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Business News/ Mint-lounge / Features/  New Year Ideas | Join the quantified self movement
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New Year Ideas | Join the quantified self movement

Good data often helps us make good decisionshere's how to apply this mantra to your personal life

The Nike+ FuelBand and the Fitbit Flex.Premium
The Nike+ FuelBand and the Fitbit Flex.

In my first job after a master’s in business administration, across the desk from me sat the data analytics guy. I knew he made, roughly, half what I did. And yet he outdid me in every manner possible. He took weekend vacations to Thailand and Singapore every three months and he upgraded to the latest Nokia phones every six months (this was 2007, you have to understand). I assumed he was piling on credit card debt till he expressly ruled that out. Now I really had to know. So I asked and he showed me.

He had a spreadsheet open at all times on his laptop where he tracked every bit of income and expenditure; down to the last 50 paise. He knew at all times how much he had in the bank and on his person. And he had set limits on what he could spend on the staples and on indulgences. Aided by data, he was always on top of his financial situation.

We generally accept that good data helps us make good decisions. What we don’t usually do is turn the data inwards towards ourselves. Any successful dieter knows the value of a food journal. Why not take it to the next level? And that, simply, is the premise of the Quantified Self Movement (QSM)—using technology to capture data about the quantifiable aspects of a person’s life to help make better decisions. While the first few applications to go mainstream under the Quantified Self banner have been under the health and wellness category, QSM is far more encompassing.

The idea of using data to improve oneself is not new. Sportspersons and coaches pore over the minutiae trying to get that extra 1% of performance. And now with improvements in technology, with sensors becoming smaller, cheaper and more energy-efficient, these strategies are being adopted by tech enthusiasts, fitness nerds and lifehackers.

The term “Quantified Self" seems to have been coined by Wired magazine editors Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly. Quantified Self conferences are now held in 50 cities across the globe. And it is here that the most extreme examples of the Quantified Self are showcased. A member of this QSM, Chris Bartley used his statistical model for locating landmines to help him fight his chronic fatigue. Other users are collaborating to see which medicines work best to combat migraines and which habits and supplements give you the best sleep.

If you aren’t looking to commit yourself to 40-column spreadsheets and advanced statistical analysis, there is still a lot you can do to dip your feet in the pool of the Quantified Self. Track your dietary inputs with the MyFitnessPal app or website. You can set dietary limitations—low carb, Paleo, vegetarian—and track your nutrient intake. Track your physical output with any one of a range of activity monitors. The popular ones include Fitbit, Up by Jawbone and the Nike+ FuelBand. Most of these also include sleep monitors that can estimate the duration and quality of your sleep. Use the Withings WS-50 smart scale to keep track of your weight, body composition and heart rate. The associated app can maintain profiles for up to eight family members. You can set weight targets and they will get broken down into weekly tasks. Apps like AskMeEvery, MercuryApp and Track Your Happiness can be used to track your mood and the factors that affect it.

A word of warning, though. QSM isn’t a panacea to treat all that ails you. Remember that all this technology and jargon is useful for is adding transparency to the process of evaluating your choices and actions. It is up to you to make all the actual change. That said, let the latest gadgets, apps and services help you the best they can.

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Published: 04 Jan 2014, 12:25 AM IST
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