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Gustav Restau - Independent Lifeplus Associate

Self-Tracking: learning about your health

Reading Time: 3 minutes

What is self-tracking?

There are different ways to track aspects of your lifestyle, in areas like fitness, sleep or nutrition, and while technology has made it easier than ever to do, it’s something that has been accessible to everyone for a long time. You might already keep a gratitude diary for example, where you log your mood each day and reflect on something you are grateful for.

By leaning towards these advances in technology though, it’s possible to keep digital diaries, or exchange results with online communities via various apps. The trend towards self-tracking has developed steadily in recent years and self-tracking tools are still on the rise. While in the past people were reliant on pens and paper, tracking can now be done automatically and viewed on a phone or computer. This gives you a handy way to monitor your progress and lead a balanced lifestyle where you can feel good about your achievements. Self-tracking should never be a way to punish yourself for what you didn’t do – but a celebration of what you did do.

What does the quantified self via self-tracking stand for?

The quantified self is concerned with learning about yourself and your body via self-tracking.1 The core idea revolves around the measurability of various properties in a helpful way, such as by wearing a fitness tracker to pick up movement and count how many steps you walk. The results – your quantified self – represent both wellbeing aspects and a new source for self-knowledge2 and are a way of seeing improvements in your own life that will make you feel good.  

How to start a quantified life

The self-tracking community becomes more integrated every day. The larger a community gets, the more connections you may find yourself having within it and the more engaged with gaining self-awareness you will likely become.

Well-known technologies like smartwatches or tracking apps can support the start of a quantified life, where you can look to the numbers to give you a greater insight at how you are doing in terms of your individual goals. Fitness is a common focus for personal tracking, with applications allowing you to reflect on an online journal of how quick your running speed is, for example, but self-tracking can be easily linked to other aspects of life too.

Integrating self-tracking into everyday life

The integration of self-tracking can be designed in different ways to strike the appropriate balance between learning, evaluating and activities. If you want to keep an eye on your everyday life, it may be sufficient to use free apps or those that already exist on your smartphone. If you have a more specific goal in mind though, such as a sporting goal, then it may be worth investing in a more specific self-tracking device.

Self-tracking can help us keep accountable to ourselves so once you set a personal goal, self-tracking devices can help you achieve it.3 If you are the type of person who prefers to be accountable to others though, then belonging to an online community where you can set challenges, compare results and discuss your progress can be a fantastic motivator.4 One of the great things about self-quantification is how a regular analysis of self-data can show patterns, helping you identify highs and lows and document your achievements. It is easy to forget how far you have come but with the data in front of you, you will have a great reminder! As with many things though, it’s important to remember to do everything in moderation. Use your self-tracker as a guide, not as a means to punish yourself if you go a bit off track. Tracking should always be balanced with an individual, healthy lifestyle instead of obsession.

How to choose the right self-tracking devices

There are so many different self-tracking devices available, whether you would like to measure and analyse every area of your life or only partially integrate self-tracking into a certain activity, such as walking. Suitable self-tracking devices can be used for a variety of activities and tasks5 with focal points such as nutrition or sports.  Self-tracking technology spans different areas of healthcare, such as blood pressure or heart rate monitoring, and can be used by individuals according to their own needs. Certain popular applications and devices already have the capabilities to track many things so you may even find that you do not require any additional costs to start self-tracking!

Self-tracking – new devices for discoveries

Self-tracking has different appeals and different benefits for different people. It is a highly individual solution for health and wellbeing and can be very useful, however the risks of excessive digital consumption cannot be dismissed and should therefore be considered.

While a large part of self-tracking is aimed at virtual technology, the focus is also on improving your health through things like exercising and getting to know like-minded people.4 Activities can be combined with targeted measurability but also with a social aspect, making them great for a sense of community as well as for achieving your own personal goals.

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