Fragmented thoughts of a fragmented mind

19 Jan 2013

being conscious: self-quantifying & positive reinforcement

When I made the decision to walk to the public pool swim 10 laps on a lazy Sunday afternoon in Hong Kong a few months ago, I knew there was this tiny switch that flipped inside me. It wasn't a sudden flip of course, it was being nudged bit by bit accumulatively for the past year or so but when it finally flipped it felt like a quantum leap, at least for me.

I have lived a life giving in to my own whims and fancies which translates to – I never ever exercised out of my own free will because I never felt like it. I never found a reason to want to live better, so it really didn't make a difference whether my health meter was 20% or 80%.

I was fascinated with Facebook Timeline when it first released. I scrolled back all the way, looking at snapshots of my life and there it came that realisation – I had led a much more fulfilling life than I thought and believed. Those pictures, statuses, epiphanies, tiny split-moments that I thought didn't matter, all added up to tell a story. My story.

There and then, I had a tinge of regret. I regretted not checking in more, not taking more pictures, not posting random statuses more. Basically, I regretted not saving enough data of my own life. My own live journal.

From that moment onwards, I tried to check-in to every place I have been to, take every snapshot of anything that caught my eye, took pictures of all my food. I was partaking in this movement called "Self-Quantifying" without knowing it. For a tough period in Vancouver, I gave points to my sleep quality, my sleeping hours, my moods, how many tasks I've accomplished, everything.

I used to have a lot of what we call "getting up at the wrong side of the bed" whereby the entire day will just be a bad day because I could not shake off a negative mood. I never really bothered to find out why,  I just thought it was me. Part of my temperament.

Till I started journalling a lot, noted down details of each day, I found a strong co-relation between what I ate, how little I sleep, to the quality of my next day.

Science can tell you a lot but for a lot of us I guess it doesn't really impact until you stare at your own data in its face.

I am stubborn, but insanely curious. I used to have a very strong resistance to changing myself, because I thought that was betraying who I am. But because of my curiousity, I was driven to experiment with little quantifiable changes in my life – if I ate a little less sugar or slept earlier, would it make a difference to my next day?

It did.

So did having an archive of moments of what I've done and seen, looking back at all my foursquare checkins and instagram pictures only makes me want to have more of those. I want my life to have many tiny dots of quantifiable moments, not one long blip that I myself cannot remember.

Each time I feel lazy to do something, to go out and enjoy the sun or explore a new place, I negotiate with myself. Do I want this day to exist as a forgettable blip or do I want this day to be remembered by actual data?

I came across stories of how chronically diabetic people defied all medical odds and regulated their blood sugar naturally simply by gaming themselves. There are quite a few success stories with the Nike Fuelband (google for more). I am now a proud owner of a Nike Fuelband myself thanks to my adorable bosses and does it make me want to be more active?

Yes it does.

I am a huge believer of technology, when applied to the right problems, can truly change the world. The best way to start changing the world is to change ourselves first. I can't ask for a better world to live in when I don't even want to produce effort to take care of my health. I cannot get past that logic within my own head so I am guilt-tripping myself into making more conscious choices. Yes, I am calling myself a hypocrite these days.

That is just one part, fortunately. Unlike most people I know, I do not desire to have a long life in terms of linear years. I accept that I cannot control the timing of my own death but I can maximize the moments I am alive. I want to make them count. It is hard to feel alive when I was constantly fatigued, moody or sick. I have come to a point in my life where I consciously know that nothing is more important than my own health. We are obsessed with feeling productive with working long hours – blindly. We burn ourselves out and use it as a badge of honor when we work 20 hour days for a 30 day streak.

And when our health fails, sometimes permanently, we realize belatedly that some things are just not worth trading for. We look back at those 20 hour days and wonder what did we get in return for those?

I visit a farmer's market, buy a gluten-free piece of cake, watch a band singing on the streets, that makes me feel alive. Looking at kickstarter projects like The Diabetic Journal, that makes me feel alive. There are a million things we can do to bring joy into this world, be it baking something or singing on the streets. People who work in technology have access to a lot of power. Unfortunately we don't seem to realise it.

I self-quantify, because I want to be more conscious about what I do and the decisions I make. I want to reduce the number of times my lizard brain takes control and induces me to do nothing because "I don't feel like it".

I get better at understanding my brain and how to game myself. I am constantly learning of ways to make myself do things I do not feel like doing even though mentally I know it is good for me. What are the right words to say and the right triggers to make, without being like a tiger mom to myself.

Today, on a beautiful Saturday morning, I went out for a run, tracked by the Nike+ running app. This is the same person who thought of running the mandatory 2.4km back in school days was hell. I didn't run a lot, just under 2km, but the point is to make that conscious decision to get out there and run.

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