It started early. I discovered a calorie booklet when I was 14, and I had it memorized in no time. So, for over 30 years I’ve been tracking food, weight and physical activity, either in my head, on paper or a spreadsheet. I’ve also been tracking every financial expenditure, no matter how small, since the age of 18. Until recently, that was mostly it. But three years ago I decided I wasn’t getting enough exercise, so I bought a pedometer and set a benign goal of walking 10,000 steps a day. And I did. Then I lost the pedometer and got a FitBit, and started tracking steps and the fine details of my sleep. I upped my step goal to 12,000 steps a day (around six miles), and beat myself up if I didn’t reach it.
Then, on September 3, 2011 I decided to switch to a paleo diet, and started to track not only calories eaten and expended but my macros and micros, as well as body fat. The next, perhaps inevitable step, was Crossfit, which meant tracking my lifts. Then my mood. And my energy. I became a card-carrying member of the Quantified Self movement. My spreadsheets are legion. I used apps to manage the output of my devices. I played around with different macronutrient ratios. I tried different protocols for fixing some genetic stuff (I had my genes analyzed years ago, naturally).
Several realizations gradually dawned on me:
- I am addicted to tracking. Not only is it taking time away from other activities, it’s making me avoid interesting, badass-y adventures. Plus, I’m really judgmental, and this is making it worse. Tracking is turning me into a dull, mean person.
- I have not actually discovered any interesting, unexpected correlations. Whatever I’ve figured out is bleeding obvious: when I don’t get enough sleep I feel crappy the next day. When I eat more calories than I expend I gain weight. Big data, no insights.
- I feel bad when I don’t hit my targets. I’m clearly already too much of a perfectionist. It’s yet another source of self-recrimination and guilt.
I decided to quit tracking cold turkey, to unquantify myself, starting on September 3rd, 2013.
I’m writing this blog for myself, as encouragement, and a means of finding some of those insights the data never gave me. I’m also going to write about people who lead or have led daring and interesting lives, as inspiration to make more of mine.
This blog is for anyone in the same situation, for anyone attempting a jail break from their own perfectionism and compulsion to count.
It’s also in some small way a protest against our society’s obsession with data for their own sake.
And please, of course …
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t track
I am not saying that biometric devices are evil
I am not saying that Quantified Self is pointless
Lots of people are discovering valuable things about themselves, lose weight, gain health in just that way. If it’s helping you, keep doing it.
All I am saying is that there are people like me for which counting, and the devices that help you count, become an unproductive obsession. Who are logging lots of data but are not actually discovering anything interesting about themselves. Who need a bit of perspective, and a reminder to focus on all the stuff that matters but doesn’t fit onto a spreadsheet. That’s all.