self improvement and self optimization via self-tracking personal analytics and quantified selfAfter becoming fascinated by the Quantified Self movement a couple of years ago, I have immersed myself in self-tracking, and have been using this blog to document my personal experiences and thoughts, and review different tools and measures that I tried. When I started this blog, the scope of topics was limited to physical and mental health and fitness, but this list has been growing since then. The objective of the Measured Me project has evolved and become more ambitious than ever. I am now searching for the best ways to measure and track as many aspects of my everyday life as possible. But what is it exactly that I am trying to achieve? What is the ultimate goal of this ongoing experiment? In this post, I will discuss the new raison d’être behind the Measured Me experiment –  theory of life optimization.

I believe that for the most of us, everyday life consists of the same routines and activities, and thus is pretty much repetitive and structured. As a result, it can be described in terms of structural elements which come from the finite ranges, and are often defined by the context of the situation in which we find ourselves at that particular moment. The most basic elements in this “constructor set” are behaviors and states, and anything else can be defined using them: goals (behavior or state, short-term or long-term), modes of operation to achieve those goals (behaviors and states, short-term and long-term), and even outcomes (behavior or state, short-term and long-term). For instance, situation {breakfast} can be described in terms of goals {state = satiety; state = optimal fat %; state = increased focus, etc.}, modes of operation {skip/eat breakfast; eat breakfast with certain caloric value; drink coffee, etc.}, and outcomes {state = satiety; state = 10% body fat; state = concentration 2X average, etc}. I also believe that only a finite number of these behaviors and states really matter. In other words, our everyday life can be reduced to a sum of most important life behaviors and states Yi.

Further, there are numerous internal (e.g., physiological, mental, or psychological states and traits, skills, habits) and external (e.g., social relationships, weather) factors that affect our everyday life by influencing those situational behaviors and states. Your current mood and weather may influence your productivity at work, and your social skills (including relationship with your boss) – your chances to get that promotion. While there are potentially thousands, if not gazillions of such factors, I also believe that only a limited number of factors actually have a significant and consistent impact. In other words, out of those gazillions of factors, only a small bunch of Xi actually matter. So ultimately, we can define life as a set of important variables Yi, and a set of factors Xi that influence those Yi. Theoretically, if I could determine what those Xi and Yi are, and how they are related to each other, by manipulating or at least accounting for Xi, I could potentially influence and optimize my Yi.

Now, I am not claiming this theory to be exclusively mine. What I just described has been known in philosophy and social sciences as a deterministic model: our behavior is driven and shaped by some predetermined factors, as opposed to free will. I won’t exaggerate if I say that social scientists have proposed thousands of causal models of internal or environmental determinants of human behavior. While I may not agree with most of these models, I do find the deterministic theory plausible, and would like to build and test a model of my own. Unlike most of the scientists, however, I think that the Xi and Yi, as well as the pattern of relationships among them vary considerably across individuals, and thus, cannot be generalized. It is possible that while MY life can be defined in terms of 46 Ys, each or some of them affected by 189 Xs, and none of these Y or X has any significant meaning or impact in YOUR life.

And this is where Quantified Self and self-tracking come in. The only way to find out which Xs and Ys define your life, and how they are related is by observing and tracking yourself. Sounds crazy? Ambitious? Impossible? Perhaps. For now, I know of only way to test this theory: using self-tracking, self-experimentation and personal analytics. And so Measured Me experiment continues. Stay tuned!

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