Self-Tracking for Self-Awareness
Self-quantification is the art of tracking yourself. We often use the term to refer to people who love their fitness trackers, with an aim to improve self-sensing, self-awareness, and human performance using personal data. But while this type of technology has made self-tracking easier, self-quantification is not a new phenomenon.
In 1726, at the age of 20, Benjamin Franklin was tracking what he considered to be the thirteen most important behaviors for a good life. He included attributes such as frugality, resolution, cleanliness, and industry.
One of the reasons for self-tracking is that it is key to knowing yourself. Are you unsure why you can’t say no to a piece of chocolate cake or a cigarette? Do you not really understand why some of the little things that your partner does pushes your buttons? Do you not understand why you don’t seem to have the energy to work towards your next big goal?
Self-tracking can help unravel these mysteries, giving you a clearer vision of yourself, and therefore also equip you with the tools you need to make changes.
In today’s article, we are going to look at exactly why self-tracking is so important to self-awareness. We will also look at the kinds of things that you should be tracking about yourself and why.
Read more about Self-Awareness at Personal Development Starts with Self-Awareness
The Challenge of Self-Awareness
How does a person truly come to know themselves?
Many people assume that knowing yourself is something innate. But the truth is, most of us don’t truly understand what makes us tick. We can see our habits and our emotional responses playing out in front of us, but we don’t really know what is going on beneath the surface to cause these things.
Understanding the hidden triggers and motivations that are at play is the key to self-awareness. When we gain this, we are better able to control ourselves, and better able to manage our relationships with others.
If you want to get to know yourself better, you will often be given advice such as spend time alone with your thoughts and engage in self-reflection through journaling. These are a great place to start, but they are not sufficient.
Why not? Human beings have a tendency to lie to themselves.
Researchers have conducted hundreds of studies in which they observe a person for a certain period of time, and then ask that person to self-report what that did.
More frequently than not, the person’s account of what they did in no way matches what the researcher observed.
Human beings are terrible at self-reporting. This is not because of dishonesty. Rather, we tend to recall things as we expected them to be, or as we wished them to be, rather than as they actually were.
Further, our mood at the time of reporting can significantly change how we recall what happened. If we feel good, we can dwell on the positive elements and forget some of the difficulties we encountered. If we are feeling down, our recollections take on a bleaker tone.
This means that often when we are self-reflecting, perhaps on how we performed at work this week or whether we stuck to a good diet, what we visualize in our minds does not match up with reality.
Self-Tracking for Self-Awareness
Self-tracking can help us recall our behavior with greater accuracy and see ourselves more clearly. This is because, rather than relying on recollections, we have hard data in front of us which is hard to dispute.
You can’t tell yourself that you took a healthy approach to movement this week if your fitness tracker tells you that you only went to the gym once and achieved less than 5,000 steps per day all week.
You can’t tell yourself that you had a productive week at work if your productivity tracker tells you that you spent 30 percent of your work hours responding to emails, another 30 percent in meetings, and only 10 percent of your work-week on substantial creative tasks.
Similarly, you can’t tell yourself that you haven’t made any progress and that you will never reach your dream of playing the guitar if your goal tracker tells you that you managed to practice for an hour a day this week.
Self-Tracking and the Hidden
But as well as keeping us honest and accountable, self-tracking can help us dive deep into ourselves and better understand the complex interplay of factors that are affecting us.
Take the example of someone who is trying to lose weight. They are keeping a detailed food diary so they can honestly say that they are sticking to a good diet during the week, but having the occasional cheat meal on the weekend. But while they wake up on Monday morning at a low weight, they seem to put on extra pounds during the week despite their good diet.
To gain better self-awareness of what is going on, they will need to expand their self-tracking beyond their food diary and changing weight, to other factors that impact their physical health. They should also be looking at their BMI (to measure changes in fat and muscle ratios), their exercise patterns, sleep patterns, stress levels, significant factors such as medication they might be taking, and maybe even daily mood and energy levels.
With this larger data set, our dieter will be able to see that, while they eat better during the week, they also sleep poorly and feel a significant amount of work-related stress. This can indicate to them that their weight issues may have less to do with diet, and more to do with stress, which is probably also affecting their sleep.
This detailed data might tell our same dieter that their afternoon cravings for chocolate are stronger when they have a carbohydrate-heavy lunch, suggesting that it is the result of a glucose crash rather than late afternoon stress as they had assumed.
Our dieter can leverage the power of “big data” to better see the hidden triggers and motivations that are having a huge impact on their behavior. With this information, they will be better able to control themselves and make the changes that they desire.
What to Track for Self-Awareness
While the value of self-tracking and having this big data-set about yourself might seem clear, knowing what to track is a different question. You can’t track everything, right? Otherwise, you won’t have time to do anything else.
While opinions vary, we think that the best advice is to track your physical health, mental and emotional well-being, finances, time, habits, and goals.
How we feel physically can have a huge impact on every part of our lives. If we are feeling run down, we don’t have the bandwidth to focus on the important things. Physical health tracking should be comprehensive, including weight, BMI, exercise, diet, sleep, and just how good we feel in our bodies day-to-day.
Fortunately, physical health is one of the easiest things to track and the fitness tracker industry is very advanced. There are lots of options out there that combine an activity and sleep tracker with a convenient app where you can quickly and easily record everything else.
Mental and Emotional Wellbeing
This is another way of saying “how we feel within ourselves”. Feeling down or stressed can have an enormous impact on our physical wellbeing, and make it difficult to perform in the other areas of our lives. It is also a fact that good things happen when you feel positive and good.
To monitor this type of wellbeing you should be tracking your stress level, mood, significant emotional events, medications, and how they make you feel, and so forth. The easiest way to do this is with a calendar or app which allows you to code how you are feeling, daily, or more frequently if that feels relevant to you.
Managing our finances is extremely important, as it can have a huge influence on our quality of life both in terms of providing things that we need, such as a place to call home, and in terms of stress. Surveys suggest that money is the biggest cause of stress among Americans.
Often we need to make adjustments to our spending habits in order to make more space in our budgets. But with direct debits, small contactless payments, and impulse buys, it is easy to lose track of where exactly your money is going. But again, there are many applications out there that can let you track and categorize every cent as you spend it, and then analyze exactly where your money is going.
For more, read: Why Financial Habits is Crucial to Success and Fulfilling Life
How many times have you told yourself that you want to do something, but you just don’t have the time? This is a common excuse, but the fact is, people always find the time when it is something that they really want to do, like watch the latest episode of their favorite series on Netflix.
Tracking exactly how you spend your time can help you realize exactly how much time you have, and how it could be redirected. It can also show you where you are wasting time, and should perhaps be delegating tasks.
If you match up when you do tasks with how productive or energetic you feel at certain times of day, you might also identify better ways to organize your time. For example, are you wasting your most productive and creative hours of the day responding to emails?
It is estimated that between 40 and 90 percent of what we do every day is habitual, things we do on autopilot without even thinking about it. Often we don’t even realize what we are doing until the action is basically done. This is a great evolutionary advantage, which allows us to automate regular tasks so that we have more bandwidth to deal with the harder things.
But while habits can be good, they can also be bad. And, because we do them subconsciously without thinking, they can also be hard to break. But changing our habits is one of the most fundamental ways of changing our lives. They say that losing weight is not just about going on a diet, it is about changing everything in your life to support the new you. In other words, changing your habit.
If you have a habit that you want to change, you should track when you do it, but also where you are and what was happening. This data, combined with all the other data that you are collecting about yourself, can help you identify what is triggering your habits.
To better understand habits and how they work read: A Strategic Approach to Building and Breaking Habits.
Finally, if you are working towards something specific, you need to track your progress on your way towards your goal. This can help keep you motivated, and also help you identify what is working and what isn’t, so that you can refine your strategy and work more intelligently towards your goals.
What you need to track for your goals depends on what you are trying to do, but there is probably a lot of overlap with what you are already tracking. Perhaps your goal is to develop a meditation practice. Everything that you are tracking about your physical and mental wellbeing, and the way you spend your time, will be relevant to this.
But if you are also trying to grow from five minutes of mediation per day to an hour, you will also want to track your daily progress, and any other factors that might influence how long you are able to maintain your meditative state. What is holding you back: is it physical discomfort, specific stressors, distractions in the home.
Bringing all of this information together, you will have the big data that you need to develop the best possible strategy for achieving your goal as quickly and effectively as possible.
Read more: Why Tracing Habits is the Key to Building Habits.
If you truly want to know yourself on a deeper level, and gain the kind of self-awareness that allows you to take control of your life, join the self-tracking evolution. Not only does self-tracking keep us honest when we are self-reflecting, but it can also help us see the unexpected things that are influencing our health, wellbeing, and outcomes.
Businesses have long talked about the power of big data for refining their mission statements and strategies and succeeding. You can leverage this same power on a personal level through self-tracking.
If you want to know yourself better, you can start with Habitify - an data-driven habit tracker which helps you form, remind and analyze your habits