In the time it takes you to read this sentence, you’ll have generated it: data. You may have fidgeted in your chair, sipped a coffee, or ignored an incoming text. Tracking those actions over time helps paint a surprisingly rich picture of how your actions affect your health.
What's a Quantified Selfer?
Wearable fitness devices and the apps associated with them are the way most people these days track info about exercising, eating, mood, and more. Some people are particularly intent on capturing data -- a lot of data -- from each day. These power users of personal tracking devices are often called "quantified selfers," or QSers, for short. Their activities are sometimes called “life logging” or “systematized self-help.”
QSers aren't as rare as you may think. New data from the Pew Research Center show that 70% of us are tracking some aspect of our health, whether we’re using a cutting-edge technology like a Basis watch, BodyMedia FIT, Fitbit Flex, Jawbone UP, or Lark sleep monitor, or old-fashioned pen and paper.
What You Gain From Your Personal Data
Fidgeting in your chair might not mean much on its own. But it's a different story when you’re wearing an activity tracker. These fitness devices measure your movements as long as you wear them and translate them into data, like calories burned.
When you monitor your movement over time, you see how truly active you are. You can use your numbers to help you decide if you need to exercise more. And you can see how the adjustments you make affect your stats, like how many calories you burn when you take the stairs instead of the elevator.
You can track and use data about what you eat in the same way. Keeping a food journal on an app or on paper shows you the cups of coffee you drink added together. When you see all those coffee cups checked off, you get new insight about your caffeine fix. Suddenly, your jitters, midday energy dip, or late night insomnia might make more sense, and you can adjust your habits accordingly.
Another helpful piece of personal info you can track is your mood. If you’re having a stressful day, bombarded with texts and demands, some trackers can turn changes in your pulse or breathing patterns into meaningful data. When you look at your stats for a week or so, you can start to identify the situations and times of day that are the most challenging. Then, you can use that new insight to adjust your work habits or how you spend your down time (yoga, anyone?).
Intriguing, isn't it? It's not hard to see why some people get obsessed with personal data.
How Data Can Improve Your Health
It’s tempting to think that all you need to do is track to stay healthy. But as any veteran quantified selfer will tell you, to maximize your experience, you need to ask questions and set goals.
If you want to exercise more to help you lose weight, fitness tracking may be for you. One way you can make tracking work for you is to set a goal for how many calories you want to burn. For instance, if you increase the calories you burn by 200 a day, by the end of the week you'll have burned 1,400 calories -- almost half a pound's worth.
Once you have a goal, you can test your approach. See if working out in the morning helps your endurance, for instance. To evaluate that, see if you can work out longer before you feel tired. You can look at your whole workout time or part of it. It could be you can swim more laps before you need a breather. Or you haul yourself further up the big hill before you slow down. A longer workout should burn more calories.
If you like what you’re seeing, build on it. And as you succeed, find a community where you can log progress and post status reports.
It’s no wonder some experts view the tracking movement as an example of behavior psychology at its most positive. It helps you know what’s benefitting you and what isn’t. Tracking directs you on what to work on.
Whether you choose to skim the surface of this trend or go all in for the QS-ing life, happy data tracking!