Graphic Designer

Thesis Project

Research: Self-tracking & Narrative Change


I started my secondary research with three psychological studies to make sure that I understand what is known about self-tracking. I was quickly introduced to the “quantified-self” movement, which refers to people who track and analyze personal data. Two of the studies that I read focused heavily on the goals, methods, and impacts involved with self-tracking. The third study focused on personal narratives in psychotherapy, speaking on the ways in which people construct themes in their lives.

I was interested in what makes for a positive and useful self-tracking experience. I learned that this has much to do with the items being tracked and the themes that are revealed as a result. It is important that a tracking practice is self-initiated, the more closely aligned with life goals/long term purpose, the more fulfilling and valuable the results will be. This study broke down how a certain material or activity, combined with an existing skill and a desired social image, contributes to fulfilling self-tracking. This will be helpful if I plan on creating an experience where the user defines these variables themselves. Many people use self tracking as a means of finding new life experiences, which may contribute to long term mental health benefits. It can be helpful to view tracking as an iterative process, where a user starts to track a multitude of data points and then narrows down on the ones that matter or provide the best insight.

Some more concrete information that I can use touched on how heart rate, when cross referenced with time and activity, can be used in tracking stress levels. I might also reference examples from Quantified-selfers who used language as a data point; one participant tracked instances where he used the words “I will” in order to analyze his personal reliability.

The therapy-focused study was very interesting. It describes what “Innovative Moments” are and how they help patients shift from a problematic self-narrative to a more favorable alternative narrative. Problematic narratives need to be understood, then there are various ways of reframing old narratives and incorporating new alternatives to establish new life goals.

My goal in creating my own self-tracking feature might be to lead the user through the scientific steps outlined in these studies in a way that is more friendly and intuitive. I am also considering many of these psychological principles while crafting interview questions for primary research.

Studies in use

The heart of everyday analytics: emotional, material and practical extensions in self-tracking. market. Mika Pantzar & Minna Ruckenstein.

Understanding Quantified-Selfers’ Practices in Collecting and Exploring Personal Data. Eun Kyoung Choe, Nicole B. Lee, Bongshin Lee, Wanda Pratt, Julie A. Kientz.

A dynamic look at narrative change in psychotherapy: A case study tracking innovative moments and protonarratives using state space grids. António P. Ribeiro, Tiago Bento, João Salgado, William B. Stiles & Miguel M. Gonçalves. 

Jack Kornet