Tracking over Time
diet and weight loss | social life & social media
Steve Dean discusses what he's learned from tracking different aspects of his life for over a decade. Twenty years ago, while getting his MFA in graduate school, he did an archaeological dig on himself and expressed it through various forms and objects he made. In this talk, Steve shares his mixture of self-disclosure, self-revelation, and lots of self-doubt throughout his journey.
Okay, so I was introduced to Quantified Self through Seth’s blog, Seth Roberts blog that will talk about later today, and I went to the second meet up, which was at the Institute for the Future, and watching and listening to the stories I had a lot of identification related to a lot of the stories, and I told Kevin and Gary that I would be thrilled and honored to start a QS meet up much like they were doing in the San Francisco area in New York.
So thank you for asking me to speak today about this practice, and I’m going to spend this time telling you a story.
So about 20 years ago, I was in graduate school, art and design school, getting an MFA, and I was making a lot of objects that has very strong autobiographical components to them. Some of those I understood, but many of them I did not.
So I spent a lot of time in school doing a kind of archaeological dig on myself, and then expressed it through these various forms and objects that I made; I was getting an MFA in furniture.
It was very intense and personal work for me, and it was a mix of self-disclosure and self-revelation, but lots of lots of self-doubt. I experienced a whole range of emotions during this time, and these led to good feelings, but a lot of bad feelings, a lot of worry, a lot of anxiety. A lot of obsessive thoughts, and essentially a really tough time talking about the work, talking about what I was experiencing and let alone really feeling. So I asked for help.
So I saw a psychiatrist and she diagnosed me and prescribed medication. And then for every week for a year, I saw her and in these weekly sessions she asked me about the same 30 or so questions every week. She would say something like this, in the last seven days, how much time did you spend thinking about x, y, or z. And how much time in the last seven days, did you spend doing a, b, or c.
So every week for a year, we tracked together answers to find out if this particular medication was working or not. 12 months later, I really didn’t feel as if I had a better sense of myself, what was causing these thoughts, my reaction to things, my worry and anxiety. Except to the degree of which this medication helped.
And the conclusion from the doctor was essentially that there was a slight improvement. I thought a little bit less about x, y, and z, and I spent a little less time on a, b, and c. So that’s how I got started.
I was essentially trying to get a better sense of myself from counting things around my thoughts and activities. But what I really learned was less about my sense of self, and much more about the effectiveness of this treatment and medication, and I was very dissatisfied.
But at this point I had to observations; first, I had realized I had a really deep curiosity around why I behaved in certain ways. Why some things in the world would set me off, and essentially trying to become more and more conscious of my patterns, and my drives and essentially my sense of self.
And second, I now had a sense that tracking things over time seemed important somehow, I didn’t know yet, but to know whether or not I was improving or not towards some kind of goal outcome. But then something really unusual and unexpected happened, I gained a lot of weight suddenly. And the reasons for that are not as important as to how I handled it. I was devastated. For the first time I became aware that my body could break, and in my mind and I saw a 30 pound weight gain as essentially a breakdown of my own body. And this was for the first time in my life; I was faced with needing to change something about my physical body. This was new for me, and I had lots of questions.
How did I gained so much weight? How do I keep from gaining more? And how do I get back to my original weight?
But more importantly, what was all of these feelings that I had about this, and I wasn’t ready to face it. So I set about on a journey the way a lot of people do. I went on a diet, and the body weight scale, what I like to think about as the first QS device made its way into my life.
And when I stand on a scale, it’s a confirmation of what will essentially be a fact. I gained a pound or two or five in the first week or so, and the immediate confrontation with this number, the body weight, my body weight was a sense of myself that actually gains weight. And with that confirmation I would ask myself, am I able to have an internal conversation with that sense of myself that put on weight? Or do live, essentially have a shutdown relationship with that part of myself that gains weight? And I experienced both of these.
And this is where I feel having a sense of self and in a language of self-hood become truly important to the process of tracking and recording my weight over time. So I eventually lost the weight about 15 years ago and I have had to remain very vigilant ever since. I don’t maintain a practice of weighing myself every day or every week. But when I know I am gaining weight I will avoid getting on the scales.
I have this internal conversation that I know that I have gained weight. I already feel bad about it and I don’t need another source reminding of that. So I avoid the scale, until I make myself. And when I make myself I know immediately a number of things. It’s going to be open, I know I’m not going to like the number that I see. I’m going to feel bad about myself initially, and it then takes me a period of time to internalize the fact; the actual number, and then ultimately I’m glad I did it. I confronted myself, and then I go about the business of doing what I need to do. Eating fewer carbs, not eating late at night, getting more exercise.
So tracking has always seemed essential to tracking my behaviour, but having a self-sense of myself to actually internalize the facts that come from tracking seems really important to me, and I think maybe essential to long-term change.
So I’ve learned the value of whole emotional response to getting the number off the scale, and have developed to some degree, the emotional capacity to make myself look at the fact, and then to let myself have a feeling about that.
So over the years I’ve done this with my weight, with spending, with exercise, with online distractions and so on. So I start tracking to get at the facts. And then, depending on where I am with that sense of myself in relation to that fact, the amount of weight that I have gained, the amount of money that I spent, the amount of time distracted and so on, I may have a shutdown relationship with that part of self, deny it, ignore it or find a way to soothe over any pain associated with it. Or, I set up internalizing the fact, relating it to that sense of myself that gains weight, spends too much, that gets distracted. And that leads to an internal conversation with myself, where I let myself have a full emotional response to the facts. Let myself have the feelings, and ultimately it leads to self-knowledge.