The Quantified Self: New Avenues for Positive Psychology Research and Application - Part 4: Self-Experimentation Capacity Building & Quantified Coaching
Self-Experimentation Capacity Building: The Future of Applied Positive Psychology
Linley, Joseph, Maltby, Harrington and Wood (2009) strongly believe that the goal of positive psychologists should be to spread the positive psychology message as wide as the ability to do so allows us. They firmly believe in the applied power of positive psychology to facilitate optimal functioning. Most positive psychology-based interventions focus on cultivating happiness, well-being, and psychological capital by leveraging strength-based interventions; however, new types of positive psychology-based interventions may be even more beneficial to increasing the optimal functioning in people’s lives - self-experimentation capacity building & quantified coaching.
Taking heed of a hot topic in evaluation - evaluation capacity building (ECB) - I propose that interventions to build self-experimentation capacity may be a new frontier towards increasing well-being. ECB is about learning how to think evaluatively and how to engage in sound evaluation practice (Preskill & Boyle, 2008). ECB stems from the approach that the most important part of an evaluation is its utilization in making decisions (Patton, 1997). Rather than simply conducting an evaluation of a program or organization, evaluators that advocate ECB strive to create an evaluation culture within the organization by empowering individuals and groups to take evaluative processes into their own hands (Preskill & Boyle, 2008). ECB involves the design and implementation of teaching and learning strategies to help individuals and groups learn about what constitutes effective and useful evaluation practice. The ultimate goal of ECB is sustainable evaluation practice, where individuals continuously collect, analyze, and interpret data to make better-informed decisions. In our case, it would not be evaluation, but instead, self-experimentation capacity building. Influenced by Preskill & Boyle’s (2008) model of evaluation capacity building, I propose a preliminary list of objectives that ideally should be met when building self-experimentation capacity. The objectives can be categorized under knowledge, skills, and affective domains.
Self-Experimentation Capacity Building (Quantified Coaching) Objectives
Knowledge – Particpants/Clients Understand:
- Self-Experimentation involves purposeful, planned, and systematic activities
- Experimentation terms and concepts
- The strengths and weaknesses of different experimental, quasi-experimental and correlational designs
- The strengths and weaknesses of different data collection methods
- What tools are available to use for self-experimentation and how to use them
- How to apply basic statistical analyses to quantitative data
- How to apply basic thematic and content analyses to qualitative data
Skills (behaviors) – Participants/Clients are Able to:
- Develop relevant hypotheses
- Develop simple logic models
- Design simple experimental, quasi-experimental, and correlational studies
- Choose appropriate data-collection instruments and methods
- Select appropriate technology to conduct self-experimentation
- Analyze quantitative and qualitative data
- Interpret results and draw conclusions
- Teach others about self-experimentation
Affective – Participants/Clients Believe and Feel that:
- Self-experimentation yields useful information
- Self-experimentation can be a positive experience
- Self-experimentation should be a part of everyday life
- Self-experimentation contributes to a person’s success
- Self-Experimentation adds value to the individual
- Self-Experimentation is worth the time and money
Self-Experimentation Capacity Building interventions, workshops, and educational programs should be built and implemented around these objectives. I believe that Self-Experimentation Capacity Building & Quantified Coaching represent the next evolution of applied positive psychology. As more people learn about the value of self-experimentation, the usefulness of its findings, and how to properly conduct decent to good science, a healthier and more optimal society will result. This notion is similar to Donald Campbell’s utopian “experimenting society” where people think critically and make highly informed decisions that lead to the positive evolution of the world (Shadish, Cook, & Leviton, 1991). If my proposal is correct, self-experimentation & quantified coaching could become powerful pathways to higher well-being, happiness, and meaning positive psychology has ever seen. When individuals are empowered to effectively collect and analyze data on whatever they find most meaningful to their own personal development, the possibilities for increasing optimal functioning are endless. This skillset can further be complemented by working with a qualified quantified coach, who can help one build self-experimentation capacity and guide one on their self-tracking journey.
Are you tracking anything right now? Have you ever worked with a coach? What benefits have you experienced?
Further Reading & References:
Linley, A. P., Joseph, S., Maltby, J., Harrington, S. & Wood, A. M.. (2009). Positive psychology applications. In C.R. Snyder & S.J. Lopez (Eds.) Handbook of Positive Psychology (35-47). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Patton, M. Q. 1997 Utilization-focused evaluation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
(2008). A multidisciplinary model of evaluation capacity building. The American Journal of Evaluation. 29(4), 443-459.
Shadish, W.R., Cook, T.D., & Leviton, L.C.L. (1991). Foundations of Program Evaluation. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Steger, M. F., Kashdan, T. B., Sullivan, B. A., & Lorentz, D. (2008). Understanding the search for meaning in life: Personality, cognitive style, and the dynamic between seeking and experiencing meaning. Journal of Personality, 76(2), 199-228.
The Quantified Self: New Avenues for Positive Psychology Research and Application - Part 3: Why do People Quantify? What the Heck is Going On Here?!?
The Quantified Self : Origins
The notion of marrying technology with self-improvement originated in San Francisco, where Gary Wolf, a journalist and author, co-founded the Quantified Self blog along with Kevin Kelly in 2007. Wolf noticed that an eclectic mix of individuals, who generally were early adopters, personal development fanatics, fitness freaks, and those suffering from chronic illnesses, began utilizing technology to measure and track their everyday activities. The idea of measuring things to chart progress towards objectives and goals is humdrum amongst corporations. But the use of metrics by individuals has until recently been less widespread, with the exception of people stepping on their bathroom scales with hopes of tracking their weight loss. It could be safe to say that most people do not track their sleeping patterns, how much alcohol they drink, their moods, their energy and activity levels, or how much time one spends reading articles on the internet. Recent advances in technology have allowed individuals to collect and analyze data about their everyday experiences with hopes of discovering patterns and occurrences that will ultimately improve their lives. Individuals can create self-experiments that can be used to record a specific piece of data, remind them to perform a certain action, or both.
Why Do People Track & Quantify Their Experiences?
According to Wolf, there three overarching reasons why people track themselves:
- They have a specific goal, such as weight loss or sleeping better.
- They are curious. People see collecting data as helpful in maintaining overall self-awareness. It is like keeping a quantitative diary.
- They believe personal data is an investment that will pay off in the future. They want to establish a baseline with which to measure future changes.
In cases 2 and 3, self-tracking is part of an exploratory worldview in which the key goal is learning through the process of data collection and interpretation. Often times, a goal-oriented tracking project can transform into a curiosity-driven exploration, which then may shift into a new way of life. Overall, self-quantifiers believe that they can increase control over their own lives, free themselves from destructive habits, and pursue and achieve meaningful goals armed with the utmost insight.
Where is the Quantified Self Happening?
The Quantified Self website, which is the central hub of the movement, has the credo, “Self-Knowledge Through Numbers.” On this website, self-quantifiers and toolmakers who share an interest in self-knowledge through self-tracking exchange information about personal projects, the tools they use to pursue these projects, and the lessons they have learned along the way. This is done via the blog or the interactive forums.
Though the bulk of sharing between self-quantifiers takes place online, an important aspect of the Quantified Self movement is the real-world social gathering and sharing component. These show and tell meetings provide an opportunity for QS people to meet and learn from each other in their respective local areas. These meetups, which are organized via Meetup.com, are structured around three central questions:
a) What are you doing?
b) How are you doing it?, and
c) What did you learn?
The vast majority of these meetups are held in the United States and Europe. They take place in cities and urban areas where people are very plugged in to technology. The people that live in these areas have the financial means to utilize technology. These meetups take place in cultures that are individualistic rather than collectivist.
QS Meetups Around the World
The Quantified Self as a Community of Practice
The Quantified Self movement is an example of a “community of practice,” and in this case, one that exists online as well as in the real world (Brown & Duguid, 1991). Communities of practice are places where members participate in common practices, depend on one another, identify themselves as part of something larger, and commit themselves to their own and group’s well-being (Preskill & Torres, 2000). These communities of practice typically come together voluntarily and are drawn by a common force (Brown & Duguid, 1991). In this case the common force is an intense curiosity and drive for personal growth and self-knowledge.
The most active communities of practice in the self-experimentation movement revolve around health and chronic illness. For example, on MedHelp, one of the largest Internet forums for health information, more than 30,000 new personal tracking projects are started by users every month. On CureTogether, another online health forum, people suffering from various forms of mental and physical illnesses share with others the types of treatments they are trying, and how they are working or not working. In these types of online communities of practice, problem solving becomes more of a social activity than just a detached, analytical, and isolated process. Preskill and Torres (2000) promote the social constructivist learning that takes place when individuals are reviewing information together. When individuals are provided with opportunities for constructivist learning, they are often transformed by their experiences.
Implications for Positive Psychology
The amount of data being collected and shared amongst these online and offline communities of practice is staggering; however, the majority of these communities, approach solving growth from the traditional deficit-based approach. This is quite an opportunity for positive psychology to establish its own communities of practice, both online and off, structured around thriving. Why not create and promote communities specifically centered around engagement, meaning, and happiness? These communities of practice can be founded upon the empirical knowledge base of positive psychology, yet still encourage a social constructivist approach to learning for those wishing to participate. This marriage between positive psychology and self-experimentation would be quite the symbiotic relationship. Positive psychology could tap into the endless amounts of data these communities provide to learn more about what is important and meaningful to people who are actually active and concerned about self-knowledge and improvement. Why wait for a grant to be funded when data can be collected at the click of an e-mail blast to online community members? Why struggle to establish a new database when there are naturalistic databases being formed and reformed at a continual rate? The ecological validity that these naturally forming databases could provide positive psychology is astounding.
In return, these communities can be better informed if led by the empirically-based research foundations that positive psychology is assembling. Individuals can design their own self-tracking projects based on the latest findings from our field, and thus hopefully will be more likely to succeed in living a thriving life. Inevitably, problems and ethical challenges will arise in regards to collecting, organizing, operationalizing, re-coding, and restructuring data from these communities into more scientifically acceptable forms. I would argue that the benefits in doing so will far outweigh the costs. This is self-quantification movement is very important to the evolution of positive psychology.
What do you think?
Further Reading and References:
Brown, J. S., & Duguid, P. (1991). Organizational learning and communities of practice: Toward a unified view of working, learning, and innovation. Organization Science, 2(1), 40-57.
Preskill, H., & Torres, R. T. (2000). The learning dimension of evaluation use. New Directions for Evaluation. 88, 25-38.
The Quantified Self: New Avenues for Positive Psychology Research and Application - Part 2: A Brief History of Self-Experimentation
Self-Experimentation?.....Sounds Creepy and Weird....
It definitely does. It brings up images of mad scientists consuming strange elixirs and potions. It makes one think about some crazy genius injecting himself with strange medicines. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde may come to mind.
Over the past two centuries, self-experimentation has been most-documented in medical research, with a peak of self-experimentation occurring during the first half of the 20th century.
Most of this medical self-experimentation was undertaken to examine the effects of infectious diseases, followed by investigations of anesthesiology, physiology, pharmacology, and radiology (Weisse, 2012). For example, Albert B. Sabin administered an oral polio vaccine to himself before administering it to thousands of others in a field trial (Weisse, 2012). Although reports of self-experimentation in the medical field is in decline, many self-experiments have proven invaluable to the medical field in terms of advancing science and saving lives.
Why Many Methodologists and Scientists Hate Self-Experimentation
The scientific community likes nice and neat experiments that are well-designed and thus, accurately tell the researcher whether an independent variable had some type of effect on a dependent variable. To do this, an adequate sample size that has been randomly assigned and selected must be a prerequisite in order to eliminate any rival explanations. When dealing with a sample size of n=1, any findings just simply do not hold up in terms of scientific validity. Not only is the sample size inadequate, but there is obvious self-selection bias happening here. You cannot generalize findings from a self-experiment, nor can it be replicated across different groups, settings, contexts, and times without some major quality of the study being distorted.
Perhaps the main beef against self-tracking and self-experimentation is simply the fact that self-experimenter expectations lead to systematic error in data collection and data interpretation- making any findings completely biased an invalid.
Similar to Mook (1983), who defends external invalidity, I extend the proposition to the defense of internal invalidity, hypothesizing that the benefits of self-experimentation lie not in the outcomes, but in the process. The foundation of this suggestion stems from approaching scientific inquiry with a naturalistic and constructivist paradigm. In the constructivist paradigm individuals construct their own realities and beliefs to make individual and social meaning out of what they subjectively experience (Guba & Lincoln, 1985). There is no single, objective truth, but rather each person has a unique construction that is shaped by his or her own value system. Looking at self-tracking in this light, it is perfectly acceptable to not be able to generalize our data. But we must also not view our data collection and interpretation as being useless to others. More on the prosocial effects of self-experimentation in later segments...
Self-Experimentation & Self-Tracking as a Strategy for Idea-Generation, Decision-Making
From an experimental psychology perspective, Seth Roberts (2004), believes that although there may be potential bias problems, long-term self-experimentation has an enormous strength in helping one generate and develop new plausible ideas. Rather than generating theoretical ideas post hoc using exploratory data analysis (Tukey, 1980), one can begin to gather data on personal assumptions, and through a process of advanced trial and error, uncover their potentially true underlying mechanisms (Roberts, 2004). Through twelve years of self-experimentation and self-tracking, Roberts discovered several surprising cause-effect relationships: standing eight hours a day reduced early awakening and made sleep more restorative, even though more standing was associated with less sleep; and eating a half a stick of butter helped improve the speed in which he could complete mathematical problems (Roberts, 2010).
The quantification and collection of information can also serve as a sort of memory enhancement. It also can be utilized to help one make more informed decisions (Cowley, Lindgren, & Langdon, 2006). Numbering things allows one to test, compare, and experiment. Numbers make problems less resonant emotionally, but more tractable intellectually. In science and in business, quantitative data is often the gold standard of truth.
Why not so when it comes to the individual?
Self-Experimentation & Self-Tracking as an Outlet for Curiosity
Practically, self-experimentation and self-tracking provide an outlet to the curious individual who is not satisfied with studies that describe the means or averages of groups. This individual recognizes that while these studies provide enlightening information on human behavior, they do not offer much help in how a single person should go about using this information. The individual may question, “Well, do I fall into the average, or am I an outlier? What dot would I be?”
Even though authors may suggest different actions towards implementing their findings, without self-experimentation, one must blindly trust that these broad and highly conditional suggestions will improve the quality of one’s life. In most cases, one likely will never be certain of the actual effects. This is no longer acceptable, and now due to advances in technology, individuals can take things into their own hands.
References for Further Reading if Interested:
Cowley, B. J., Lindgren, A. & Langdon, D. (2006). Using self-experimentation and single-subject methodology to promote critical thinking. Critical Thinking, 1, 26-40.
Guba, E. G., & Lincoln, Y. (1985). Fourth generation evaluation as an alternative. Educational Horizons, 139-141.
Mook, D. G. (1983). In defense of external invalidity. American Psychologist, 34(4), 379-387.
Roberts, S. (2004). Self-experimentation as a source of new ideas: Examples about sleep, mood, health, and weight. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 27, 227-288.
Roberts, S. (2010, August 17). Arithmetic and butter. Retrieved from http://quantifiedself.com/2010/08/arithmetic-and-butter/
Tukey, J. W. (1980). We need both exploratory and confirmatory. American Statistician, 34, 23-25.
Weisse, A. B. (2012). Self-experimentation and its role in medical research. Texas Heart Institute Journal, 39(1), 51-54.
This February 2013, My colleagues and I will be presenting at the Consulting Psychology (APA Division 13) Conference in Atlanta, GA.
Should be fun times!
Below is what I am involved in. Hope to see ya there.
90 Minute Session on The Climate for Creativity and Implications for Leadership:
The Climate for Creativity and Innovation: How to Assess it and Implications for Leadership
Many organizational leaders resonate with the phrase “Innovate or Die.” They know that they must attract and retain talented, high- performing personnel, who in turn will hopefully create innovative products and services; however, most leaders fail to take into account just how impactful organizational climate can be on creativity, well-being, and ultimately, innovative performance. In this session, participants will learn why assessing an organization’s climate for creativity and innovation is imperative, and how to coach executives to cultivate it.
Scott Isaksen, PhD; Jeff Fajans
Poster - Quantified Self and Positive Psychology-based Coaching:
Self-Experimentation & The Quantified Self: New Avenues for Positive Psychology-based Coaching
Self-Experimentation is a promising avenue of research that has not received much attention. Advances in technology have enabled curious individuals to easily collect, analyze, and interpret quantifiable data on their everyday experiences. These individuals then use this data to make positive changes in their lifestyles. Based on data collected It is proposed that a coaching intervention to build self-experimentation capacity may lead to higher levels of optimal decision-making and functioning.
Presented By: Jeffrey Fajans; Sam Spurlin
Super excited to work with my mentor Scott and colleague Sam on these for the conference!
The Quantified Self: New Avenues for Positive Psychology Research and Application - Part 1: Introduction & Overview
Self-Experimentation is a promising avenue of research in the positive psychology movement that has until now, not received much attention. Advances in technology have enabled curious individuals to easily collect, analyze, and interpret quantifiable data on their everyday experiences. These individuals then use this data to make positive changes in their lifestyles or to garner self-knowledge.
The Quantified Self movement embraces the idea of self-knowledge through numbers. This “community of practice” provides positive psychology an opportunity to further its study of exceptional individuals. In this series of posts I will:
a) briefly describe the history of self-experimentation, its outcomes, and my defense of its (in)validity
b) describe from an ethnographic perspective the “Quantified Self” movement (QS),
c) propose a study to investigate the possible individual differences between QS groups and non-QS groups,
d) examine the underlying process of self-experimentation, and
e) introduce the potential impact of self-experimentation capacity building interventions.
Along the way, I will address implications, future directions, and how QS can contribute to positive psychology, as well as how positive psychology can inform QS. Towards the end of this series, I will begin to present some preliminary findings from my initial & exploratory research project (c) where I am looking at the potential implications Quantified Self and self-tracking activities have on meaning in life, subjective happiness, creativity, and other optimal functioning related constructs.
*This, as well as following posts in this series, have been adapted from a paper/proposal I wrote in Advanced Topics of Positive Psychology at Claremont Graduate University, taught by Dr. Mike Csikszentmihalyi and Dr. Jeanne Nakamura. Also, I have just finished collecting data from participants in regards to my initial study, and will soon be digging into it and analyzing, with the goal at the end of this series to present my findings.