Life After Quantifiable Self

On September 1st, I quit my Hunting Headaches quest. After 2.5 years of tracking, I’m now 2 months free of the daily quantifiable self habit. Did taking my eyes off the data make things worse? Nope. I guessed that ending my daily data collection would have no effect, which is why I ultimately decided to quit tracking. But I was wrong.

For three weeks after I ended the daily data collection, I didn’t get a single headache. That is a record. Even in my month with no coffee that never happened. In fact I didn’t even get my first headache of the month until someone asked how it was going and then I became aware that I was having a record month. My coffee levels were still elevated.

The obvious explanation is that although my time commitment to quantifiable self was small, the stress of daily tracking and trying to affect an outcome was likely a cause of the headaches. Early on in the project when it was clear that I wasn’t able to solve the riddle of night headaches, I regretted posting on the experiment. I became the experiment and for over two years I was failing at it and doing so publicly.

The past two months I’ve had a noticeable decline in both headache quantity and intensity. Even lower than the two months where my caffeine levels were extremely low. And I had a higher than normal level of coffee during this time. My sleep quality was also excellent. Stepping away from the daily tracking was a wise move.

Is Quantifiable Self a form of Journaling?

The book 59 Seconds makes a strong case that writing about our problems is more effective than thinking about them.

Thinking can often be unstructured, disorganized and even chaotic. Writing encourages the creation of a storyline and structure that helps people make sense of what has happened and work toward a solution. Writing is a systematic solution based approach.

59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot (Borzoi Books)
59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot (Borzoi Books) by Richard Wiseman

Is numerical quantification of our experiences a form of journaling? It is a question I don’t know the answer to. In a comment that I can not find (there are 9,000 on this site), I recall someone (probably Glenn) saying something profound that has stuck with me. Data is the opposite of human relationships. In other words, what makes us human are those things that can’t be quantified.

I wish I had an answer on when QS is a tool for good and when the act of data collection becomes a problem. I’ve clearly gotten some benefits from tracking, but I still need to find that balance.

The site The Unquantified Self has thought a lot more about this than I have and has a few excellent posts on this topic. Be sure to read Why This Blog and Think Before You Track – the Uncertain future of Quantified Self. One line I really likes was:

If you are going to track, focus on testing interesting hypotheses using simple experiments lasting a relatively short time.

Although my Hunting Headaches experiments were simple, the collective duration was too long and it stopped being interesting once my confidence in solving the riddle was diminished.

Yesterday I had a lot of coffee. More than normal. It was a level that my 2.5 year dataset would have predicted a good probability of having a night headache. But I’m not looking at the data anymore. Slept a perfect 8 hours with no headache.

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MAS

Critical MAS is the blog for Michael Allen Smith of Seattle, Washington. My interests include traditional food, fitness, economics, and web development.

8 thoughts on “Life After Quantifiable Self”

  1. I was waiting for you to blog about your headaches again. I am doing some reading and research on Lugol’s iodine supplementation. I have had the Nascent Iodine for about a year but because of mixed feedback on the internet I have been very cautious with supplementing maybe once a week painting some on skin. I have since bought a Lugol’s iodine 30 ml solution, supplementing one drop in water a day, building up to 2 or more if needed. Magnesium, Vit C and Selenium, Zinc plus 1/4 t salt in water twice a day to support the iodine absorption by the body. First noticeable difference – an unusual calm. Something else I notice more energy and a feeling of a reserve of energy. My partner who is supplementing with 1-2 drops a day, building up slowly also notices the same thing, more energy and less stress reaction. Why I mention this here is quite a few people mention that migraines disappear as if the deficiency of iodine, once treated, relieves that symptom along with many others.

  2. very interesting! and thanks for the link to The Unquantified Self … great stuff.

  3. There is some doubt whether we can receive enough iodine from kelp tablets or iodised salt and some possible contamination of mercury in seaweed/kelp tablets. I tried Kelp but didn’t feel good on them. I am reading The Iodine Crisis by Lynne Farrow and another book, Iodine Bring Back The Universal Medicine by Mark Sircus. I still have to get Dr Brownstein’s book Iodine Why You Need it, Why You Can’t Live Without It on Kindle. All worth a read just to have the information and a stock of iodine on hand for other remedies and ailments. Thanks for the book link above, I have just requested more of Richard Wiseman’s books from our local library.

  4. my thought after reading this was that perhaps tracking increased the anticipation of headaches… a sort of self fulfilling prophecy.

  5. I agree and like that statement – data is the opposite of human relationships. I think data collection also becomes an odd form of relationship too. When I was tracking my food budget and general spending for a month, writing down every detail down to the last penny, I noticed I was far more irritable. It was a though by logging every thing, I also magnified it in my mind. I learnt a lot from that experiment in terms of the overall picture, but it did not make me any happier. I wonder if this is also part of our brain’s evolution, where we are inclined to constantly note and compare in order to improve things. Even if we are only comparing ourselves with ourselves, the act of constant monitoring can in itself be stressful and inhibitive. Whereas if you are noticing things but in a more flexible yet responsive way there is more of a flow.

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