Quantify Yourself in 2016

Photo by Intel Free Press via Flickr

This year, I bought myself a Jawbone UP4 for Christmas. I’ve already learned a lot about myself; I don’t enter REM sleep until early in the morning, I don’t get nearly as many steps throughout the day as I thought, and a dashboard of health statistics can keep me occupied for hours.

The quantified self movement is all about learning from patterns in data about an individual, usually with the goal of taking control of seemingly uncontrollable variables. These aren’t just jocks looking at their calorie burn statistics. Many qualified self-ers are monitoring diseases to gain an advantage in their treatment.

When I became a vegetarian, I learned the value of diet tracking because I had no idea whether my nutrition was still balanced. I had the data to support me when concerned family members politely asked, “Do you get enough protein?”

The recommended amount of protein for me each day is 60 grams. As you can see, I started low and learned as I went.

If you can think of something in your life that you’d like to change, or a resolution to keep, data may be the key to greater impact in 2016. But first, there are a few things to consider as you plan to quantify your self.

Don’t try to track everything

Most things that can be tracked still have to be recorded manually, and that takes a lot of time. Some things, like steps and sleep cycles, can be tracked automatically, but nothing yet exists to automatically and reliably track food, work productivity, or cognition. Tracking everything that can be tracked provides a lot of variables that can complicate straightforward analysis, and it takes a lot of time. An efficient strategy starts with tracking only what is most relevant to your goals.

Interrogate your data

Once you know what data you have on hand, decide which questions you can ask of it. Forming a hypothesis is the first step for even the most basic data analysis projects, because every step that follows depends on understanding which data must be complete, into what categories to group observations, and what analysis tools will be needed later on.

Track some things for free, offline

Journaling is a self-quantifying practice as old as pens. No need to spend money or put your data online if you are tracking something that can be recorded on paper or in a spreadsheet. Simple things that don’t need complicated analysis are wake-up times, run distances, and number of glasses of water consumed during the day. Another advantage of offline tracking is that the data is unlikely to end up in anywhere without your permission.

What you track dictates how to track it

Some things need only be tracked once in a long period of time because they change slowly, such as testing for microbiome diversity. Others can only be effectively tracked with many snapshots over time, because viewing it once does not reveal anything valuable, like resting heart rate. General figures on sleep, like bedtime and wake-up time, can be recorded while conscious, but more detailed information about restlessness and sleep cycle require a device that is on while you sleep.

Consider privacy for you and others

The obvious subject to consider when tracking is whether it creates too much information entrusted to strangers. You may also end up tracking others when you map your work day with GPS or photograph your social events. This is the time to read privacy policies and manage your data settings, for your sake and for others.

What are you going to do with all that data? You may also discover a need for analysis tools that can visualize patterns smoothly. Stay tuned for updates on how Popily can enhance your quantified self game.