Tonight I went to my first meetup of the Boston Quantified Self group. If you’re unfamiliar with the QS movement, it’s a group of people working to improve their lives with data—steps taken per day, hours slept per night, mood states over time, and just about anything else you can think to measure and track.
After the demo, there were some amazing keynote presentations—from a young woman who committed to reading five books a week for nine months, and from a man named Vik who wrote Happsee, his own Android application to track his mood. It was one of the smartest rooms I’ve been in in quite a while, and it was really inspiring to see people so committed to—and so good at—setting goals, measuring them, and achieving them. They made it look easy, and I know from experience it’s not.
A lot of suggestions for Medivate came out of the evening—perhaps not surprisingly, many of them around our analytics and logging. I also had a few thoughts on the QS movement itself, and on how meditation can fit into it.
Ideas for Medivate
A word cloud of public meditation data across the site
This would basically track what words people use most when they’re meditating; combined with our “How it felt”/”Rating” feature, it could track what words people use to describe both unpleasant and pleasant meditation sessions. I think it’s a great idea; the only things would be finding the time to program it, and making sure the data were aggregated enough so as not to be highly personal (e.g., you wouldn’t want “heartbreak” and “Rebecca” to rise to the top).
I am seriously considering doing a “word cloud experiment” with whomever wants to participate. We’d track participants’ meditation data for a month, build weekly word clouds and a single word cloud at the end, and discuss. What do you think? If we did it, would you want to sign up?
As usual, the most consistent feedback was “Are you guys thinking about making an app?” We are! The app’s been very slow to develop because of our insistence on learning and doing it ourselves—which I still do think is the right call. But we recognize the importance of it, and it’s a bit frustrating to think how much easier Medivate would be to engage with if we had a strong minimum viable product app out on iOS and Android.
Thoughts on QS itself
Basically, I was really impressed with QS, and came away quite inspired by the feeling in the air that a bit of rigor and a can-do attitude can change our lives for the better. It also felt like a validation of the general approach we’ve taken with Medivate, and an encouragement to move forward.
I have a strong hunch that any suggestions I make will repeat things that have been said better and more completely elsewhere, but I’ll still say the following:
Getting to root causes
I think QS will be stronger as people are not merely tracking things, but tracking the right things. I think this is especially relevant for emotions and feeling-states. For example, if you’re having anger problems, it’s great to track your anger through the day, and try to get that number as low as possible on average through, say, regular walks and listening to calming music. If you committed to this and followed through, I think it would substantially improve your life.
But why are you so angry? Maybe part of it is simply force of habit, or behavioral triggers that you can learn to avoid—but maybe you also feel unloved and alone, or that the world is a dark place, or that people are basically selfish. These might be the deep causes of your anger, and I’m inclined to say that the best approach would address them directly.
So, with emotional well-being at least, I think knowing what to measure and optimize—and being able to distinguish causes from symptoms—is a really important part of the process.
QS and meditation
Broadly, the paragraph above is also what I’d like to say about how meditation could help the QS movement. To be totally accurate, though, it isn’t just meditation—it would really be “meditation and spirituality,” or “spirituality activated by meditation.” This doesn’t have to be trippy or religious—it could be as simple as meditating a bit every day, and then one morning looking a perpetually irritating coworker in the eyes and, for the first time, seeing insecurity and a deep desire to be happy. (That experience, repeated and amplified, is all spirituality is for me in the first place.)
For me, “spirituality activated by meditation” has fundamentally shifted my entire understanding of the world, in a holistic way that I doubt any number of incremental, behavioral improvements could match. So I imagine that the rigor and accountability of a QS approach, informed by the depth and power of authentic spirituality, could do a world of good. It’s the kind of synthesis that we really hope Medivate can come to represent.
Well! If you’ve read this far, thanks for reading. If you’ve skipped to the bottom, maybe a succinct (leaning towards overly cute) way to tie this up is: “If you could pick one thing to optimize, why not make it your mind?”