This article first appeared in Alpha Efficiency Magazine: Issue 13: Self Quantification
My first foray into the world of self-quantification was an unmitigated disaster.
It was for a work charity event and the goal was to be part of the team that walked the most steps over the period of a month.
At the time, the target number of steps a male of my age and build should have been taking per day was 10,000. My line manager had no desire to head up a team that was merely average, so he set our daily goal to 15,000. It’s important to note that he was a very competitive man. One of his famous mantras was “You don’t win bronze. You lose gold and silver” so you can tell the kind of pressures we were under to win. This was one of the driving reasons behind me setting myself a goal of 20,000 steps per day. Not only was I going to win for the team, I told myself, I was going to be the main man on the team.
The results should have been expected.
The first few days were fantastic. I felt fresh and full of energy owing to the natural benefits walking provides. I missed a deadline for the submission of a key report on account of the fact I had taken a couple of extra walks in the afternoon, but it was for the team, so my line manager would understand, right?
No, he wouldn’t. I was rightly reprimanded and told to focus on my work.
I decided that I would do these extra steps in the evening instead when my children were asleep. Then one day an hour-long walk took two and a half hours. You see, five months earlier I’d had a knee operation to repair some ligament damage and my knee just couldn’t handle the increase in both strain and impact. I hobbled home and my participation in the charity event was over. I’d let myself and the team down, had to take a week off a work while I recuperated and the whole experience was an embarrassing write-off.
With the emergence of so many tools for self-quantification, there is a real opportunity for us all to identify areas of improvement in our lives and take the actions required to drive those areas forward. There are health and mental benefits for anyone that takes advantage of these technological advancements. However, these obvious benefits notwithstanding, it is very important that you are mindful of the potential consequences self-quantification can bring.
Consider physical activity tracking, which is one of the most popular uses of wearable technology. Steps were taken, miles walked, calories burned; All trackable thanks to our advancements in technology.
The fundamental mistake I made in approaching self-quantification was to give myself one stretching goal with no smaller targets in between. 20,000 steps a day is not an impossible goal (I regularly have days where I nail this now), but I needed to pace this out slowly, one stage at a time. Trying to go straight to my goal without any incremental buildup was the equivalent of trying to run up the side of a mountain without any physical training whatsoever. I needed to pace this out slowly, one stage at a time, This is where self-quantification – done properly – can really make a difference.
The fundamental mistake I made in approaching self-quantification was to give myself one stretching goal with no smaller targets in between.
Let’s say I decided to do 10,000 steps on day one. This would have been sensible as I would have been able to gauge exactly how I felt afterward. I could also ascertain whether or not there was either the time or energy to be able to complete anymore the following day.
I could have then looked at doing 11,000, perhaps 12,500 the following day. If I experienced any physical problems then I could lower my target in order to present myself with one that was more realistic. We have the ability now to be able to measure our progress against goals and intentions with a pinpoint level of accuracy, so proper planning is vital to be able to achieve them. In the same way, we work-shift to achieve our work-life balance, we can shift our interim targets in order to improve our chances of achieving our end goals.
It can be dangerous to jump into self-quantification without looking ahead first; My own experience is a simple example, but it’s not difficult to find others. From the obsessive calorie counter to the “cyberchondriac” obsessing over their health, it’s easy to become obsessed with numbers you may not fully understand. Even Chris Dancy. the poster boy for Quantified Self has taken self-quantification to an extreme that many might consider “unhealthy”.
Self-quantification, by its very nature, causes us to become more self-aware and this new-found self-awareness can be dangerous if you don’t harness its findings properly. You may be upset when you discover you really haven’t been exercising enough; Tracking your location regularly may expose just how limited your daily routines have become.
What’s important is to realize that self-quantification is a really positive thing, but only if you go into it slowly, with an understanding of what you are measuring and why.
In order to get the best results, you need to plan properly and set yourself goals that follow part of the standard SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-based) framework. You don’t need to worry about the Specific or Measurable part. The nature of the technology you will be using means will make is specific and it must be measurable because you are using a measuring tracker! Your goals do, however, need to be Achievable, Relevant and Time-based in order for your new self-quantification project to work. Trying to walk 50,000 steps a day whilst working an office job just isn’t going to work. Setting a defined end-date for your goal means too that you are less likely to lapse for some reason.
It’s also highly advisable that, as with any project you undertake, you have a regular review period for your targets and results. Ask yourself: – Are you achieving what was expected?
– Do you need to increase/decrease your stage targets?
– Have you noticed an impact on any other part of your life, either positive or negative?
– If the results are not what you expected, can you think of any reasons why?
– Do you need to modify the timings of your schedule?
– Are there any other factors in your life that are having an adverse effect on these results?
I find the review period critical to any project that I am working on. Self-quantification is no exception. The utilization of regular reviews allows you to be able see the results you have achieved so far and modify your targets accordingly, resulting in a steady path to your overall goal. The knowledge that they are being managed will help ensure that you have faith in them and will make it tougher to stray from your course.
Self-quantification has made a significant difference to my life and it can do to yours as well. I plan my targets carefully, making sure that they are enough to make a difference but not so much that I will suffer because of them. I review these results regularly, meaning I can make a sensible, informed decision as to whether or not I need to modify the goals. I’m also mindful that I have adopted this lifestyle to help improve the quality of my life, not as a stick to beat myself with. If the results aren’t as expected, I simply review and modify. Any step forward is positive.
So with the introduction of proper planning, regular reviews, and realistic, achievable goals, you have unwittingly stepped into the world of project management, and you have the tools available now to manage the most important project in the world: Your health.
Take it seriously and plan it properly. You don’t want this project to fail.