Someone who is obsessed with how many grams of protein they consume, how many hours they sleep a night, or how much they can bench press can quickly become annoying — especially when they insist on sharing that information with us. Broadcasting such information on social networks is even more of a faux-pas (polluting the stream). I don’t care how many miles you ran this week, and neither does anyone else.
What’s behind our nation’s self-quantification fad — especially among the tech elite? It’s a combination of:
- Ubiquity of user-friendly tracking systems. Spreadsheets, on-line health tracking sites, iPhone apps, etc.
- New user-friendly tech for recording and measuring physio stats — including heart rate, hours of REM and Stage IV sleep, blood pressure, blood sugar, body fat, vitamin levels, etc. What what once only possible at the doctor’s office or a diagnostic lab is now available at home or easily ordered online.
- Younger generations (Gen X and younger) that have been raised with an individualistic orientation, and are generally more focused on “I” than on “we.”
I’m not against self-quantification in general. I think it can be useful for fixing something that’s broken, or making progress towards a specific goal, or for generally improving health or productivity.
The main problem with self-quantification is that the people who need it least do it the most, and the people who need it the most don’t do it all. The hyper-fit know exactly how much they’ve exercised in a given week, and which nutrients they’ve consumed in what quantities. The rich know how much their net worth has increased. Productive writers know how many words they’ve written. People who are interested in a certain area tend to measure it and track it (and excel in it).
We’re least likely to measure and track areas where we don’t shine. This could be because we value that area less, or because we know we don’t excel in that area, or some combination. If you don’t think money is important, maybe you don’t track how much you earn or spend. Same thing for health, or productivity. Maybe we don’t want to face the truth, so we don’t step on the scale, or count how many words we write every week.
When we obsessively track parameters in our strongest areas, we veer into narcissistic territory, with ever-diminishing returns. On the other hand, if we start to measure and gather data in our weakest areas, we can potentially pick the low hanging fruit, making huge progress with relatively small behavioral changes.
3 Rules for Self-Quantification
- Don’t broadcast your personal stats on social networks — nobody cares. The exception would be if your progress is remarkable/inspirational.
- If you’ve used self-quantification to establish a habit that is getting you the results you want (daily flossing, daily writing, deep restorative sleep, etc.), consider dropping the tracking and measurement. It’s the habit (not the measuring and tracking) that’s getting you results. You can always resume tracking/measuring later if you find yourself slipping.
- Look honestly at every area of your life and considering applying self-quantification to your weakest area. Everyone’s got one. Money? Clothing/fashion? Fat-loss? Blood-sugar control? Physical strength? Productivity? Creativity? Community involvement? Effectiveness in helping others? Anything can be measured and analyzed.