A Futurist’s Take on Self-Tracking and Mindfulness

I’ve been thinking for some time about the connection between self-tracking and mindfulness. At first glance they seem to be very different – picture the wired-up gadget wizard sitting next to the unadorned meditating guru. But step to the side and look from a different angle, and you may see meditation and self-tracking as two parallel tools that lead down the same path toward mindfulness.

While these thoughts were swirling through my mind, I got an email from Alex Pang. Alex is a futurist currently housed at Microsoft Research Cambridge, where he is studying the relationship between self-tracking/self-experimentation and mindfulness in a project he calls “contemplative computing”. Wow. Alex just finished writing an article on this topic, using his own experience with weight loss as an example, and delving both into the past and into the future to come to some interesting conclusions. His paper is available here, and I’d love to know if anyone else out there has been thinking about this connection as well.

Maybe the modern-day version of the gong and the meditation cushion are the self-tracking app and the device that runs it?

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8 Responses to A Futurist’s Take on Self-Tracking and Mindfulness

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention A Futurist’s Take on Self-Tracking and Mindfulness | Quantified Self -- Topsy.com

  2. Joost Plattel says:

    I just saw a documentary about mindfullness and how our brains work when we are daydreaming… Highly interesting and related to this, but sadly only available in dutch…

    It turns out that people that use mindfulness or any other type of meditation methods are more capable of controlling specific regions of their brains. It also seems to relate to brain diseases or depressions and the prevention of those.

    The big question for me before starting to venture into mindfulness, can it be quantified and do you want to?

  3. Linda says:

    Thanks for this, Alex! I started talking and writing about Conscious Computing http://ow.ly/3o5Ky last summer. Great to see that there are synergies in thinking! With quantified self, _what_ we choose to measure can support (or not) autonomic regulation. For example, HRV data is very valuable — let’s us know when we’re in fight or flight chronically, or not. I’m of the mind that no one attention strategy trumps all others — each is good for something, be it full focus attention or wandering mind or a relaxed, at ease state, etc.

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  5. Chris Thiessen says:

    An interesting link. Unfortunately, self-tracking can’t get you to transcendental experiences. Meditation sure can.

  6. Certainly you could track the amount of time you spend meditating or practicing in-the-moment mindfulness. I’m not sure this would add any value whatsoever. Tracking statistics on an activity does not in and of itself improve anything. I can track how many bowel movements I have in a day, but that’s not going to make me more regular!

  7. Helen says:

    Some self tracking techniques, in particular the Pomodoro time tracking method, feel a lot like Zen ‘mindful work’ practice. Focused work is regarded as spiritual practice; for example, raking sand in a Japanese temple garden is both ‘work’ and ‘meditation’. With Pomodoro, you decide to focus on just one task for 25 minutes – very similar to ‘mindful work’.Pomodoro also asks you to note down any interruptions, whether external interruptions or internal, self-generated interruptions (i.e. I’ll just quickly check my email) and after noting the interruption, to consciously put the thought aside till the 25 minute time block is up. This is a LOT like meditation, where one notes the ‘monkey mind’ chatter but try and just put it aside until the meditation is over.

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