The Data Driven Life

The Data Driven Life

By Meg Duggan, Johnson County LIVING WELL Magazine

We’ve all driven by those portable roadside digital signs that show the speed we’re driving. The vast majority of us react the same way, by tapping our brakes, checking our own speedometers and slowing down. These roadside signs are part of a feedback loop, a profoundly effective tool for changing behaviors.

Chances are, you are already doing some daily behavioral tracking by stepping on the scale, counting calories or balancing your checkbook. These actions constitute one portion of a feedback loop, but lack a relevant reminder that is critical for behavior change.

The widespread use of the internet, powerful computing devices disguised as phones, inexpensive sensors and accelerometers and the rise of social media now invite individuals to create their own highly sophisticated feedback loops. There are hundreds of websites and apps to help you track and quantify behaviors to make real and lasting changes to your life.

Athletes, dieters, people interested in improving their efficiency and those with chronic health conditions are among the most widespread users of these tools, but there are millions of people tracking millions of behaviors. People are using tracking devices and sites to be healthier, to improve moods and to become more effective in all areas of their lives.

There are specific sites for people with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, restless legs, and diabetes. These sites help those with chronic conditions understand how pharmaceuticals, nutrition, dietary supplements, exercise and relaxation techniques impact their symptoms and wellbeing.

Athletes track many of the same things to improve performance. Dieters have long counted calories, but new apps allow them to keep track of what kinds of calories they take in and when, and how many calories they are burning. Self-trackers report that powerful insights and new motivating factors often come to light.

New tools are emerging daily. There are now tools that track our personal environments. We can measure the quality of the air in our rooms and the contaminants in our water. Tools like Digital Mirror use linguistic context tools to analyze our email and present us with data about how we communicate. We can track our attention by logging our productivity and measuring our attention spans.

If you want to make lasting life changes, replace the vagaries of intuition with facts gathered and driven by the accumulation of data.

Here is a sampling of some sites to get you started! As you can see, there truly is something for everyone.

  • The Quantified Self is an excellent place to learn about tracking tools and devices, and to share experiences with hundreds of people who are attempting to change behaviors.
  • MedHelp.com is one of the largest internet forums for health information. Each month, more than 30,000 new personal tracking programs are started.
  • Livestrong.com has tools to improve health and fitness, and to quit smoking.
  • Fitbit is a neat little tool that you wear during the day to track your exercise, steps and calories burned, and at night to track your sleep. Zeo has a tracker in a small headband that picks up electrical signals from the brain, and then compiles that data into a detailed record of light sleep, deep sleep and REM sleep. Both FitBit and Zeo use Bluetooth technology to transfer your data from device to computer to be parsed and analyzed.
  • Rypple is an online platform for the office that allows users to set up private projects and goals, and to give and receive feedback.
  • GreenGoose uses wireless sensors and game mechanics to encourage a host of behaviors like brushing your teeth, riding your bike and walking your dog. Users get points as rewards for everyday actions and bonus points for consistency.

Remember, these sites and tools aren’t clinical trials. The goal isn’t to figure out something about humanity in general, but to discover something about yourself that you can use in a positive way to create changes in behavior!

You may reach Meg and meg@datadrivenhealth.org or 816 797-7412.