How to Use Quantified Self Strategies to Improve Your Life

"Quantified Self" is a movement that has emerged to counteract taking a distracted, haphazard approach to everything in life, instead encouraging you to focus squarely on achieving the things that matter to you. Rather than getting caught up in just getting through each day any which way, the Quantified Self uses various self-tracking methods to "quantify" your approach to your life and goals, often helping you to see where things are changing (or need to change) to improve your life. Quantified Self makes use of a variety of methods that have been proven to be effective at tracking nearly anything ranging from work and exercise to sleep, mood, weight and even energy usage. Whether you prefer pen and paper, phone apps, online tracking devices or charts, graphs and lists, using the Quantified Self approach can be a productive and enjoyable way for you to track progress surrounding your professional and personal endeavors.


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    Consider whether you're already self-tracking in some part of your life. Many of us self-track in certain parts of our lives without necessarily equating it with the concept of "self-tracking." For example, runners and walkers who wear step monitoring equipment to measure how far they're running or walking are self-tracking. Even people who keep a journal to gain control over emotions and to self-explain events in life are self-tracking because they're able to review emotions and feelings from the past and gauge these against the way they are in the present. Self-tracking is a good way of setting goals, measuring their progress, and meeting them with certifiable points through the process that can help motivate, invigorate, and ultimately bring you to congratulate yourself. If you're already doing some form of self-tracking, you're going to find it even easier to increase your use of it to other areas of your life.
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    Identify a specific goal you’d like to track. Before you decide to track anything, consider if it’s worth your time, effort and be sure that it's what you truly wish to achieve. Of course, nearly anything in life can be tracked, even moods or thoughts; whatever you choose, it should be something that will truly enhance and improve your life. It could be something you’d like to improve, change or remove from your life. Then, if tracking this goal works for you, you can try additional goals later. In deciding on a goal, here is some guidance:
    • Consider a project or goal that is important to you but you've failed to make headway or progress in pursuing it consistently. For example, have you been trying to lose weight since New Year’s Eve or have you tried every remedy to rid your body of a newly acquired allergy but you've found yourself making little progress? Perhaps you're concerned that your efforts to getting promoted aren't bearing fruit or maybe you'd like to catch and stop negative thought processes. Whatever it is, choose something that really matters to you now.
    • Another way to identify a goal is to follow something that inspires you but that you haven't yet managed to launch. Do you want to go vegan, lower your carbon footprint, volunteer regularly or turn your garden into a completely edible one? Being inspired to make changes is another great source of a goal to apply self-tracking to.
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    Determine the way in which tracking your chosen goal will impact your life. What would happen if you lost weight or finally cleaned out the garage? Whatever your goal, imagine what your life would be like once you’ve reached it. Visualizing the outcome will help to provide you with additional motivation, as well as giving you clarity on the benefits involved in sticking with it.
    • Decide what you ultimately want to result from tracking this goal. Although you have a goal such as “lose 20 pounds” or “improve endurance while running”, what is the ultimate result? Is it being able to ask out a guy you’ve had your eye on for years, but have been too shy because of your weight? Or is your goal being able to regain a healthy lifestyle so you can play with your kids or have the endurance to keep up with the rest of your family? Perhaps your goal is to identify whether eating healthily shows a drop in cholesterol rates. Whatever your goal, a deep motivation will help you to stick to achieving the goal and help you to integrate the regular tracking into your everyday life.
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    Examine both the main goal and surrounding influences. Before you can determine how you will track this goal, you need to break down your goal’s features and anything that directly influences or impacts achievement of this goal. To help you analyze these variables, here is some guidance:
    • What are the individual components of your main goal? Although the main goal could be the same for many people, factors that influence how you will achieve that goal may differ markedly from how another person would approach achieving it. For example, say you want to lose weight. Which components do you see as necessary for losing weight––for you in particular? You might find that a certain type of exercise is an important part of your weight loss plan, while someone else with a similar goal might prefer to focus mainly on restriction of calories from sugar. Each main goal has a unique set of circumstances surrounding it and it's vital to establish which ones resonate best with you so that you can stay focused on the goal.
    • What surrounding variables (influences) will factor into your tracking? For example, say you wanted to improve lung function. You might consider exercise an important main factor but then also find relaxation exercises and yoga to be additional useful influences. You will also find that if you're smoking, this is a negative influence that needs to be given up to achieve your goal. Another example might be poor sleep. When you measure your diet, exercise, workplace tension, alcohol intake and vitamin pills, you might discover that the bad influence is the alcohol intake and realize that this negative influence needs to be minimized or removed in order to achieve your better sleeping goal. In addition, you might find that adding a glass of warm milk before bedtime eases your pathway to sleep, making this a positive influence.
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    Explore which tracking system will work well for your goal and lifestyle. Although there are numerous ways to track your progress, not every tracking method will be applicable to your particular project and lifestyle. You'll need to take into account numerous factors, such as how you spend your day (at the office or outside) and what kind of access you have to your tracker (on-the-go or only when at a particular place). Fairly typical tracking systems used by followers of the Quantified Self movement include:
    • Online trackers or mobile apps. These are great if you love taking your phone or digital device everywhere, even to exercise activities or outings. Instant input can serve as a great motivator because it feels like you're doing something now that is showing immediate tracked results (even if the real time results are rather slower). It's about feeling like you're achieving something and doing something about it. You could use either a site like Digifit (exercise) or Moodscope (moods) online or find suitable apps, whichever you prefer to use on-the-go. The Quantified Self site has lots of suggestions at:
      • Some online trackers include an interactive element that lets you stay connected with other users. This can be both fun and motivating because others can see and share or comment on your data and progress, and you can do likewise with their data. Of course, using this interactive aspect is entirely up to you––the term for being as open as possible with your data is "data nudist", and you'll need to consider the ramifications of being so open on your personal privacy. However, for many self-trackers, the whole purpose of self-tracking is to keep records open and online, so that others can help spot connections/issues in your data and encourage continued progress.
      • Some people begin self-tracking with a public contract placed on Twitter, Facebook and other social media so that others know you're pursuing a goal and can encourage you. This openness about your goal can be helpful in motivating you, as well as inspiring others.
    • Pen and paper. For many people there is a sense of satisfaction in writing down results by hand. Again, this is a fairly portable method that can be done anywhere, including when out of the reach of cellphone towers or electricity, making it useful if you're likely to go back country or simply leave the electronic devices at home. With this method, you simply write down the data and/or observations each day, then reflect over or tally the totals each evening.
    • Graphs and charts. This method is great if you love data to reveal itself visually; it's also great for the mathematically or statistically inclined tracker. This method can be either manual or electronic, with software such as Excel or Google Docs being useful for digital graphs and charts. This method is good for tracking facts and figures, making comparisons and seeing whether there are notable changes in particular health conditions, such as cholesterol or panic attacks.
    • Lists. If you are a list-maker, using lists to track goals can work well. As a bonus, if you are keeping a blog or other socially interactive online record of achieving your goals, then lists are an enjoyable and easy way for readers to learn about your progress.
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    Commit to track your goal for a certain amount of time. Clearly, tracking your progress for only a few days and then giving up because nothing seems to have improved won’t help you achieve your goal. For most goals, a period of time is needed before you start to see results and by setting a reasonable time period in advance, you give yourself the parameters by which to analyze your progress. There is also another side to this––knowing that there is an end date can be useful if you're trying something for the first time and you're not sure if it's going to work for you, such as going vegan. The end date provides motivation to at least get there before deciding something does or does not work for you.
    • Start by estimating how long it will likely take to see results. Be realistic and be reasonable when making estimations and leave margins for error. For example, if you want to lose 20 pounds and losing two pounds per week is considered to be an average amount, determine how long it should take you to lose all the weight, including any special holiday or similar events that might trip you up now and then. Also, remember that nobody is average, so you need to also define your time according to your self-knowledge.
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    Find a buddy. You don't need to do this step but it can help if you need the motivation or if what you're doing is something that will have an impact on others in the household (or where their "as-usual" activities will impact the changing you). For example, if you've decided to go paleo, having another household member invested in trying this diet may make it easier and more affordable for you to stick with the change. Or perhaps you've decided to go jogging every morning at 5am––a jogging buddy can serve as motivation and safety-in-numbers for you.
    • Explaining what you're doing to others can be helped if someone else is doing the goal with you.
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    Test drive your tracking method for a defined number of days, weeks or months to determine if it is the right fit. You may not be completely sold on your method of tracking, especially if this is your first time using the app or method. Commit to try the tracker for at least a week to discover additional functionality or components.
    • If you are tracking your progress manually, try other methods such as writing results or tracking data on a white board in your office or posting your tracker in a convenient location such as your refrigerator or on the back of your bedroom door.
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    Be flexible with your tracking method and be open to making adjustments along the way. Perhaps you didn’t consider a surrounding variable or maybe you should be measuring goals differently. If your tracking method appears to be somewhat “off”, consider making adjustments and updating your methods.
    • Acknowledge that there will be challenges and seek ways to overcome them. For example, changing your diet can be hard because of old eating habits, while deciding to exercise more frequently can be hard if you feel as if you're having to eat into time when you'd normally be doing something else. In every case, you'll need to weigh up what is most important and make space for it, as well as giving yourself the chance to make this work.
    • If one element of your goal proves to be unsustainable, such as uploading daily photos of your progress, reconsider that element rather than the whole goal. Don't confuse the laborious nature of some aspects of your goal with the entire goal––if you've chosen certain ways of achieving the goal that simply cause you to yawn or run in the other direction, shift these out and replace them with something much more motivating. In some cases, you may not even need to keep including this element at all.


  • Make sure that you're well informed. Being misinformed about what you're doing can lead to a lack of motivation, inaccurate implementation and generally put you off continuing to try. Do your research, read books and websites, talk to people who have already achieved the goal you're seeking and seek additional information from experts, where relevant.
  • Keep your eye on the prize. If you become de-motivated, look back to previous days or weeks to remind yourself how far you’ve come.
  • Websites such as PatientsLikeMe and CureTogether have allowed patients to share stories and information that have provided insight and strategies to others, making their lives easier during treatment.
  • Don't just focus on your personal self––you can use sites like Wattson to record your energy consumption for the greater good of both your wallet and energy efficiency to help the planet. If you keep records publicly, you might be shamed into conserving more power!
  • Celebrate victories and goal achievement. Share your accomplishment with others who understand the importance of this goal and revel in the fact that you finally reached it.
  • Consider tracking the “aftermath” of reaching the goal. For example, if weight loss was your goal, you could track maintenance or possibly muscle building if you began a new exercise program.
  • If you're tracking health data, you may need your doctor's input or help both in forming the tracking method and in reviewing the results at set points. Discuss this directly with your doctor or specialist.
  • One example of using Quantified Self strategies to greatly improve life is that of a student from Berlin suffering from spinal condition––he was able to improve his lung function by 30 percent by using a tracking device to measure his breathing.[1]
  • It's recommended that you check out some of the videos of people who have undertaken self tracking (on The Quantified Self site), as these will give you real life inspiration of what people have already done. Watching what other people have used self-tracking for can also open up your understanding as to the breadth of its application.


  • You might get sick of logging things. If you find this to be the case, look at what you can do in a shortcut form but still record adequate information to help you reach your goal. It may also be the case that you're ready to downshift the amount of information being recorded once you're more familiar with how to reach your goal.
  • On occasion, self-trackers have been called obsessive, narcissistic or self-absorbed. Be careful you're not teetering into being overly preoccupied with yourself! Moreover, if data collection turns obsessive and stops you living a fulfilled life, you'll need to reassess its worth to you. If the data starts driving what you do each day, be sure to take care to stop this encroachment.
  • While sharing data can be helpful, be cautious about what you share and how much information (such as personal data) you share with others online. Be aware that people who have access to your personal data include government investigators, private detectives and anyone in your life with an ax to grind. (Although, to allay unnecessary fearfulness, you may want to read about the experience of Hasan M Elahi, who started compiling data on his entire life (meals, financial statements, airport movements, etc.) on a website to show the F.B.I. that he had nothing to hide after turning (unfairly) into a suspect of theirs.[2] Sometimes the best approach is to stop fearing and start sharing.)
  • Sharing data can leave you open to unfair and unwarranted criticism from unsupportive or jealous people. You may wish to consider keeping your circle of caring supporters small or at least identifiable friends. On the other hand, don't be too dismissive of social media––it can keep you honest and be a great source of encouragement.

Things You'll Need

  • Data recording options, from spreadsheets to apps, or a notebook and pen
  • Set goals

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