Quantified Self recommendations

post by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2012-05-18T10:16:07.740Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 13 comments

Is self knowledge through numbers worth the effort? I welcome your stories and recommendations. Thanks!


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comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-05-18T12:32:05.350Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

None of this rises to the level of Quantified Self Geek, but for the last few years I've been measuring a few things, using an ordinary spreadsheet:

  • Weight, every day, same time every day, for about 7 years now. Leaving aside occasional excursions (in either direction) due to ill-health, the long-term trend is flat, but I have noticed a strong relationship between day-to-day weight and how well I feel. Above 125 pounds or below 120 I can tell there's something wrong.

  • My daily exercises, "every" day. I actually average about 5 days out of 7 -- which I only know because I have the record. This I've been doing for three years, ever since I started doing a fixed set of exercises every day. I do other exercise, but this is the only part I record, just to keep me honest. Everything else is as and when.

  • Time I went to bed, time I got up, and how I woke (e.g. alarm clock).

  • Any transient indispositions.

I once tried recording "happiness", but gave up on it, for reasons described in my comments on that thread.

Not quite the same thing, but in another spreadsheet I record every financial transaction on every store of financial value (current account, credit cards, etc.), organised month by month, and project estimates of everything out to at least a year ahead.

I find that just making records of this sort changes what I do, just from paying attention as a side-effect of recording them, and the accessibility of the data. I'm more likely to do my daily exercises if I see that I skipped them the last few days. I will notice if I'm on track to spend £500 on books this month, and ask myself, "Do I really want to direct this much money in that way?" And it's always worth knowing (years of FY money) = (total financial worth)/(total annual expenditure).

comment by Rhwawn · 2012-05-19T00:04:20.618Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you considered randomizing your exercises so you could begin drawing causal inferences?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-05-19T06:33:53.378Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, but I haven't, because what would I measure? I seem to have "more energy" from doing these exercises, but I expect that rating "energy" on a 5-point scale would be as impossible as rating "happiness". I could instead keep a log of things done (which is, after all, the point of having "energy"). Come to think of it, that might be useful anyway.

comment by Rhwawn · 2012-07-01T15:44:38.482Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you underestimate simple self-ratings. You could just do those, and yes, there are automated ways. For example, you could turn on a Web browser plugin like RescueTime but disable any blocking functionality - so it's just tracking time spent. Randomize intervention X for a few months, pull the RescueTime logs, and voila! A (non-blind) randomized experiment.

comment by CasioTheSane · 2012-05-23T16:30:22.913Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've managed to engineer a much healthier lifestyle for myself using quantified self techniques. My quality of life has improved significantly, and I went from being a C student to an A+ student and a far more effective scientist/engineer.

For one, I discovered I focus better and get more work done if I avoid gluten. It's not placebo controlled, but my real productivity is significantly higher, as measured by hours of focused work completed per day. I feel sick with a "brain fog" and malaise when I eat gluten, and I seem to have felt that way continuously for my entire life until I experimented with removing it.

Additionally, I have been able to consistently get a much better nights sleep by analyzing data with my Zeo EEG and correlating against various behaviors. I've found specific habits that improve sleep and consistently stick with them. For the most part I suspected that things like maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, turning off the lights early, taking melatonin, and avoiding caffeine in the afternoon would improve my sleep but I didn't suspect that the effect would be so strong that failing to stick to those would have massive negative effects that last for days.

Also, I've discovered that food reward is the main variable influencing my hunger, and by sticking to a low food reward diet I can maintain a healthy weight about 50lbs less than my previous weight effortlessly- without being hungry.

It's hard to isolate placebo from other effects in quantified self experiments, but in some cases that may not be necessary. I want to know the real truth as much as anybody, but if a given behavior causes a measurable improvement in my productivity or quality of life that lasts, then it's worth doing even if it's a placebo.

I'd go so far as to say that my self-experimentation has resulted in the unusual sensation of aging in reverse: as I learn more about my own body and how to make it function better I am continuously becoming healthier and more fit than I ever have been before.

It's a snowball effect especially since I'm a bioengineering grad student researching ways to optimize human health: as I become healthier and more able to focus and work productively, I discover more and more ways of improving my own health which result in even better focus and even more productive work. I don't know how sustainable this trend is, but I'm going to find out.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-05-25T10:57:26.392Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd go so far as to say that my self-experimentation has resulted in the unusual sensation of aging in reverse: as I learn more about my own body and how to make it function better I am continuously becoming healthier and more fit than I ever have been before. [...] I discover more and more ways of improving my own health which result in even better focus and even more productive work. I don't know how sustainable this trend is, but I'm going to find out.

Sounds like a material for an interesting discussion (maybe even main, if well documented) post. Please write one!

As a general remark, not just for you -- I have noticed that many people underestimate how cool is what they do professionally. Probably because they are exposed to it every day, and speak every day with people fluent in that topic, they develop a bias "people already know this, it's nothing new, nothing to be excited about". Yet for a person unfamiliar with that topic, many seemingly trivial details are exciting (and unfortunately, the non-trivial parts are often incomprehensible).

comment by CasioTheSane · 2012-05-25T17:21:30.176Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would like to write some more detailed articles on "hacking your own health," but I'm still trying to figure out how to balance clarity with scientific rigor.

This information is very controversial and covers a broad range of medical topics- for each topic my post needs to have the scientific rigor and clarity of a well written journal article to convince other experts, while being comprehensible to non-experts.

The only solution I can think of is to write two articles on each narrow topic: one for the general public, and another one for other medical experts (which probably also needs to be published in a peer reviewed journal). This will be tedious and take considerable time, time that I don't have in the near future.

Also, I'm still learning so much so fast that I am afraid to put myself out there. If I had written these articles ~2 years ago I would be embarrassed about them now- they wouldn't have been wrong per se, but they'd have been so overly-simplified and lacking in key ideas/points that they'd seem ridiculous to the current me.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-11-15T09:23:15.318Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. I'm planning to FOI or simply request all my health records from any org I have any interesting relationship with. They keep the records for a while.

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-05-24T22:32:13.014Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The medium is the message. Running real experiments in your daily life keeps you in touch with physical reality. It shows you that reality is complex and theories of what should happen often turn out wrong. Human need constant reminders to avoid getting lost in neat theory that's distached from reality.

comment by EternalArchon · 2012-05-19T05:07:13.136Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mental Health

  • Just my opinion, but I think for those with anxiety, depression, or habitual negative thinking, measuring aspects of life can be very detrimental. The siren call of self-help pulls on those who feel inadequacy, this is similar, "if I track 'things' I can find what's wrong with me and fix it." But turning a spotlight on one's life without treatment(like CBT), will just provide evidence to feed a bias.


  • I'm more likely to do a project I'm tracking in detail. I find I vastly overestimate my ability to remember tasks, and even simple charts are great reminders. However, this is very different than the claims that tracking a goal increases motivation. It 'seems' reasonable, but it hasn't worked for me. If anything tracking details of a task I'm unmotivated for makes the problem worse by adding complexity.
comment by khafra · 2012-05-18T11:05:40.291Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're looking for anecdotal suggestions regarding scientific experiments?

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2012-05-18T11:07:08.714Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If there's actual science here, that's even better, but I don't get the impression there is - each individual is their own experiment to some extent, but effects like the file drawer effect are likely to be pretty serious!