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The quantified self: why humans like to play with data

Updated: Jun 12, 2020

The ‘Quantified Self’ refers to the use of technology to gather data about essential patterns of a person’s life, particularly fitness and health. The most obvious example of self-tracking tools are Apple Watch and Fitbit which use the information gathered about movement to improve an individual’s physical performance and fitness habits. According to a 2013 study, 69% of American adults trace patterns for themselves for better awareness of their well-being.

Why it works

Self-tracking brings awareness and insight that often triggers changes in behaviour. For example, tracking tools that trace your sleep patterns give you better understanding of the ideal amounts of sleep, how many times a night you wake, and patterns over time. This information and insight is often enough to spark a change in behaviour.

The reason for this can be explained by BJ Fogg’s B=MAT model, which states that a behaviour (B) occurs when there is a temporal convergence (things happen at the same time) of motivation (M), ability (A) and trigger (T). Self-tracking tools that let you quantify part of your life can give the information to increase motivation, provide the ability to measure progress, and give a prompt that triggers the behaviour. And it’s particularly useful for behaviour that can be easily quantified, such as number of steps taken or number of active minutes with elevated heart rate.

Where gamification comes into play

When behaviours can be quantified, they can be turned easily into games. As stated by noted game designer Jesse Schell “Anything that can be measured can be turned into a game”.

And that is just what brands like Nike, Apple, Fitbit, have done. Rather than simply showing you a number in a visual way, they have added game mechanics to increase the fun factor.

FitBit for example has the 10,000-steps-per-day measurement front and centre and users are rewarded with instant visual feedback about progress through the donut graph that turns from red, to orange, to green. Users are also able to compete with others. Apple users are rewarded with awards for achieving milestones like active minutes achieved and so on. Strava uses a social feedback mechanic of giving ‘kudos’ to other people and the ability to share photos.

All of these game mechanics are woven into the experience to improve the user experience that is built on the notion of the quantified self. This reinforces that fact that information alone does not change behaviour, but when the information is presented in a compelling and fun way, behaviour change can occur.

As technology allows for the quantification of more and more parts of our lives, gamification is increasingly being used to inform, motivate and nudge behaviour.

If you'd like to explore how you can quantify and gamify part of your team's experience or workplace well-being, get in touch with one of our behavioural experts at


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