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Getting the most out of a Quantified Self

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The average person doesn’t actually turn data into decisions. They turn the way data makes them feel into decisions.

This difference is drastically important when you think of the potential impact of the quantified self movement, on the health of individuals.

Like many people, I’ve been thinking about the impact of a few of my less healthy behaviors, mostly a tendency to eat fast food at lunch, or snack slightly more often than I should. As I’ve been tracking more and more of my exercise and caloric intake, I’ve realized that the information I’m receiving is having an impact, but likely not the one the designers intended it to have; I’m not eating significantly differently, although I am eating somewhat less. But my food selection behavior isn’t changing, and that’s the heart of the issue.

That’s because, with the information I’m quantifying, I’m not actually looking at eating a healthier diet. I’m just looking at lowering the number of calories I ingest. While there’s overlap, these aren’t the same thing.

The number you track is the number you change. Often, it’s the only thing that will change significantly, because it becomes the focal point.

A well considered digital experience doesn’t just provide feedback, it provides direction. And this is the feature that many behavior tracking / quantified self digital solutions are lacking: taking better care of yourself requires some qualitative data, some judgement, and some guidance. There’s more to eating right than lowering a number, and more to a healthy life than hitting a few key metrics.

Some questions for behavior tracking:

* What are you trying to incentivize?
* What is the most direct way to impact what you’re tracking?
* How much information is needed to help people make the best decisions?
* How is the collected information going to be explained or visualized?
* Can your feedback get more useful, as you collect more information?

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