Quantified-Self 101: The Beginner's Guide to Self-Tracking
Quick note: You may know the word quantified-self as self-tracking or lifelogging. Unlike the other two words that could just mean accumulating data, quantified-self has an end goal of improving oneself.
What is Quantified-Self?
Quantified-self is the act of collecting your personal data over time through manual logging or by using different technological devices such as sensors and trackers to help you understand your decisions and improve on them. This data collection process is most often used to track health, fitness, and diet metrics, but the same concept can be used to track other lifestyle habits as well. The movement has seen a large interest in medical communities hoping to find better ways to address patient preventative care through new technology.
It's never been easier to start your self-tracking, life-logging, quantified-self journey. As the current quantified-self movement moves towards finding more accessible and advanced digital trackers, the process to understand yourself and improve has expedited. More solutions are being created for you every day. Fitness watches and wearables can tell you a large number of details about your various health and fitness activities, logging data such as the number of steps you take per day, the calories you burn, your stress levels, and even your entire sleep cycle. Other readily available tools and services (many of them free!) such as productivity trackers, screen timers, mood journals, and meditation apps (to name a few) can also be used in addition to your wearable for a broader view of how you spend your time. How you spend your time is who you become. By tracking your metrics, you'll become aware of your strengths and weaknesses and understand who you are at the very core. With that information, you'll be able to decide what lifestyle habits to continue and which ones to drop to become your best, most optimized self. Your metrics, with the proper analysis and understanding, can always be improved!
It's never been easier to start your self-tracking, life-logging, quantified-self journey
As you read, you'll begin to realize that though it may have seemed complicated at first, the concept of quantified self is actually relatively straightforward.
Let me ask you a question: What did you do last Tuesday? Now you might tell me that you remember most of your day- you woke up, brushed your teeth... and continue to repeat your usual routine without much strain. But what if I asked about the Wednesday before Halloween two years ago. Were you stressed? How was your sleep schedule? Have you improved your health since? (and if you replied yes, how do you know for sure?).
The mind is known to play tricks on us. We cannot remember every detail of our past- especially when it comes to the numbers that we see on our fitness watches or computer screens. But what if you could have prevented your high blood pressure solely by having tracked your health data over the last year? Could it have prevented a heart attack?
Tracking is important, but the ability to find correlations between your metrics is where the real reward lies. You might be asking yourself why you've been so tired lately, why your stressed levels have peaked if work hasn't changed, or even why you haven't been able to lose that extra ten pounds. It's the relationships between your data where how you discover the reasons you feel the way you do. It's those insights that guide you to positively change.
Here are 6 simple steps for beginners to begin their self-tracking, life-logging, quantified-self journey:
1. Invest in a fitness watch
You don't need the best wearable to start, so don't go over your budget, but make sure to look into the watch's specifications to ensure that it has all the sensors you need to track the metrics that'll help you succeed in your quantified self journey.
2. Set a data goal
Creating a habit takes time, and achieving the lifestyle you aim for will be easier if you set SMART goals to start. The goal you set should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-sensitive for it to be achievable. Your goal is a personal choice. So whether it be to take 10000 steps a day, or fix your sleep/wake cycle, make sure that you've invested in it, giving you a reason to wear your watch, track your data, and follow the metrics more closely. It'll also give you a sense of achievement as you successfully complete it, making you willing to go further and improve even more.
3. Think Long-Term
We've all heard the wisdom before: Rome wasn't built in a day. Or even: Life's a marathon, not a sprint. In other words, you cannot expect significant changes to happen overnight. Proper self-tracking takes time. You need to keep showing up every day and gather enough data for every metric to be able to justify if you're genuinely improving or not. Not giving up and staying consistent is a key part of the quantified self movement.
4. Analyze your data for correlations
You have the numbers, so now it's time to make sense out of them. After you've consistently been showing up and tracking your activities every day (easier than you think if you have a fitness watch as it tracks metrics automatically!), it's time to analyze your numbers. This step is crucial because it's what gives your tracking a greater purpose! By analyzing your metrics, you'll discover the pros and cons of your recent changes and which metrics could potentially be affecting each other.
5. Act on your data findings
After analyzing the data, you'll have discovered problem areas and formed potential solutions to fix them. Your next task is to act on these findings and tweak your routines to improve your health, fitness, and wellness, and continue your self-improvement journey.
6. Go back to step 2 and repeat!
The steps won't change, but you definitely will if you stick to them. The quantified self movement isn't about perfection but figuring out what works for you as an individual. Remember, everyone views success and their future selves differently. Don't worry if you feel a little behind: your future is created by the choices you make today.