Early last year, I stumbled upon an article on Wired called “You Can’t Improve What You Can’t Measure.“
It struck a chord with me as soon as I saw it, because I realized that a lot of my successes, and the successes of those whom I admire, have been predicated on tracking metrics that matter – whether in business or in personal life.
The article ended up talking about the Nike+ FuelBand, which led me down the rabbit hole of learning about the world of Quantified Self.
For those who don’t already know about Quantified Self (QFS), in a nutshell, it’s basically a modern movement that uses all the awesome technology we’ve been developing (especially mobile) to track and quantify ton of stuff like mood, steps taken, calories burned, sleep, and more. QFS is a really big deal right now.
I loved what I saw in this community and was pumped to start trying out the different apps and tools to start tracking everything.
Daily food intake. Track it!
Minutes of TV watched. Track it!
Average heart rate in relation to who I’m talking to. OMG TRACK IT!
But a month into being a quantifying-freak, I decided to take a step back to see if I’d actually made any progress… and realized I there are 3 big issues with the concept of simply quantifying and tracking yourself.
To be clear: I’m not against measuring and tracking at all, but I personally think there’s more that we can do than JUST track.
Anyway, these were the three main things I had issues with when looking back:
1. Mistaking motion for action.
Ernest Hemingway has an awesome quote that goes “never mistake motion for action.” Too often in everyday life, I find myself really busy, but not really getting anything done. And that’s exactly why this quote hits home.
I might brainstorm a couple ideas for potential projects, put together a list of prospects to talk to, organize my emails, or “do some research” for a project. But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t have an actual, tangible deliverable that I’d be proud of. Action produces results, while motion is just…well… motion.
And this is exactly how I felt while going through the “quantified self phase” of my life. I was busy tracking, busy hitting numbers, and busy having fun with my apps and gadgets. But when it came to looking at what result I got out of it, I realized nothing really changed in my life. I focused all my time and energy on the novelty and excitement of tracking, but completely ignored what the end goal was of doing the tracking in the first place.
2. The tracking process became a chore.
I’m a huge fan of habits and doing things on a regular basis, but when the task or habit affects my quality of life too much by either taking too much time or too much work, I start to reconsider how useful it is to me.
For example, tracking my food. When I was using MyFitnessPal, which tracks your calorie and nutrient intake, I found that having to enter all the info and everything into the app before each meal was a bit of a nuisance. Especially when I was out with friends, or going out to eat, because I’d be focused on trying to find the food in the database and estimating the amount I’m eating, as opposed to paying attention to the friends right in front of me.
Even when I was alone it was a bit annoying because it often took away from the actual experience of eating. Sometimes even if I was hungry I wouldn’t want eat because I didn’t wanna go through the hassle of entering everything in. Ha. Reading that back, maybe the app was pretty good for something.
3. Becoming obsessed with quantifying stuff and losing sight of why I was tracking.
Over time as I got deeper and deeper into the quantifying game, I realized that I started doing it for the sake of quantifying, instead of the original goal – to live a healthier life. I got to a point where for a short period of time I would go for a walk or run just to hit a certain number of steps that I had set out to hit everyday.
I would make myself hit it – no matter rain or shine, no matter what time of day. It got to a point where the numbers were running my life, and I was more focused on them than anything else. If a number was off, I’d be agitated and needed to make it right. Psychologically exhausting.
Now, to reiterate – I have nothing against tracking and measuring. I think it’s important and definitely has a place in helping us succeed in achieving whatever it is we want to achieve.
But that’s the key – it has a place. And I feel that place is as a partner together with deliberate behavior change.
When you pair the two together, both quantifying AND deliberate behavior change, that’s when you really see magic happen.
Either way, I think it’s important to constantly reassess whether or not what were doing is bringing is closer to where we want to be.
Do you track a certain habit or goal every day? What is it? Do you use a specific app for it?
Let me know in the comments.