What motivates us to self-track?
Tracking and personal observation date back centuries. You can find strands of self-improvement through self-examination in both Ancient Greek and Ancient Chinese philosophers. Proceeded by the confessional writings of Saint Augustine of Hippo and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Victorian era was notable for the proliferation of personal diaries and journals, which allowed for a narrative format of self-reflection. Today’s digital age has not really changed the human quest, to borrow a phrase, to know thy self. We simply have more tools and manners, both passive and active, to track our body, mind, time, environment or whatever.
“In short, it’s easier than ever to track a life.”Mark Koester
At the start of their 2013 paper, researchers Henner Gimpel, Marcia Nißen, and Roland Görlitz note, “Duggan (2013) estimate that already 69% of U.S. adults track health indicators for themselves or loved ones and one in five thereof uses technology to do so.” Compared to Butterfield’s work, which focused more on the community, their paper takes a much more expansive and rigorous approach to understand why individuals track their lives.
Self Trackers Are Accountable & Curious
Specifically, they did a multi-stage interview of 150 individuals:
Age ranges from 14 to 76 years with mean 34 and median 30 years. 71% of respondents are between 20 and 40 years old. 58% are male, 37% female (5% did not disclose their gender); 41% are employed, 33% students, 17% self-employed, 9% other; 53% are from Europe, 39% from North America, 8% other.
- “Respondents track 1 to 39 parameters (mean 9, median 8), mainly on physical activity (e.g., exercises, steps), body (e.g., weight, heart rate, blood pressure), well-being (e.g., sleep time and quality, mood), nutrition (e.g., calories intake and balance, water consumption), and medical issues (e.g., symptoms of chronic diseases, blood-test results, medication).”
- “One-third of our respondents suffer from a chronic disease.”
- “Concerning the question, why they started tracking in the first place, 56% agreed that “they just thought they should” start self-tracking.
- Only 28% “have heard about QS before”,
- 7% started after friends & family tried and started doing so well
- 8% had their physician asks them to start tracking
The researchers “followed the methodology described by Hinkin (1998) with six consecutive steps: (1) item generation, (2) survey administration, (3) initial item reduction, (4) confirmatory factor analysis, (5) further construct validity assessment, and (6) replication. The last step is left for future research.”
Following the initial surveys, they then used a statistical method called Principal Component Analysis (PCA), which is a way to convert a set of observations and possibly correlated variables into a set of uncorrelated variables called the principal components.
Essentially they gather a wide range of stated motivations and then converted into a unique set. Ultimately this leads to five englobing motivations.
What Are The Curiosity Values That Drive Self Tracking Motivation?
Gimpel’s Five-Factor Framework of Self-Tracking Motivations identified five principal reasons behind why people track their lives:
- self-healing = becoming healthier
- self-discipline = rewarding aspects of it
- self-design = control and optimize “yourself”
- self-association = associated with movement
- self-entertainment = entertainment value
Of the five motivations, individuals showed the highest adherence to self-healing and self-design. The researchers commented,
“those motived by self-healing were often had “a certain rebellion against the healthcare system” and looking for alternative therapies too.”
When it comes to self-design, you are often pursuing control over your own life.
“No matter whether it is self-trackers health, fitness, or mood, generally self-trackers are fascinated by the idea of controlling the way they are living by taking responsibility and optimizing their own lives.”
Accordingly, there is a relation between the number of motivations people subscribe to and how much they track: “Data shows that more motivation on a single factor leads to increased tracking activity and, in addition, motivation from different factors is cumulative.”
Multiple Motivators = Stronger Outcomes
Basically, when you have multiple motivations and stronger motivation of a specific factor, the result is an increase in the number of areas you track and the amount of time you spend tracking.
It’s important as an engineer of a tracking tool (Lab Me) to ensure that we use this research and keep our focus on self-healing and self-design.