ongoing pursuit of better health and wellbeing, we all have goals we’d like to achieve –whether it’s an ideal physique, more quality time spent with our family or smoking less. We all have personal destinations we’d like to reach.
Without self-tracking, goals are mushy and ethereal – it’s hard to work towards a target number, if you’re not entirely sure what your numbers currently look like. By associating a number with your goal – add 1cm to my biceps, keep my blood glucose below 5.5mmol/L – a blurry target comes sharply into focus and your current tracking data shows a clear path to the finish line.
3. Modifying Behaviour
We all suspect that certain behaviours trigger a negative reaction – that glass of wine might be the reason for my crappy sleep; driving to the office instead of cycling is probably the cause of my more stressful day. But for most of us, these suspected triggers remain just that – ‘suspected’.
Quantified Self turns ‘suspecting’ into ‘knowing’. And when you know that a certain action will trigger a specific reaction, it strengthens our awareness and makes it psychologically easier to avoid detrimental behaviour to begin with.
The Greeks got it right more than ten centuries ago with the famous aphorism, “Know thyself”. An intrinsic understanding of what makes us tick – what makes us happy, what causes us stress – should be a top pursuit, simply because it allows us to optimise our lifestyle to achieve a constant state of awesomeness.
A profound sense of self-awareness is a by-product of the quantified experience. Trends in your behaviour become clearer, and will likely influence your future actions. Think about it….what happens when you notice you’re reporting lower happiness whenever you’re with your spouse; or discover that 85% of your day is spent in the office? The data doesn’t lie. These realisations might be uncomfortable and force some tough decisions, but the change will be for the better.
5. Better Diagnosis
Doctors make their diagnoses with the information they have available – a combination of patient records, reported symptoms and lab results. But this is an incomplete dataset. With access to a patient’s self-tracking numbers, doctors are equipped with a more holistic view of their state of health, enabling the practitioner to make better diagnoses and decide more optimal lines of treatment.
Doctors will probably be resistant to introduction of this new patient data. The effective use of self-tracking data is not yet taught in medical school. But as the cost-saving potential of QS data is increasingly exploited by healthcare trusts, hospitals and insurance companies, and technologies emerge to help practitioners extract meaning from the deluge of patient data, the medical community will come to embrace it.
So there you go….five reasons for you to get started on your quantified self journey. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.