Collecting numbers is just the starting point

Over the past 10 years I have been collecting a mass of physiological data through my work at Optima-life. I have information on stress, sleep, exercise, resilience, energy – the list goes on; and as for numbers, I have over 3 billion digits at my disposal, that provide information on what is going on in the day to day lives of the people I work with.

Data has changed the way I work; it provides the objectivity required to put in place a personalised approach and has allowed me to move on from the generic messages that may be the right thing for the masses but may not be correct for everyone. After all, an apple a day does not keep the doctor away if you are allergic to apples!

However, for all the benefits, collecting numbers alone still leaves one key challenge – what do they mean and what do you do with them?

Quantify or qualify
For many of those committed to ‘The Quantified Self’, data can provide the information that allows them to understand how they are functioning. Has their run been effective, is their weight ideal, are they on top of their urine osmolarity, or have they managed the perfect number of minutes in REM sleep are all numbers that can be collected. However, whilst the numbers provide great insight into what is going on, they don’t always tell the full story, unless you start to think about why.

Here are a couple of examples – if your blood pressure is 145 / 100 do you ask yourself why is it that the numbers are higher than ideal, or do you just seek to treat the elevated blood pressure? Of course, the latter is important, but exploring and addressing the contributing factors is also likely to have benefit. Alternatively, if you run 5k in 26 minutes on Monday and 26 minutes on Wednesday and yet on the first day you feel sluggish and slow and on the second run you feel energetic what is the difference – it is not the distance or the time so why the change? It could be the time of day, the temperature, how you slept the night before, hydration levels, nutritional input, what was going at work, etc.

The point is that with an appreciation of the contextual markers of life, the numbers move from being interesting to meaningful. There is no denying that data provides power, but if it can be placed alongside your actions and feelings, and the numbers are matched to the story, then the quantified can become the qualified. People can start to understand not just what is going on but why!

Know Your Numbers Week runs 7 – 13 September and is a national campaign to encourage people to get their blood pressure tested.