There is a meme that has popped up or, at least, it has suddenly popped into my world – the Quantifiable Self. The basis of the Quantifiable Self is that you measure things about yourself and then use that data to improve upon yourself. We all do this to some extent. We weigh ourselves daily or time how long we run and over what distance. Some count calories or count steps.
Some push this to great detail to track influences on complex diseases like migraines. Alexandra Carmichael tracks 40 things about herself daily. There is (of course) a site dedicated to the Quantifiable Self.
I already track a great deal about myself but I don’t measure the out-comes, the effects if you will, of all that I track. The Quantifiable Self people are looking for the little butterfly wing beats that cause the tornados in their lives. To do this, I would need to resolve three issues.
The tracking portion doesn’t need to be that complex. Andrew Hyde tracks his workouts using a big “X” in a calendar. The feedback is immediate and simple to analyze. But this simplified tracking, doesn’t let you look for the subtle effects in your life. Andrew will never figure out if eating CocoBombs shaves 30 seconds off his average time just by using a big red X. This simple system is great for motivation. He can loosely couple it to other outcomes like distance covered or weight loss. Finding the more complex connections requires a more complex system.
All this got me thinking about three things: (1) the amount of things that I track in a somewhat ad hoc way now – at least a disconnected un-integrated way, (2) what things would I track if I were to get serious about “quantifying myself” and (3) what would I want to improve?
What I track now:
I track a lot of things now:
- my weight daily using the Google 15 Widget;
- The days I bike or drive to work (I try to bike to work at least 75% of the time)
- Whether or not I worked out (three levels Intense, Medium or Light)
- Did I lift weights
- Did I do 10,000 steps
- Did I take Lola out for fun. (All of the above via Joe’s Goals).
- When I ride my road bike, I get a lot of data from my Garmin that gets uploaded to Motion Based (time, distance, elevation climbed, heart rate, cadence, etc.)
This data doesn’t really allow for the analysis that the Quantifying Self people are talking about. They are pushing to find the subtle effects, the complex cause-and-effect of daily life. They are looking at mood and weather and what they ate and how they slept. They are trying to find those small triggers that cause their migraines or mood swings. They need to track the butterfly wing beats and then count the tornados.
This then is the first issue I would have to deal with: what are the things that I want to improve or change? There are exercise base improvements I would like to make: reduce my body-fat percentage, improve my cycling fitness and become more flexible than a wrought iron chair. There are time use improvements I would like to make: more time painting, more time with Lola and Ena. I already sleep well. I don’t have chronic illnesses I’m trying to manage. I really don’t want to count calories (I cook my own food from recipes that I create. I really don’t want to go through and figure out calorie counts starting from base ingredients. Really. I don’t. If someone wants to follow me around and figure this stuff out for me, I would be happy to get the reports but I don’t want to do it. Really.)
If I figured out what I wanted to change / improve, then I would have to figure out what I wanted to measure (Issue 2). How do you know that something has an affect unless you have measured it and noticed the cause-effect relationship? What if watching Road-Runner cartoons increased my average speed on my bike while watching Barney caused it to drop? How would I know unless I logged those things? By-the-way, I watch neither of these shows.
Issue 3: The system to record the information should be easy to use, ubiquitous (you can enter data when-ever and where-ever you need to) andallow for easy analysis and pattern finding. Google’s spreadsheet would meet the first two requirements especially if I had an iPhone (hint hint Ena) and a way of getting data from my cycle computer into the spreadsheet automagically. The analysis portion is trickier. Briocolage Labs offers an on-line data management and analysis tool but it won’t take data straight from my cycle computer. This issue still seems imperfectly solved.
That leaves me with three big issues looking for a problem to solve. Today, it seems like a lot of overhead for my daily routine though I’m still very intrigued by the Quantifying Self concept. It is easy to imaging that much of this will be handled by gadgets in the near future: Shirts with sensors that monitor heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and stress level; a phone that tracks your daily exercise; a quick photo of food calculates your calories; an iPhone app that captures weather info and you mood indicators. There is already a scale that will wirelessly send your weight, BMI and body fat measurements to a web based dashboard.
In this future, we might easily be adjusting our lives with little tweaks that greatly change our outlook and outcomes. We might well be managing the butterfly wings that control our personal weather.