Quantifying Myself

December 13, 2008

As Gary mentioned in his earlier post, I track myself – 40 things about my body, mind, and activity – every day. The fact that I do this tracking seems to interest people. Whether they are driven by curiosity about the phenomenon of personal data collection, or by the desire for a yardstick by which to measure and compare themselves, the fascination exists. To address this interest, and by way of introducing myself as a hopefully regular guest blogger at The Quantified Self, I have put together a FAQ about my personal tracking. Read on and you’ll probably know more about me than you ever wanted to know.

What data do I collect?
As you may have seen on my QS wiki profile, I track these things about my health and personal patterns every day:

AC Tracking.png

– sleep (bed time, wake time, sleep quality, naps)
– morning weight
– daily caloric intake (each meal, total calculated at end of day)
– mealtimes

– mood (average of 3 positive and 3 negative factors on 0-5 scale)
– day of menstrual cycle
– sex (quantity, quality)
– exercise (duration, type)

– supplements I take (time, dosage)
– treatments for vulvodynia (a chronic pain condition)
– pain of administering the vulvodynia treatment I take (0-5)
– vulvodynia-related pain (0-5)
– headache,nausea (0-5)

– time spent working, time with kids
– number of nursings and night wakings (I’m a mom)
– weather
– unusual events (text)

The mood factors I measure every day are:
   1. Happiness
   2. Irritability
   3. Calmness
   4. Sadness
   5. Feeling beautiful / self-love
   6. Feeling fat / ate too much

I chose these emotions as the most common ones I feel on a daily basis. I
rate each one from 0-5 and then calculate my overall mood = 1 – 2 + 3 –
4 + 5 – 6.

When did I start this data collection?
4 months ago, August 2008.

How do I track?
I started out using the spreadsheet application in Google Docs, and I’m slowly transitioning to using CureTogether’s tracking features (more on that below). I record nighttime data and morning weight when I wake up, and the rest of the day’s data in the evening before I go to bed. I keep track of my per-meal calories on scraps of paper by the calendar in my kitchen. The three charts I pay the most attention to are shown above. There was a week when we were on vacation and I didn’t record any data – it’s obvious on the chart as an unusually smooth part of the line.

What have I learned from collecting data about myself?
I found two interesting trends or patterns in my data, one of which surprised me. The first trend was that my mood went up significantly on days that I did more exercise. My highest mood days were during Tai Chi workshop weekends, when I did 5-6 hours of Tai Chi each day. The second, more surprising one for me was that on days when my mood was down, I ate a lot more – up to 3,170 calories one day instead of my usual average of about 2,050! This suggested to me that I use eating to process emotional upsets, which I always knew subconsciously but had never been forced to face.

With the chart in front of me, I clearly saw things about myself that I had turned a blind eye to before. I realized my relationship with food could use some work, so I started trying to observe and change my thought patterns. I’ve taken up journaling and crochet again as a way to process my emotions. I’m also working through a great book to help restore a positive body image, something I haven’t had since I was 10 years old. And in digging through the research on body image, it’s been a relief to discover that I’m not alone. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 80% of American women are dissatisfied with their appearance. My guess is that statistic is an underestimate.

I hadn’t expected my tracking to unearth such deep, emotionally charged issues. I did expect the optimization which often accompanies tracking, but when striving for an optimized ideal, the question becomes how to decide what “ideal” means. I just don’t have an intuitive sense of what the data “should” look like. Are such wild swings in caloric intake normal? What do other people’s patterns of mood, sleep, and exercise look like? I’d love to see some kind of comparable, to get some sense of where my patterns fit on the distribution curve. Part of my motivation in sharing my data is to encourage others to do the same. Let’s learn from each other!

Why did I start tracking myself?
It came out of the CureTogether project I’m working on, which my co-founder Daniel Reda presented at the most recent Quantified Self Show & Tell on Tuesday. We launched in July as a way to bring patients with 3 chronic conditions together to share their symptoms and treatments with each other and contribute their data to crowdsourced health research. It quickly expanded to 148 conditions, all suggested by members. It’s amazing to me to see people checking off symptoms and treatments they’ve experienced and tried, keeping daily Twitter-like logs of their health, and starting to track basic things like weight, sleep, caloric intake, and exercise.

I started tracking so I could see first-hand what it’s like, what is frustrating, what can be learned, what I felt most comfortable sharing (sleep, medications, mood) and what I was more reluctant to share (caloric intake, chronic pain, how often I have sex). I wanted to learn about myself and at the same time figure out how to make the process easy and fun for others. I realized from my own experience that unexpected discoveries can emerge from self-tracking, so I’m very interested to see what happens when a large enough group gets together to track and compare with each other.

How long will I keep tracking?
The short answer: As long as it’s not impacting my enjoyment of life.
The slightly longer answer: As my Dad always says, “I don’t like to throw anything out because I never know when I’m going to need it.” While I disagree when it comes to accumulation of material things, I agree when it comes to data. I think it’s wise to collect as much information as we can and figure out what to do with it later.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this somewhat narcissistic dive into my world. I look forward to hearing from you about your tracking projects and comparing notes. And if Kevin and Gary will have me, I’ll be posting here again soon! Thanks for reading. 🙂

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