Know Yourself—Turn Your Curiosity Into a Self-Tracking Routine

wfx_appIf you’re a biohacker or self-tracker, you’re likely familiar with Larry Smarr. If not, then consider him the pinnacle of The Quantified Self: a man who tracked nearly every measurable aspect of his life, from CRP levels to the contents of his colon. He started by monitoring food intake for weight loss, and as he got more curious, he worked his way up to broader analysis, eventually detecting the early stages of Crohn’s disease well before his doctors.

With the medical establishment often slow to initiate treatment—Smarr has said that his doctors were unwilling to treat his inflammation issues until he had symptoms, even in the face of blood evidence—it’s up to the curious and persistent to drive their self-care. Granted, as an astrophysicist and computer scientist, Smarr had the brain power (and disposable income) to tackle his project solo, but now there are more accessible, simpler options so that everybody can get on board.

If you’re interested looking closely at your behaviors and how they affect your body over time, then self-tracking may be for you. One caveat: if you run to your doctor concerned about every tiny change in your data, then you run the risk of being labeled a hypochondriac. However, like so many WellnessFX clients, you might also discover some useful things about the state of your health.

Start small

Begin by tracking a few easy variables, like weight, pH, or whether you remembered to take a multivitamin.

Collecting daily data is a big step. So give yourself time to get used to the idea and gradually get acquainted with your tracking app.

Track what interests you

Are you worried that you aren’t getting enough sleep? Or maybe you’ve read something about how pH is a good indicator of your metabolism? If so, those are great places to start.

Or ask yourself a question: “I’m not sleeping as deeply as I used to. Why not? Maybe it’s sleeping next to my iPhone?”

If you’re already getting periodic blood tests, you can match your findings against your lab results to see an even more robust picture.

Don’t get discouraged

Once you’ve gotten started tracking, don’t worry if you miss a few days (or weeks). Just keep at it and enter data as often as the mood strikes you, and soon you’ll ramp up your regularity.

Look for trends

What’s increasing? Going down? Holding steady? Are there any recurrent patterns?

Look for cause and effect: do you feel recharged and go-team on Friday morning if you went to happy hour Thursday night? Or do the nagging hangovers bring you down?

Is your pH acidic because of the sodium in the charcuterie plate you had last night, or because of the fact that you had a huge plate of meat and cheese with nothing to else balance it out? And what is gluten doing?

Design a simple self-experiment

Once you’ve figured out how to hold yourself accountable for self-tracking, it’s time to take it to the next level. If you’re trying to test the effects of early morning Sun Salutations on your mood, first track how you feel a couple of times a day for 2 weeks without Warrior 1. Then hit the mat for another 2 weeks and track again.

For added accuracy, go back to your pre-yogic ways for another 2 weeks to see how long the effects of your efforts last. This A-B-A pattern is called “reversal design,” which is a powerful way to test a treatment’s efficacy. And trust us, while more complicated design might be tempting, it’s easy to quickly drown in data overload.

Get a posse (or not)

If you’re the kind who feels energized and motivated in the company of others, then you’re in luck. From Twitter, to forums, to IRL meetups, there are plenty of places to crowdsource support.

And if you’re the type who’d rather not broadcast the vagaries of your basal temperature, there’s no need to broadcast. Keep your data private, or just share with close family and friends.

 

It’s clear that self-trackers are advancing the boundaries of personal wellness.  The “patient of the future” is one who can come up with solid hypotheses for what ails them.  In the era of Big Data, it’s easy to get caught up in numbers for the sake of numbers. But stay focused on the things that make a real, quantifiable difference—on how you look, how you feel, and your long-term health.

The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.