This might be a mute question for some, but to many, tracking your mental health will feel... robotic at first. It gives off a similar vibe to a couple who has a quarterly relationship check in. While I haven't attempted that yet (and probably won't), I've been tracking my mental health for a couple years now. It started as a simple curiosity with a few questions.
"Is my nicotine consumption impacting my mental health?" "Would getting more sleep lower my anxiety?" "If I exercised an additional 20min each day, would I be happier?"
To me, it's actually absurd that we don't truly answer questions like these (with data). They're wildly impactful. Exponentially. Increasing your happiness by even a few percentage points should be priceless. What if you could cut your anxiety levels in half? What if you could truly figure out what exactly makes you happy?
These are big claims on the far end of the spectrum. But my point is that nothing is more important than your mental well-being, and we absolutely should be trying to optimize this.
If you haven't yet, visit the personal well goals section. Because that's the first step of the process.
Your goals are your outputs.
You don't need to know your end state to know what you want to achieve. And you can't track something you don't know you want to track. The first step, therefore, is clearly stating what you want to achieve. Many of people know this clearly. Lower anxiety, lower stress, more happiness, more calm. Whatever you want to achieve, you need to track it.
I also recommend setting a "north star" metric that you prioritize above all the others. For most people, this will likely be happiness. Although if you know you struggle with Anxiety, you might choose to make that your north star.
- happiness (north star)
- Physical Health
^these are the things I care about optimizing in my day to day life. I recommend sticking to around 5 so that it's easy enough to track day to day.
This is perhaps the most difficult part. You need to predict what inputs might affect your mental outputs.
There are several ways to approach this. Ask yourself the following:
- What habits to you have that you suspect might be impacting your mental health? (alcohol consumption, exercise, etc.)
- What controllable elements would you like to optimize over time? (sleep, nutrition, etc.)
- What are you experimenting with? (meditation, journaling, antidepressants, etc.)
Note #1: ideally you would track everything, but this is not sustainable. If you track too many things, it will be too much to keep track of day to day. You also want to choose things you will stick with.
Note #2: There are certain things everyone will probably want to track, such as sleep. Then there are things unique to you. For example, I travel often (about 50% of my time). It's therefore valuable for me to track my happiness based on where I'm currently located. Similarly, I try to get outside most days, so I track time in nature.
Now it's time for action. There are a number of tools you can use to track your mental health. Essentially all you need is a spreadsheet, although I like to use one that is integrated with a form that I can save like an app on the home screen of my phone to make it easy to log.
Here is my form as an example. I like to use a simple Google Form that connects to a spreadsheet. You can see that I made it colorful and calming (I like camping), because I want it to be something I enjoy opening every day.
You might also notice that while it still appears as a web page, it operates almost like an app. It's not a terrible user experience, although it will require you to have a wifi connection to use.
Eventually, you'll end up with a CSV file like this:
This may look boring, but its powerful data. You can make correlation charts.
- Correlation charts
Build charts that will tell you correlative learnings about your inputs and outputs. You'll find that most things have diminishing returns.
ex. Sleep vs. happiness
- Habit calculations
Often times, we aren't very good at making mental estimations. We probably think we drink less and sleep more than we actually do. Tracking things lets you have an accurate assessment of reality so you can act accordingly.
Example 1: The next time your Doctor asks how many drinks you have per week, you can give an exact number.
Example 2: You want to know if your stress is lower when you meditate. Take your avg. stress levels on mediation days vs. non-meditation days
- Optimization numbers
Have you ever wondered what amount of exercise would make you really feel the best? What about whether a higher salary would make you happier? Or what % increase in happiness mediation really brings you?
To find out these things, you can just take the top 10% of days (or 1% once you have enough data collection) to see what things stand out.
Some examples from my top days:
- 1.89 hours of exercise a day
- 7.3 hours of sleep a night
- About 73% of my days I did mental journaling
- 1-2 drinks doesn't affect my mentality, but 3+ has negative effects the day after
It's highly unlikely that you'll remember to do this on a daily basis if you don't add it into your daily system. It only takes 30 seconds, and yet is almost impossible to start doing organically, at least until you've built the habit. Remember, in order for the data to be good you must be consistent with it.
That's why it's highly recommended that you:
- Set a daily alarm/reminder so that you continue to track day-to-day
- Add it to your daily to-do list