In January, Pew Research found that 21% of US adults track some aspect of their health using technology. This is part of a phenomenon called “Quantified Self” — the measurement of personal behaviours and activities, often using technology such as smartphones and web apps. I’m a self-quantifier and have been for a while. Over the years I’ve tracked a number of dimensions:
- Running and training bike rides using Runkeeper and Strava
- How often I eat meat, do yoga, drink coffee, caffeine or alchohol using chains.cc
- Whether I clear out my email inboxes each day
- Money (spending, saving, credit card use) using ANZ MoneyManager (about the best personal finance dashboard available in the UK)
- How many miles I’ve cycled (commuting, training and events), using your.flowingdata
- Travel using TripAdvisor and Kayak’s My Trips
I use this data to drive improvements in my life.
For example, if I’m training for a race, I check that I’m building up my distance at the right rate in preparation. To understand the data, I visualise it using histograms and aggregates statistics. My all time distance on Runkeeper right now is 1,188 KM. I’ve only run a few KMs this month, but last month I ran almost 50 KM (I had a big race).
My self-quantification breaks down into two categories: “performance” and “habits.” The performance stuff (running and cycling) is a bit vain, but I feel that collecting and visualising performance data has helped me to achieve some big goals, like running a marathon.
Measuring some of my habits helps me to make long-term behavioural changes.
Meat-eating is a good example. I love meat, but I like to keep the total amount I consume down. I track whether I ate meat or not each day by ticking a box in chains.cc. Later I can look back and see easily whether I’m sticking to my goal or if I need to work harder. Having aggregate goals like “eat meat once per week” allows me to indulge when the meat on the table is really good (like when I went to Aux Lyonnais) but means that I get the health benefits of a mostly plant-based diet.
Some self-quantifiers conduct self-experiments using the data they collect, e.g. “does taking drug A make my condition better or worse.” I’m not quite there yet, but it’s an interesting direction. I’m not sure I have the discipline to collect sufficiently high-quality data.
For more about the Quantified Self movement I recommend checking out the Quantified Self blog.