My first blog post on self-quantification was April 6th, 2014. I went pretty hard at it for the last two years spending a fair bit of money and doing experiments of various kinds to see how my body would react. My favorite was taking heart rate variability readings while having a tooth drilled at the dentist. After a fair number of insights, I’m ending two years of quantifying myself.
It is not really a full retirement as I will continue to monitor things as I did before this two year period. As a runner and triathlete, I was monitoring my heart rate many years before entering the QS scene. So monitoring various mood states and body reactions like heart rate variability will continue. I get a lot from it.
What I am retiring is the identity of “scientific publisher of N=1 studies” and being a “quantified-self guy.” As part of this identity I was regularly publishing this blog, tweeting, leading a QS Meetup and attending the big QS conferences. There was a specific discipline around that and I’m going to let that go.
The overall lessons I learned after these two years:
- You can learn anything you want with the internet resources available. I started as a guy curious about stress readings and got pretty conversant with heart rate variability to the point of being a junior partner in presentations with friends who were PhD’s on the subject.
- The summary finding on all my outcomes is if we human beings get a good nights sleep, drink plenty of water, eat a modest amount of calories, exercise with regularity and hang out with other people we like, we feel pretty good most of the time. My grandmother told me that years ago but I had to use science to validate it.
- A lot of Quantified Self is Quantified Storytelling. At QS EU #15 Doctor James Heathers coined this phrase as he pointed out that the controls are the problem. In a noisy environment achieving any level of control is extremely difficult. And doing the math with any sense of sufficient data can absorb your time for extended periods. With a lot of noise and smaller data sets, we have to push our story a bit more as not having a result is not very compelling, particularly if you are presenting to groups by blog or presentation.
- The only negative finding I had is that I suspect the entire supplements industry is a massive exercise in commercial placebo. I did not get any meaningful results from any of the supplements I tried that were not overshadowed by sleep, water, and food (see bullet #2).
- The body is incredibly resilient. Our story that one night out indulging will ruin our health is just wrong. I had several physically stressful periods result in heart rate variability and blood pressure readings that were virtually unchanged from non-stressful periods. The underlying physical system is very stable and completely separate from, our beliefs about it.
- People want to read about brands and ultimately Google drives traffic to a blog, people don’t seek you out based on the quality of content. The two biggest drivers to this blog were when I indexed posts in Google that talked about Apple Watch and another service that was getting good press. Both drove big spikes in traffic and in my opinion were halfway to product reviews. That Apple Watch mention still drives traffic. It is just the facts on being a publishing type. The people want to read the reviews that helps them buy stuff.
- Our stories and beliefs about our condition are the entirety of our experience of our condition and thus, are our condition. Quantified Self is a place of stories and beliefs with data to enrich them. Studies have to be conceived, data gathered and the results analyzed. And if we declare success in altering heart rate variability through head position then we must have the story that a changed heart rate variability is desirable. When you get to that level, it is an arbitrary definition of what is good. Most of my QS work lived under an umbrella of some form of story. The story is the thing.
I remain a supporter of Quantified Self and its unique place in a history of technical change and its contribution to the continued dynamic way we use technology to shape our behavior. QS as a separate and unique group was big when it was kind of hard to get the data together and you had to rig your own sensors. Now we all are starting to live with easy data capture and quantification. The QS community becomes all of us.
The study I did on my To Do List was one that really altered my perspective. When I let my to-do list go and watched what things I started doing naturally from a place of interest, QS matters were not part of the mix. My interests had moved on, and doing things from a place of fascination and interest is the story I want to write. And the story is the thing.