Personal Informatics Blog

Why Should You Self-Track?

I wrote and posted this article originally on the HealthTap blog on November 13, 2010.

If you’re new to this blog or new to the idea of self-tracking, you’re probably wondering why? Why should you self-track? This is a valid question. Self-tracking might cost you a few bucks and might require a long time commitment. Why should you spend your time and money to self-track? In this article, I will describe several reasons why you should self-track.

Know thyself

On the entrance to the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, carved in stone was the inscription Gnothi seauton. This Greek aphorism means “Know thyself.” People of Ancient Greece who wanted to see the Oracle to solve their problems would see this phrase first upon arrival as if to tell them that the solution to their problem is right under their noses; you just need to know yourself. This phrase and the concept of self-knowledge was passed on from Ancient Greece to now as an ideal in philosophy. Of course, self-knowledge not that easy. Careful introspection and reflection is required to know oneself. However, today we can use technology to help us a little bit in our effort to know ourselves. Self-tracking tools can help us observe and analyze our behavior and habits that can be sensed and tracked by devices.

Benjamin Franklin

Did you know that Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, was an avid self-tracker? In his twenties, Benjamin Franklin wrote 13 virtues that he believed leads to a good, productive life. These virtues were: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. He strived to live by these virtues. To do so, he tracked his adherence to the virtues. At the end of each day, he marked the virtues that he missed. In the example, he missed the virtues of sincerity, order, and resolution on Friday. He did this for the rest of his life and I think he had plenty to show for it.

If you want to track your accomplishment of these 13 virtues, join the self-tracking web site that I created, Be Like Ben Just click the link and join!

Research

There’s plenty of research that shows the value of self-tracking on changing behavior. For example, pedometers have been shown to increase physical activity among wearers. The graphs of your electricity usage in your electricity bill is a result of research that shows the value of such graphs on energy conservation. Among diabetes patients, tracking their blood sugar level is an important aspect of their diabetes maintenance. If you want to find more research about self-tracking, visit the Personal Informatics Articles page . This page lists the many research papers relevant to self-tracking.

If you have your own reasons why you self-track, please leave them in the comments below.

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