The series of graphs and figures above is taken from my Fitbit dashboard. Using Fitbit, I have maintained a two-year record of my daily energy expenditure, weight (including fat percentage) and sleep efficiency. More recently I have been able to add my resting heart rate to this data. Coupled with yearly blood tests, I can plot trends and changes in my health biomarkers over time. And this is just the start. I have no doubt that in years to come my current device will be able to track far more biomarkers such as blood pressure. Welcome to the quantified self-movement: self-monitoring for self-improvement.
I have long been a big believer in rigorous self-monitoring to achieve optimal performance. As a child I was slightly overweight. With no diet knowledge I simply learned the concept of calorie counting (using a Weight Watcher’s calorie book!) and by 13 the weight had gone. At high school, I was a keen golfer and would record all my game stats, such as fairways hit, putts taken, up and downs, and the like, to refine my game. I would meticulously study the numbers to see where I needed to focus to shave that extra shot off my game. At university, I switched to weightlifting and bodybuilding and still have my training diaries from the 90’s noting weights, sets and rest times for most sessions.
Up until recently quantifying improvement been an arduous task. All the aforementioned activities, such as golf and weightlifting, were all recorded by hand and trends drawn up using primitive spreadsheets. Now the task of self-quantification is fully automated. The results tracked above happen, in most cases, without my knowledge.
Quantifying self does not have to stop with body metrics and sporting endeavours. When working I use time-sheeting to ensure that I track my efficiency and productivity. Likewise I use apps like RescueTime to track how long I spend on computer related activities. Through quantifying these activities, I have been able to work out my optimal working time and avoid drifting into non-productive periods. This also forces me to look for ways to be extra efficient; looking to see how technological aids can decrease times for non-productive work activities.
This is not to say that all my time is scheduled to the minute. On the contrary, by quantifying my time I have begun to understand how my body and brain best function and I act on this feedback constantly. If I need to have downtime (often indicated by an increased rest heart rate) I’m far more aware of it than would previously have been the case. The result is that I optimise both my productive and unproductive time so as to have (or at least aim to have) a full and relaxed life.
Moreover, as an executive coach, it is vital that I practice what I preach. I’m a strong believer that, where appropriate, I cannot demand from my coachees what I myself are not willing to commit to. The foundation of my coaching, and my Doctorate, was on goal states based around mental images of oneself in the future. Achieving these goals was very much tied to measurement of regular and steady improvement toward an idealised-self. That measurement is now become a lot easier!
Quantification of self is certainly not for everybody. I know people that are uncomfortable with the idea. However, for both maximising productivity as well as health, I think there is little downside. This is something that has become a core part of my coaching approach and many of my coachees continue the practice well past their time with me. If you are looking for that boost to your performance, I strongly suggest you give the quantified-self a try. The numbers may be just the thing you need to reach your goals.
For those interested in such things the reading above is taken on a Sunday; a day that I catch up on sleep! Also, the bodyfat % reading is not accurate. This fluctuates depending on water levels. To get a truly accurate measure you need a Dexa body scan. This is also part of my yearly check, done in Australia and the real % (taken 7/3/2016), including my head, is 10.5%.