Nivedit Majumdar Nivedit Majumdar

Quantified Self for the Spiritual Being

Humans are wonderfully unpredictable beings. We might assure ourselves sometimes, saying that we are in control of situations around us and the emotions within us. But more often than not, emotions get the better of people according to various circumstances, and this invariably affects the way people perceive the situations around them.

The Quantified Self movement actively promotes the acts of self tracking, and aspects such as calories burnt, miles run or hours spent sleeping are standard parameters for being tracked. But besides these, there are more obscure parameters – which take a look at the mental and spiritual side of things. Things like emotions, mental states and psychological well being.

So in this article, I put my fitness trackers on standby, and dive deep into the world of holistic self tracking – moods, emotions, and how tracking all this can help benefit our lives. I take a look at the various hardware and software tools available in the market, and discuss how tracking the mental states can actually prove to be a key factor in self improvement.

STRESS – THE FIGURES

Now let’s break into the meat of the matter by studying the driving force in this context. In this age of striving to achieve more goals and become more successful, people often subject themselves to a high level of stress. While it might not always be physical – in the form of curbing sleep and diet patterns – it is always psychological.

Psychological stress is quite a rampant condition, and alarming statistics give concrete evidence to this statement. A figure from Statista indicates the presence of health disorders in adults in the United States in a four year period – between 2008 and 2012.

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Data Source: Statista

More recent numbers present an alarming – and at the same time, very informative – take on the stress situation within the United States. According to a paper – Stress in America: Paying with our Health –  that was developed by the American Psychological Association in 2015, the stress levels are definitely on a decline, but they are still higher than healthy levels.

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Data Source: American Psychology Association

Common sources of stress include some key suspects: primary of which is the ever increasing need to earn more. Work related pressure comes at a close second, and it is quite ironic to see personal health concerns also be a part of the list enumerating the stress factors in humans.

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Data Source: American Psychology Association

All in all, there is an increasing need for a holistic development. The need to improve the body – both physically and mentally – is an overwhelming need, and the Quantified Self movement can surely prove its prowess in this regard.

THE DIFFERENCE TODAY

Quantified Self – or self tracking for that matter- hasn’t really been a new thing. In fact, the whole activity of measuring mental states and psychological turmoil through the day is quite an old ritual, that was famously practised by Benjamin Franklin. He tracked thirteen of his personal virtues in a daily journal to motivate himself towards a state of moral perfection.

In his own words, he found himself fuller of faults than he had himself imagined, and still he had the last satisfaction of tracking them and seeing them diminish over time.

Today, we’ve come a long way since Ben Franklin made journal entries. Through advanced wearables, sensors, data crunching algorithms and correlation with family genealogy, one can come closer to analysing psychological states and combating the mental and spiritual afflictions, thereby bringing about a more holistic quantified self.

DATA TO THE RESCUE

As I’ve mentioned previously, human emotions are a complex affair. Causative forces tend to differ and vary from time to time, and keeping track of these emotions merely through journals or diaries can often end up being more confusing (and a cause for more stress, perhaps?).

This is where the power of data steps in. Numbers never lie, and key metrics within how you behave on a daily basis, to what motivates and drives you further, can help in coming to a suitable conclusion as far as the overall mental state is concerned.

Crunching these numbers and correlating them with causative forces can result in a reasonably accurate, if not perfect, understanding of the mental state. And ultimately this becomes more important for improving the spiritual being.

TRACKING ALGORITHMS

Mood tracking and the associated algorithms is a concept I’ve discussed previously, so I won’t be going over that again. But let it suffice to say that much like the parameters measured, the algorithms and approaches that go into mood tracking are quite complex and subjective.

Approaches such as the Circumplex approach, the Evaluative approach and the POMS approach are now making way for more modern day approaches such as text and pattern analysis. While one really can’t generalise emotions on a scale, it does provide suitable conclusions regarding the overall mental well being of a person.

TOOLS

So now we’ve got three aspects out of the way: the problem – with the causative forces, the difference in approaches followed previously and followed today, and the current technical approaches to mood tracking.

Now, let’s touch upon the various tools in the market for effectively analysing the mood states and spiritual condition of a person.

SOFTWARE TOOLS: APPLICATIONS

The software tools for bringing about a Spiritually Quantified Self come in two major categories: apps which simulate a more relaxing environment – in the form of music or motivational and soothing voice affirmations, and apps which include logs for the spiritual state.

Regarding the applications for relaxing sounds and music, there are products such as Simply Being, Insight Timer, RelaxingApps and Equanimity. All these applications have more or less one key thing in common – the creation of a meditative aura which seeks to put the subject at ease, and thereby reduce the stress levels greatly.

In fact, meditation and acts such as Pranayama and other forms of Yoga have been clinically proven to reduce the stress levels, and these particular applications bank on this very concept. They also come with bundled timers and logs to keep track of the time for which the listener meditated in a day.

As far as the second type of the application category is concerned, there are quite a few mood tracking applications out there. Apps such as Mercury App, Moodscope, Livifi, GravityEight and TallyZoo are applications which deliver scales of mood quantification to the user. These can be offered in the form of simple questions, to more analytical questionnaires which aim at studying the psychological and emotional state of a person at any given point of time.

These applications – Mercury App in particular – offer the feature to set up different projects for which the emotions and feelings can be tracked. For example, moving to a new city, or getting a new job. Personally, I used this application to track the time I made the transition from being a student and enjoying all the associated freedom with college life, to moving into the corporate sector, and I realised that I was more stressed out and tired during the week, rather than the weekends.

All in all, there are quite a few applications as far as tracking and keeping a record of the emotional state is concerned. But applications are banking on simple habits and journalling practices on the part of the user, and to me they don’t really present much potential. The real magic lies in the dedicated hardware for tracking the spiritual wellness of a person.

DEDICATED HARDWARE TOOLS: SENSORS!

The Quantified Self movement has gotten more momentum over time primarily due to the development of sensors, wearables and tracking devices around the concept of QS, and things aren’t different when it comes to the spiritual state as well. Sensors and algorithms work hand in hand to correlate readings from different perspectives with the plausible emotional state of the person at that moment.

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Image Source: Zensorium

Take for example Zensorium’s Being mindfulness tracker. It is quite a versatile tracker in itself, and intuitively maps health, moods, activities and sleep. The tracker – in a wrist watch form factor – senses energy from the heart rate and blood pressure, and accordingly comes to a conclusion regarding the emotions from the heart rate vulnerability.

Similar to the concept of measuring stress levels, is a wearable called WellBe. The tracker with the application create an environment designed to make the subject get an overview of stress triggers . WellBe then offers personalised stress reduction programs to help the user achieve and maintain a calmer state of being.

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Image Source: WellBe

The key is to find out what triggers the stress levels, and what activities might be better suited to reduce the bad stress levels.

Moving beyond stress, is the power of a breathing pattern. This is a technique that has been popularised by the age old concept of Pranayama in Yoga, and a wearable called Prana makes use of quite a few aspects in this regard. Interestingly, the tracker introduces the concept of gamification to the whole equation of tracking breathing patterns, and has a two minute game which is a breathing exercise too.

Besides these hardware devices and wearables, there are things like Spire – to track steps walked, breathing patterns and tension levels; and the SmartMat – a Yoga mat fitted with 21,000 sensors to detect the body’s balance, pressure and alignment. Evidently, hardware and sensors are the key here. Correlating the tension and stress levels with body posture and heart rate, and enabling the software and hardware aspects to work hand in hand is the crux of the spiritual tracking environment.

TO CONCLUDE

Peter Drucker famously said, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

We’re heading into a stage where mindfulness is becoming more and more relevant. Stress levels are of paramount importance, specially when it comes to analysing what makes people tick and perform. In this context, a state of holistic development becomes all the more important. The next step for the Quantified Self is undoubtedly the Spiritually Quantified Self!

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