I was looking at the various things I am tracking and thought about those tests I have failed to complete. And others where I consistently collected data despite the measuring being pretty complex and tedious. Why did my motivation on some projects evaporate and in others it remained strong? How was I keeping motivated?
For me doing Quantified Self tracking of one topic has a similar psychological feel to running a long distance. I have to use similar mental techniques to tricking myself into enduring when faced with plodding along for another mile or taking my 30th heart rate variability reading while zapping my brain with electricity.
When I run I break the challenge into smaller buckets. I pick a point in the distance, say “I know I can run to that” and I plod on until I get there. Then I do it again. I completely understand that I am tricking myself and that the total run distance is much longer, but there is something that works for me when I do it. I pulled through a marathon with pretty tough leg cramps starting at mile 18 doing that.
My QS the tricks are similarly simple. I have found the most effective is setting an alarm on my Pebble watch when it is time to take a reading. Not my phone, very specifically the Pebble. There is something that is less obtrusive about it for me so I accept it. And it breaks my stride so I can turn my attention to the reading. With the phone, I tend to get irritated by the notification, dismiss the alarm and return to what I was doing without taking the reading.
If you want to look at something with any precision you will need at least 30 data points. And if you measure once a day then the math is easy, that will be a month of disciplined, repeated readings. If you want 100 data points so you statistical outcome is stronger you are talking about three and a half months. That is a long time to control the circumstances of the reading and measure with consistency day after day.
Many tool providers try to automate the problem away. The theory goes that automated data gathering removes the motivation problem. But it is not that simple. If I get on a Withings scale once a day for 30 days the data is easily captured. But to really test what impacts my weight I also have to vary my eating, or my exercise, with absolute consistency to precisely track my potential outcomes. And that consistency takes motivation too.
There are some beginning efforts to try and help. One I like is Whatify. The service notifies you with text reminders on which randomized action to take and they do the math after the study is done. You just come up with the study. The only drawback is you cannot see that point when the study will end. It is like going for a run and the only feedback you get on your progress is a voice saying “keep going” or “stop now.” Without knowing the end point and seeing my progress I have a hard time keeping motivated.
As you look at building out approaches to things you want to track and test, ensure you are keeping motivated by finding the small tricks that will keep you collecting data and varying inputs effectively. How you are inspired to do something consistently is unique to you. Once you understand that you will reach the finish line with good data and great results.