The Great Quantified Self Experiment
Two years ago today, my mood was meh. The weather was sunny, and I had my iPod on random. I listened to "Flim” by The Bad Plus. The sounds that affected me were the piano, the melody, the complex rhythm and the drums. The song felt flowing, reassuring, positive and thoughtful. And, although I enjoyed the song thoroughly, my mood didn’t change. Still meh.
I know all this because of the database I created to measure the effect of weather and random songs on my emotional state. This was my first experience with the Quantified Self program.
In my creative position at Intouch, I had been tasked with looking into big data and sharing my insights with the office. Through my research, I came to believe that, in order to understand big data, we need to understand individual data. That led me to Quantified Self — an international idea that measuring something can lead to insight and a better, fuller life.
In the context of managing chronic conditions, this was clearly the path of the future. So I wanted our teams to experience the Quantified Self firsthand.
I thought if we could understand what it’s like to track something about ourselves — the challenges, the insights, the rewards — we would be better prepared for our various roles at our healthcare marketing agency. We would be able to turn firsthand insights into solutions for people managing health challenges in the form of patient education, an app or an entire adherence program.
Since personal health information can sometimes be private, I instead created an office-wide Quantified Self contest requiring people to track something they were passionate about. (For example, I chose to track music and mood because they are such core parts of who I am.) In addition to picking their own data point(s), everyone had to determine their own best way to track the data — whether that through was an app, a spreadsheet or a simple notebook.
After a month of tracking, participants reported back on their experiences by sharing the challenges, the insights and rewards of quantifying parts of themselves. And they found a surprisingly diverse array of things to track — sleep, clothing, activity, commuting, diet, contact lens drops and even herbal sleep remedies. The presentations yielded enchanting, revealing insights, both small and large.
Continuing the Journey
But here’s a surprise: my journey didn’t end there. Even though the contest happened more than a year ago, I continue to track. Inspired by that initial experiment, I continued researching ways I could track different aspects of my life. I tracked an array of categories, such as mood, music, activity and fitness, using countless websites and apps, including hanDBase, trackyourhappiness.org, Azumio, Gratitude Journal App, Fitness Buddy, Fitbit, Jawbone, Noom Coach and Basis Peak.
I’m addicted; I love it. I love the data. I love the insight. I eat better. I’m more active. I’m more aware of what makes me happy. I’m healthier. And I continue to explore new ways and new things to track. The apps that I have had for a long time keep improving. The wearable technology keeps advancing. And it all stays familiar to me, because I started tracking music and mood years ago with a basic customizable database app.
The really cool thing I’ve just now taken advantage of is the long view back. I can see two years into the past — to the day — and reflect upon the weather, music and mood I was experiencing. I can review my resting heart rate now as compared to last year. I can see if my sleep is as restful now as it was six months ago. It is incredibly empowering to be able to review data about myself from yesterday and two years ago.
I’m using the data to gain insight. And I’m using the insight to live better. Just like we can do for the patients we serve.