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Use Lifelogging to Maximize Your Potential

For many of us, the intrusion of “Big Data” into our lives is truly frightening. It means someone (some company) is out there tracking information about us and using it for their own purposes. They know our likes and dislikes, our temptations and our strengths, and our decision-making behaviors. While debates about the pros and cons of Big Data rage on, the truth is, it’s not going away anytime soon. I think a more interesting question is: If companies are willing to spend millions of dollars to understand our behavior, why aren’t we using this personal data to understand ourselves better?

In an online movement dubbed the Quantified Self, individuals from over 30 countries have joined together to “lifelog” (track) and share personal data in attempts to better understand human nature. Lifelogging is the process of digitally tracking your personal data. While it may seem like an odd endeavor, it’s likely you’ve done it without even realizing it. If you’ve used a fitness tracker, pedometer, sports watch or even an iPhone (which automatically tracks your steps), you’ve lifelogged. Nearly 69 percent of Americans are already tracking at least one health metric, whether it’s in the form of calories burned, quality of sleep or heart rate.
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Aside from a desire to lose weight or improve fitness, you may be wondering why individuals involved in the Quantified Self would bother to track and share their personal data. The answer simply comes down to curiosity and a desire to improve oneself. It’s the ultimate expression of growth mindset in the Digital Age.
Lifeloggers have been able to identify illnesses, control levels of anxiety or depression, increase productivity, and improve their overall lifestyles. In one case, lifelogging has even helped to save a life. Steven Keating discovered a life-threatening tumor that would have remained hidden were it not for a combination of lifelogging and the fact that he had volunteered to participate in a university research study. The study included an MRI scan, which revealed Steven had a slight abnormality. Three years after the initial scan, he underwent another MRI, which showed the abnormality had remained the same (good news). Four years later, however, Steven noticed that he smelled vinegar for about 30 seconds every day. For most, smelling vinegar for less than a minute a day would go unnoticed. But Steven’s lifelogging had focused his awareness, which prompted him to get a third MRI. That MRI revealed that his abnormality had grown into a baseball-size tumor. Fortunately, he had the mass surgically removed and has been able to carry on with his life.
The process of lifelogging via wearables or apps taps into our innate curiosity and desire to problem-solve. While not all of us are savvy enough to read an MRI, we do have numerous tools at our fingertips that give us greater insight into our own minds and bodies. From fitness trackers to time trackers, productivity measures to sleep measures, a plethora of options capture and analyze data easily using our smartphones. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • Addapp can pull data from multiple apps on your phone to make suggestions for diet and exercise based on past behavior.  The app might recognize that your sleep quality has declined along with activity level. However, if you were able to take just 2,000 more steps each day, you could significantly increase your chances of getting better sleep in the coming week.
  • RealizD tracks how you spend your time on your phone. By capturing data about how many times you unlock your phone, how long you spend on it, and what you are doing when online, RealizD provides insight into your behavior, and accountability for decreasing your digital addictions.
  • LifeCycle works in the background of your phone to track time spent at work, home, shopping, enjoying entertainment and more. The goal is to help you raise your awareness of how you spend your time so you can align your goals and intentions with your actions.
  • Journaly for the Mac and iPhone helps you privately journal about your life.  You can manually operate it or auto-journal, by allowing your phone to track destinations, weather, fitness, travel  and sleep. 
  • Instant tracks your entire life automatically and puts it on your dashboard. Lifelog your phone usage time, places you go, fitness, sleep and travel.

In many ways, these apps simply provide a starting place for gathering information and insight into your behaviors.  With the exception of Addapp, all require you to draw your own conclusions; however, it’s not hard to imagine that in the near future these apps will become increasingly smart and more predictive. Imagine if you could ask your phone to distract you when you approach a temptation while trying to kick a bad habit.

What gets me excited about lifelogging is the prospect of being able to create a renaissance in my own life, using the small insights to create positive change. As you begin to experiment with behavior and mindset changes over the next few weeks, here are five guiding questions that can help you develop a practice of continual learning.

  • How does the data that you gather compare/contrast to the past?
  • How does this data compare/contrast to that of the people around me?
  • What information looks false or might be missing?
  • What factors shaped these outliers or unusual data points?
  • And most important, given this information, how do I need to tweak my behavior for the future?

As you embark on this new adventure, I would love to hear how your lifelogging is going.  Share your story or ideas with me at amyblankson.com/story and together we will continue to pursue a future of happiness.

Listen to our podcast with Amy: The Future of Happiness

Read more from Amy: The Internet of Things Brings the Future Home

Amy BlanksonAmy Blankson, aka the ‘Happy Tech Girl,’ is on a quest to help individuals balance productivity and well-being in the digital era. Amy, with her brother Shawn Achor, co-founded GoodThink, which brings the principles of positive psychology to life and works with organizations such as Google, NASA and the U.S. Army. Her new book is called The Future of Happiness: 5 Modern Strategies for Balancing Productivity and Well-being in the Digital Era.


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