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Why collect data about yourself? To be happy!

Nathan Yau (http://flowingdata.com/about-nathan/) asks an important question: Why do people collect data? However, there are plenty of others who collect data in an effort to change their behavior in some way. They might be trying to lose weight or stay more disciplined with their exercise regimen.

My thought is that this is the central question and the whole point to self-tracking - to gain insight, change behavior, and ultimately be happier. The "Tool Trap" (focusing on tools, rather than purpose) is tempting, esp. to us early-adopting self-tracking pron-loving geeks (myself included!)

I think what's missing in the data-tracking movement is a cohesive philosophy of life that puts tracking in a larger perspective. In our Think, Try, Learn work, that philosophy is the scientific method, with the idea being treating everything in our lives as a kind of experiment. So rather than a data-driven life, I think we should be thinking of it as an *experiment*-driven one. That way people have a process and a goal, not just an activity. I tried to express this at /2010/06/the-experiment-driven-life.html. Still working on it...

Re your questions: I've been tracking decisions I make and lessons I learn for about four years. I wrote about these: A Key To Continuous Learning: Keep A Decision Log (http://matthewcornell.org/blog/2007/04/key-to-continuous-learning-keep.html) and Some Thoughts From Tracking "lessons Learned" For A Year (http://matthewcornell.org/blog/2006/12/some-thoughts-from-tracking-lessons.html).

I've started more vigorous tracking in our TTL tool, Edison, the experimenter's journal. It's our first attempt to support people thinking of life-as-experiment. It's at http://edison.thinktrylearn.com/ if anyone wants to check it out. We don't have a data layer yet - we have to use one of the many tracking tools available (hey - one user is using yfd - http://edison.thinktrylearn.com/experiments/show/163), but I think there might be room for a tool that puts data tracking in the scientific perspective. The most common topics there are health-related, though we have productivity ones too. My focus is on health, along with developing my TTL work (writing the book and developing Edison), both of which are tasty meta-experiments.

Re: holding me back, I think tool usability is still being fleshed out. I recently reviewed all the iPhone apps I could find, but nothing has blown me away yet. (Unfortunately, the one that supports yfd - Your Flowing Data Uploader- only works on iOS 4.) Capturing data must be extremely fast, or compliance drops way off. Surprises: Well, for sleep there are so many variables that it's hard to do good science. Another is I found that cutting out one of my mood disorder meds made resulted in no change - a big and welcome surprise.

Related: Attention Data Hounds: What Personal Data Are You Tracking? - http://matthewcornell.org/2009/06/attention-data-hounds-what-personal-data-are-you-tracking.html

Reader Comments (3)

I think the main reason why people collect data, other than to gain knowledge is because one seeks to improve one's self. How will you know if you are improving if not for the information that you gather. I agree that collecting data somehow leads to the path of happiness. When one actually exerts effort and seeks to improve, it is because one wants to be happy. For example, I track my weight because I dont want to get fat. Why? This would make me happy. I dont know if this is the same thing that you are talking about but somehow, I think I get the point. PS. If you want to discover true happiness you may refer to this article which tackles just that --
[ Happiness | http://sn.im/103mf8 ]

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFrancesca

Yes, that's exactly what I'm getting at. Thanks for sharing your experience. Sanjay's article makes some good points, including "True happiness is not derived from favorable circumstances only. It is all about maintaining the same degree of joy even in the face of most adverse conditions." However, he gives descriptions of what is desirable, but not how to do it. That's what I am to fix! Examples:

o All you need is to locate your natural abilities and qualities
o Never fall a prey to apprehension
o Avoid negative thoughts and words

Thanks again.

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell
Thanks for sharing your experience. Sanjay's article makes some good points, including "True happiness is not derived from favorable circumstances only.
October 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterprom dresses

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