How do you celebrate the data?

November 11, 2010

4419333352_3587c5c2d8_m.jpgWhen was the last time you stepped back and gave yourself credit for your data-driven work? In our busy lives it is easy to forget to celebrate our accomplishments. It’s especially true when what we’re doing is heavy, like working with a medical ailment or a relationship problem.

Fortunately, treating life as an experiment – including the essential observation and measurement tasks – offers natural opportunities to mark important personal events. In one sense, life distills down to a sequence of these events, so it’s a shame not to salute them regularly.

Here are some triggers you might use to kick off a celebration, either modest or grand. I’ve included in parenthesis some specific things to honor.

  • Starting an experiment (the courage of trying something new; the start of an adventure)
  • Finishing an experiment (the satisfaction of completion and achievement)
  • Realizing a self improvement (becoming more of yourself; strengthening character)
  • Getting a great result (the fruit of hard work)
  • Being surprised (the deliciousness of novelty; a chance to adjust mental models)
  • Experiencing beauty (the pricelessness of the moment)
  • Having the data talk to you (the joy of insight; a deeper understanding of the world)
  • Encountering the serendipitous (seeing seeds sprout; the unpredictability of life)
  • Moments of resiliency (the strengthening of your flexibility muscles)
  • Welcoming a new character in your life (the healthiness of an expanding social circle)
  • Making a goof (the boldness of being an amateur; the chance to laugh at mistakes)
  • Getting help from someone (the gift of collaborators)
  • Helping someone (the gratification of doing good)

And a couple of meta ones, which are thankfully guaranteed with every self-tracking effort:

  • Figuring something out (a tasty bit of learning)
  • Getting better at discovery (becoming more skilled at exploring the world)

How you celebrate depends on you and the event. It might be a little reward, a personal pat on the back, or sharing it with someone (even a quick IM – “Hey – guess what happened!”) A colleague suggests “bottling” the feeling and keeping a hold of it for quieter days. If you keep an experimenter’s journal, then record it there for when you need it. Or maybe just put something up on your “wall of fame” for a few days, like a good-looking graph of your data.

I’m curious: How do you celebrate your quantified self work? Any tips for triggering?

[Image from x-ray delta one]

(Matt is a terminally-curious ex-NASA engineer and avid self-experimenter. His projects include developing the Think, Try, Learn philosophy, creating the Edison experimenter’s journal, and writing at his blog, The Experiment-Driven Life. Give him a holler at matt@matthewcornell.org)

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