What about health tracking?
8 hours of sleep.
Are those the ideal numbers? I don’t know. According to some researchers they are, at least on average. Keep that in mind.
These days everybody is tracking all the time. There are dozens if not hundreds of different apps and platforms that allows you to track everything from the amount of deep sleep you get, to the calories you eat.
Most often it’s called “quantified self”. There might be other names for it that I’m not aware of. Maybe I don’t know these names because I was always quite critical & skeptical about it.
Is tracking really useful? Does it lead to improvement? Isn’t it just another to-do on our ever-growing to-do list?
These questions are about whether tracking is useful in general, but then they are other questions within the area of tracking.
How much do you have to track? Is it enough to track total sleep or do you need to track each sleep phase individually?
How accurate or those trackers? Some clients reported that their tracker always added 30 minutes of sleep each morning, although they were already awake.
There are dozens of other questions that come up when you start tracking or measuring yourself and so the most important question remains: Is tracking really helpful? Or more specifically: Does tracking make you healthier?
For me there are three things that need attention when it comes to tracking. Numbers, ceteris paribus and simplicity.
As already mentioned in the beginning, there are ideal numbers. The 10.000 steps, the 8 hours of sleep and the 2000 kcal. But where did these come from?
It’s not like we were born with an blueprint that said you need to walk 10.000 steps and sleep 8 hours. No. Scientists came up with these numbers. Those number are based on studies.
But you are not a study. These numbers are always averages and they are not based on individual needs. Of course officials try to broaden these numbers and tell you that getting something between 7 and 9 hours of sleep should work for you.
Unfortunately most often it doesn’t.
There are some things, i.e. the kcal expenditure, which we can measure pretty accurately. No arguing there, but everything else is just an estimate.
10.000 steps is a better recommendation, than only 3.000, because, to be honest, we all could use more movement. It appears to me that we always need a number that we can work towards. It is not enough to say: “move more”, because we don’t know how much and when to stop.
When somebody asks you “why do you walk”, answering “to get my 10.000 steps” is weird.
I personally think it’s the wrong approach. You shouldn’t move more because of some made up number, but because you enjoy it or because it makes you feel good. That would be the intrinsic motivation. A number is just something extrinsic.
Only chasing numbers is often what makes companies fail and it might fail your health as well.
Maybe all of us should forget about numbers and just do.
If you’ve studied economics or business you’ve probably heard about this. It’s a Latin phrase that translates to: “with other things the same” or “all other things being equal”.
In Economics or statistics it is often referred to when changing one variable, while keeping all others constant, to find the effect of that one variable, without any bias.
If you don’t keep all other variables constant and the result changed, you don’t know for sure where this change came from.
This applies also to measuring yourself and that’s where it gets complicated and unreliable. Take your sleep for example. You usually sleep 8 hours per night and feel good. Today you’re going out to have a few drinks. You only get 7 hours of sleep and feel like crap the next morning.
The problem is you don’t know exactly where this came from. Did it come from staying up late and sleeping less or did it come from drinking alcohol. Or was it the combination of both.
And this applies to everything. It’s really hard to achieve the state of ceteris paribus, but can we even get value without it?
I’d say the value is limited. Unless you are very strict about everything, you won’t be able to exactly find out what influences you negatively and what doesn’t.
The question that follows, but probably should proceed it: Do you need to know? Do you need to know whether alcohol or staying up late caused your sleep to suffer? I’m not sure about that.
It feels forced to improve everything about ourselves. A very good friend of mine put it perfectly:
Life is what happens while you’re trying to improve your life.
Do we actually need all those numbers? I know, what gets measured gets done, but sometimes I feel like measuring too much gets in the way of actually doing. Paralysis by analysis.
I love when things are simple. Not easy, but simple. Tracking should be simple as well. It should work properly in order to provide you with some value and not prevent you from getting that value.
Tracking can get complicated in two areas: tools and data.
If the tools are not working properly and are too complicated to use, there is no sense in using them. If you spend more time adjusting the tools than tracking, something is off.
The trackers and software have to be built in a way so you can use them without much effort. I love the Apple’s iOS, but the Health app is just horrible. I tried to use it for a couple of times, but I couldn’t do it without help from the internet. That’s seldom a good sign.
On the other, if your data is getting to complicated to analyse it efficiently and effectively, it’s not good either. It’s like not seeing the forest because of the many trees. You’ll look at the data and won’t find a single thing you can start working with.
There’s a fine line between having too little and too much data.
In general, tracking should only be a tool, not a whole theme. If tracking your sleep prevents your from actually sleeping, it’s not helpful.
If tracking your calories prevents your from cooking a homemade meal and eating processed foods instead, it’s not helpful.
You need to find out for yourself if tracking, and to what extend, is working for you.
For me personally tracking can be a great tool in the beginning, if it enables to reap the benefits in the long term. For example, I’ve tracked calories very detailed for over a year, which was very strenuous, but it worked. Although I exercised consistently, I didn’t track it, but it’s important to say that this contributed to the end result as well.
It helped me to get in very good shape and also moved my diet to another level. Today I never check for calories. I learned what’s good for me and how much I need. Today I can enjoy all the foods I eat, without thinking about calories or anything else, because I already make the healthy choices subconsciously.
If tracking helps you to get to that state it might be worth a shot.