Want to Succeed? Monitor Yourself

Have you ever heard of the “quantified self?” It’s what happens when technology meets self-monitoring. Other catchy phrases referencing the same thing are lifelogging, autoanalytics, and self-tracking. Self-monitoring is not a new idea (early adopters include Saint Ignatius and Benjamin Franklin), and most of us have been doing it for years in some form or another – think bathroom scales and heart rate monitors. But as a tried and true idea, self-monitoring — enhanced by technology — is gaining traction. Tracking the details of your daily existence has become hugely popular in the health and wellness industry because it’s effective and computers and smart phones have made it almost effortless.

If your goal is weight loss, diligently recording your food intake along with your activity level will dramatically increase your chances of success. Why? Because tracking diet and exercise increases your self-awareness on several counts. It keeps you focused on your goal, strengthens your commitment to self-improvement, increases your feeling of control, helps you understand patterns in your eating and exercise habits, provides a detailed picture of your progress, and promotes a more positive mood.

Sleep-Cycle-briefapps-icon-150x150But why stop at diet and exercise? We have a seemingly limitless choice of technology to help us track just about anything. From our moods (Mood Panda), to sleeping (Sleep Cycle), and even our menstrual cycle (iPeriod). The novelty is seductive, yet if you can find an app or even create a spreadsheet or handwritten chart that supports you in reaching your goal of self improvement, use it! Self-awareness is the key, and cultivating it through closely monitoring your activities will keep you on track and accountable.

I’ve used Strava and Sleep Cycle and have a client who swears by Fitbit. What tools do you recommend? I’d love to hear about your favorites in the comment section below.



Kirschenbaum, Daniel S. Ph.D. (2000) The 9 Truths About Weight Loss. New York. Henry Holt & Co.

Baumeister, R. F. and J. Tierney (2011) Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. New York. Penguin.


Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

Social psychologist Roy Baumeister and The New York Times science writer, John Tierney are the coauthors of the bestseller Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (2011). Together they have crafted a remarkable collection of research findings on how humans control (or don’t) their thoughts, impulses and actions. Their conclusions are surprising, often debunking popular beliefs. What the reader comes away with is an appreciation for the biology behind our everyday mental struggles and some realistic strategies to work within our innate limits. I found so much valuable information–with numerous implications for each of us–that I’ve decided to devote several separate blog entries to the book.

To start, the authors report that more than one million people surveyed about their own character strengths most often rank “self-control” at the bottom of the list. Yet psychologists also know that self-control is vital for personal success. So why is it so elusive and can and how do we strengthen it?

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

If we wake up well rested and manage to have a decent breakfast, we each begin the day with a healthy amount of willpower at our disposal. However, an inevitable decline occurs as we make decisions and control our impulses throughout the course of a normal day. Baumeister and Tierney use the term ego-depletion to describe the effect of using up our self-control. Most of us are left with a diminished capacity to regulate ourselves toward the end of the day. (Think skipping your afternoon workout, yelling at your children, or the late-night snack.) Willpower should be thought of as a muscle that can be fatigued.

This is just a short summary of what humans are up against as we try to harness our willpower. If you’ve already decided this as a losing battle, it’s not! The book goes on to apply these findings to dieting, goal setting, self-esteem, and I’ll explore all of these and more in upcoming blog posts. In the meantime, the authors suggest focusing your efforts on one project at a time. You’re only setting yourself up for failure by taking on too much or dividing up your resources among many goals. New Year’s resolutions are a good example. Stick with one reasonable goal, and you’re much better equipped to meet the challenge.

Stay tuned for more on Willpower!



Baumeister, R. F. and J. Tierney (2011) Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. New York. Penguin Books.