Providing Insights for Better Mental Health

image image Follow Us:

3 Key Benefits of bStable at a Nonprofit

on Sunday, 14 July 2019.

3 Key Benefits of bStable at a Nonprofit

Awareness of the mental illness epidemic is on the rise. The United States has a very long way to go in providing the appropriate care and resources to those with mental healthcare needs. Many individuals who are working to improve the mental healthcare system have moved to the nonprofit community to provide direct support, healing, education, and resources.

There is a lot to juggle when running a nonprofit.  bStable was created to help mental healthcare nonprofits run more efficiently with their clients and expand their reach.

3 key benefits our nonprofit customers have gained from using the bStable software are:

  1. Consistency: In a nonprofit, there is a lot of change. Sometimes different mental healthcare providers meet with one client. bStable makes communication between the providers and clients simple and seamless. Providers have all the information they need in bStable ready and available. Clients can easily share their information with multiple providers.
  2. Time: Time is the most precious resource we have; especially when it comes to helping someone who is struggling with a mental illness. bStable answers the initial questions most providers ask around ‘how have you been doing.’ The provider can review information from bStable prior to walking into the session in order to be able to ask more pointed and direct questions. This benefits the client and provider by ensuring that the time they have together is optimized. Our study results have proven bStable eliminates inefficient information gathering techniques by 50%. On a scale of 1 to 10, normal talk therapy approaches were measured at a 5, with bStable they were a 9. Clients felt like they were being heard, their issues were understood, and they were able to work on the major issues at hand vs. just relaying information.
  3. Red Flag Alerts: Providers that work in a nonprofit help as many individuals as they can and sometimes, everyone misses a red flag. bStable allows a provider to see red flags quicker and more expeditiously aid a patient who may need immediate help. bStable’s algorithms catch things that human eyes don’t always recognize, with more speed and accuracy.

Does bStable sound like a solution that could improve your mental health nonprofit? As the inventor of bStable, I would love to offer you a personalized demonstration of bStable and discuss how we can help your organization. Simply take a moment to contact me now in order to set up a time.

Address Your Corporation’s Responsibility to Employee Mental Health

on Saturday, 10 August 2019.

Address Your Corporation’s Responsibility to Employee Mental Health

It is the age of competition. Businesses are booming, thriving, and growing. And to sustain the growth, employers need consistency and dependability from the people they hire. Employees prioritize work culture more than in any age we’ve ever seen. This dramatically changes the way corporations need to present themselves.   

Why Do Something?

1. Innovate Technology is the future; and the future is technology. That isn’t a mystery. It’s incredible to think that in the age of technology, mental healthcare providers are still asking their patients to record their symptoms on paper. Do you manage your thriving and growing business on paper? More than likely the answer is no. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the pencil-paper method shouldn’t last much longer. The future of mental health and corporate wellness programs will be in technological solutions, not paper. Incorporating bStable into your corporate wellness program gets your corporation ahead of your competition and sets you apart as a forward-thinking leader.

2. Be Conscientious Mental health for employees should be a top executive priority and most corporations know that. Don’t take our word for it though, here’s an article from Forbes’ to build the case. In today’s professional climate, research has shown that work culture is THE defining factor for employees’ productivity and loyalty to any given organization.

3. Be Distinguishable The incorporation of a generic wellness program no longer really sets companies apart – in the 20th century, it’s more of an expectation. Subsidizing a gym membership or helping with health insurance co-pay does little to distinguish corporations from one another. Your employees don’t just have physical health needs, they also have mental health needs. It is time for you as a leader to acknowledge this, accept this, and address your employee’s mental health needs ASAP!

Why Leverage bStable?

bStable is ready NOW to help set your organization apart. Our software is multi-faceted enough to handle all of your employee's needs. It is a research backed proven asset to anyone who is given the opportunity to utilize the application. bStable can be used on a personal level or in conjunction with any type of corporate mental health wellness program to enhance results. This means happier and healthier employees so you can make your shareholders happy! Get in touch with us today.

How to Improve Mental Healthcare in the United States

on Monday, 12 August 2019.

How to Improve Mental Healthcare in the United States

Did you know that tens of millions of Americans are affected by mental health conditions every single year? That's right. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly one in five adults are living with a mental illness, and estimates suggest that less than half of the individuals with mental health conditions receive treatment. From anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, schizophrenia and so many more conditions, there are so many Americans struggling.

Ignoring the mental health epidemic that we have in the United States has reverberating effects on our nation’s physical health. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, mood disorders are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S., and many mental illnesses, if left untreated, can be the cause of chronic health issues.

We are finally seeing an emphasis being placed on the epidemic we have with mental health in the United States and more solutions being offered to help individuals manage their lives. On the awareness front, the public has fortunately seen an increase in people opening up about their personal struggles with their own mental health conditions with things like the #myfavoritemeds hashtag that started on Instagram in which people took pictures of their hands holding their prescription medications as they attempted to end the stigma of dealing with mental illness. Many celebrities joined in on the movement, starting many conversations.

Throwing more providers (that are already limited in number) at the problem cannot fix mental healthcare in the United States. Technology must be a part of the solution. Our products, bStable and bStable Go! provide information technology solutions to assist those struggling with mental health conditions along with individuals struggling with co-occurring mental health needs and developmental disabilities so that better communication is exchanged between the patient and their mental healthcare provider. This leads to better mental health outcomes for all parties involved. bStable is used by patients, loved ones, psychiatrists, psychologists, payers and providers all over the world and has been proven in research studies to be highly effective.

Learn more about our solutions by contacting us today!

Why do individuals with mental illness need bStable?

on Wednesday, 21 August 2019.

Why do individuals with mental illness need bStable?

How many times have you been to the doctor only to spend the majority of the appointment sharing basic information and updates? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a way to conveniently and efficiently communicate with a medical professional, so you can spend more time working on important problems during your face-to-face time together? At McGraw Systems, we agree.

Our software, bStable, helps patients manage their mental illness in order to see real growth and improvement!

2 key reasons patients using bStable love our software:

  1. Symptom Monitoring: With improvements being made in diagnosing mental illness, we saw a need for a convenient way to allow those with mental illness to actively and efficiently monitor their symptoms along with their clinicians, which is why bStable was developed.
  2. Crisis Prevention: In addition to more proactively dealing with and minimizing symptoms of mental illness, bStable also provides a platform to assist in the prevention of crisis situations with real time symptom management.

Using bStable, individuals with mental illness can share progress on their mental health, while medical professionals - psychologists, psychiatrists, primary care physicians, etc. - can easily track key indicators that are presented through rich, graphical and interactive reports. These dynamic reports can help medical professionals monitor ongoing progress so that when the face-to-face meetings happen, they are already filled in on what is going on.

There is so much happening in life that it is necessary to have a system that helps in communicating with health providers and managing every aspect of a person’s mental health. bStable does just that. Ready to take a step toward improving your mental health? We’re here to help, share this information with your mental health provider.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

on Monday, 26 August 2019.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Our negative thoughts heavily influence our physical and psychological state. By re-training our thoughts and altering behaviors, we feel better physically, experience less stress, and experience an improved quality of life.

How this transformation is achieved is where cognitive behavioral therapy comes in.

Cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT is a type of psychotherapy that helps patients understand the thoughts and feelings that influence behaviors. It is used for a variety of mental disorders and has shown great improvements in phobias, addictions, depression, anxiety and more through a goal-oriented and systematic procedure.

bStable CBT module. CBT is at the center of bStable. The bStable platform’s support of CBT through the CBT module allows both patients and providers to track exercises and monitor goals that assist clients in their psychotherapy and utilize the findings to better communicate with their providers. Insights from a patient’s life (triggers, stressors, negative beliefs, healthy beliefs, predictions or theories) are recorded in bStable and incorporated into CBT psychotherapy exercises. 

CBT - part of a comprehensive bStable solution. The bStable platform offers a complete, holistic, and comprehensive system that can support all aspects of life for patients with a variety of different mental health disorders and co-morbid conditions. bStable offers patients, providers and loved ones an all-inclusive platform to monitor every aspect of a patient’s mental health. From tracking patterns to examining outliers, bStable provides an opportunity to gain insight into the unknown while empowering patients through self-service discovery and optimizing patient-provider communication.

Ready to get started on the bStable platform or have any questions about how bStable works? Contact Us today.

Gain Control Over Your Mental Health with bStable

on Monday, 26 August 2019.

Gain Control Over Your Mental Health with bStable

bStable helps individuals with mental illness live better lives. The platform has tools to help treat and manage depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, ADHD, social phobia, schizophrenia, eating disorders, substance abuse, and many co-morbid conditions.

No matter what type of mental illness you or someone you love is dealing with, bStable can help. Here’s how.

More Productive Face-to-Face Visits. bStable empowers you, your support team and your healthcare providers with the tools necessary to proactively manage your mental illness. Face-to-face visits are more productive, and more time is spent creating solutions rather than divulging updates.

Consistent Communication. Sometimes the most difficult part of having a mental illness is talking about it. Reports on your progress can be shared from bStable with loved ones to give an update. Additionally, loved ones feel secure knowing that your healthcare provider can also get symptom updates.

Track Your Progress. In addition to the improved communication with your healthcare provider and more productive visits, bStable can provide patients and doctors with reports to be able to track trends and visually see progress being made.

bStable is the most comprehensive communication and analysis tool available in the mental health market today. Contact us today for more information and to get started on your mental health journey.

bStable Go!

on Tuesday, 10 September 2019.

Assisting Individuals with Mental Health Disorders and Developmental Disabilities

bStable Go! empowers individuals with mental health disorders and developmental disabilities to better communicate with the healthcare providers leading to better outcomes patients, providers and payers. bStable Go! enables disease state management and crisis planning, provides patients and providers the ability to immediately spot patterns, examine outliers and detect trends that are otherwise hidden and eliminates wasted time spent determining the pressing issues impacting the patient.

Patients are empowered with the ability to analyze all aspects of their life (mental, physical, interpersonal relationships, etc.) in a quantified manner that is visually displayed for analysis. Patients and providers have a transparent communication flow allowing providers to provide an optimal level of care for the patient, reduce risk and cost for payers.

Here’s what you need to know about bStable Go!

Who it’s for. bStable Go! is a streamlined and highly customizable version of bStable for individuals that have mental health disorders and developmental disabilities to better communicate with their healthcare providers

What it is. bStable Go! is an application that runs on an iPad, iPhone, PC or Mac. The application is built to boost daily client recording adherence along with streamlined reporting for providers. It is highly customizable based on the organization’s needs. 

What’s Behind the Application. bStable Go! brings the mental healthcare arena a powerful tool that can be used to monitor the day-to-day life of a patient in order to truly track trends. bStable Go! provides the ability to examine outliers and gives the opportunity for an individual to collect a plethora of information about their life.

Fun & User-Friendly Interface. bStable Go! has a fun look and feel with game-like functionality. This includes points, rewards and virtual travel as clients use bStable Go! throughout the year. The bStable Go! application uses an interactive and user-friendly interface to easily track the daily symptoms of a mental illness. It allows an individual to effectively articulate their mental and developmental disability state on any given day, increasing awareness of daily mental health.

Want to get a visual? Check out bStable Go! In action here:

It Improves Patient/Provider Communication. The bStable Go! application supports McGraw System’s mission in allowing an individual diagnosed with a mental disorder or developmental disability to spend the time with their healthcare provider working on a plan of action, as opposed to simply providing updates. bStable Go! ensures a transparent communication flow and ultimately optimizes patient and provider communication.

For use by seniors, adults AND children, bStable Go! is ready to help improve your mental health and the health of those you love. Get in touch with us today.

Technology is Key to Addressing the Mental Healthcare Workforce Shortage in the United States

on Friday, 13 September 2019.

How can technology address the mental healthcare workforce shortage?

Technological advancements provide amazing benefits to those suffering from mental illness by unlocking new methods to improve mental health outcomes. Technology is even more important given our nationwide shortage of mental healthcare providers. Across the nation, the behavioral healthcare industry suffers faces a lack of providers, an aging workforce and low compensation. Projections show that by 2025, the labor shortage will be astronomically worse.


  1. Strengthens the quality of care and services delivered. The quality of care that can be provided by the resources that we do have coupled with technology is astounding. From easing administrative burdens, simplifying communication between patients and providers and reducing wait times; extra time and thought can be put into the treatment of patients. Technology improves the quality of mental healthcare services that can be delivered while also optimizing cost. 
  2. Eases administrative burdens for physicians. The reduction in inefficient administrative overhead processes can save time that can be redirected to improving patient care. 
  3. Optimizes communication between the patient and provider. Communication is optimized by patients presenting a clear view of how they have been doing since the last patient visit so the provider can focus on areas of concern and not just asking generic questions taking up valuable time during the patient visit.
  4. Expands coverage. HRSA recently released national-level behavioral health workforce estimates for 2016 through 2030, that highlights how the shortage and unequal distribution of providers has only gotten worse and created more challenges for patients. The magnitude of provider shortages varies greatly, as there are areas such as rural areas for example that have no behavioral health providers at all. bStable is an option for all areas. This advancement in technology allows providers to reach areas that may, otherwise, not have access to care.
  5. Reduces wait times. Long wait times have a negative effect on the quality of care provided. Timely access to treatment when in crisis is crucial. By using technology, patients and be provided access to treatment in a timelier manner by bringing psychiatric care to the patient faster.

bStable is the most comprehensive software solution for patients to easily communicate with providers.  This type of technological advancement can greatly benefit patient care.  Visit our website to learn more.

6 Keys To Building Resilience

on Wednesday, 12 June 2013. Posted in General

Resilience key to dealing with depression or bipolar disorder

6 Keys To Building Resilience

Tactics for building resiliance include:

1. Learn how to regulate your emotions

2. Adopt a positive but realistic outlook

3. Become physically fit

4. Accept challenges

5. Maintain a close and supportive social network

6. Observe and imitate resilient role models


on Saturday, 26 January 2013.

bStable Enables Symptom Monitoring for Patients Diagnosed with Anxiety Disorders but How Many People Suffer From Anxiety Disorders?


From the NIMH:

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and phobias (social phobia, agoraphobia, and specific phobia).

  • Approximately 40 million American adults ages 18 and older, or about 18.1 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have an anxiety disorder.
  • Anxiety disorders frequently co-occur with depressive disorders or substance abuse
  • Most people with one anxiety disorder also have another anxiety disorder. Nearly three-quarters of those with an anxiety disorder will have their first episode by age 21.5

Panic Disorder

  • Approximately 6 million American adults ages 18 and older, or about 2.7 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have panic disorder.
  • Panic disorder typically develops in early adulthood (median age of onset is 24), but the age of onset extends throughout adulthood.
  • About one in three people with panic disorder develops agoraphobia, a condition in which the individual becomes afraid of being in any place or situation where escape might be difficult or help unavailable in the event of a panic attack.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

  • Approximately 2.2 million American adults age 18 and older, or about 1.0 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have OCD.
  • The first symptoms of OCD often begin during childhood or adolescence, however, the median age of onset is 19.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

  • Approximately 7.7 million American adults age 18 and older, or about 3.5 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have PTSD.
  • PTSD can develop at any age, including childhood, but research shows that the median age of onset is 23 years.
  • About 19 percent of Vietnam veterans experienced PTSD at some point after the war. The disorder also frequently occurs after violent personal assaults such as rape, mugging, or domestic violence; terrorism; natural or human-caused disasters; and accidents.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

  • Approximately 6.8 million American adults, or about 3.1 percent of people age 18 and over, have GAD in a given year.
  • GAD can begin across the life cycle, though the median age of onset is 31 years old.

Social Phobia

  • Approximately 15 million American adults age 18 and over, or about 6.8 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have social phobia.
  • Social phobia begins in childhood or adolescence, typically around 13 years of age.


Agoraphobia involves intense fear and anxiety of any place or situation where escape might be difficult, leading to avoidance of situations such as being alone outside of the home; traveling in a car, bus, or airplane; or being in a crowded area.

  • Approximately 1.8 million American adults age 18 and over, or about 0.8 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have agoraphobia without a history of panic disorder.
  • The median age of onset of agoraphobia is 20 years of age.

Specific Phobia

Specific phobia involves marked and persistent fear and avoidance of a specific object or situation.

  • Approximately 19.2 million American adults age 18 and over, or about 8.7 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have some type of specific phobia.
  • Specific phobia typically begins in childhood; the median age of onset is seven years.

Awesome Bipolar Disorder Infographic!!

on Friday, 14 June 2013. Posted in General

Created by Deyanara Riddix of - thanks!

Awesome Bipolar Disorder Infographic!!

What a great way to summarize bipolar disorder.

Great job Deyanara - all the way from West Bengal, India!


Bipolar Disorder Medications

on Sunday, 03 February 2013.

Mood Stabilizer Sometimes with antipsychotics and antidepressants

Bipolar Disorder Medications

From the NIMH...

Mood stabilizers

People with bipolar disorder usually try mood stabilizers first. In general, people continue treatment with mood stabilizers for years. Lithium is a very effective mood stabilizer. It was the first mood stabilizer approved by the FDA in the 1970's for treating both manic and depressive episodes.

Anticonvulsant medications also are used as mood stabilizers. They were originally developed to treat seizures, but they were found to help control moods as well. One anticonvulsant commonly used as a mood stabilizer is valproic acid, also called divalproex sodium (Depakote). For some people, it may work better than lithium.6 Other anticonvulsants used as mood stabilizers are carbamazepine (Tegretol), lamotrigine (Lamictal) and oxcarbazepine (Trileptal).

Atypical antipsychotics

Atypical antipsychotic medications are sometimes used to treat symptoms of bipolar disorder. Often, antipsychotics are used along with other medications.

Antipsychotics used to treat people with bipolar disorder include:

  • Olanzapine (Zyprexa), which helps people with severe or psychotic depression, which often is accompanied by a break with reality, hallucinations, or delusions7
  • Aripiprazole (Abilify), which can be taken as a pill or as a shot
  • Risperidone (Risperdal)
  • Ziprasidone (Geodon)
  • Clozapine (Clorazil), which is often used for people who do not respond to lithium or anticonvulsants.8


Antidepressants are sometimes used to treat symptoms of depression in bipolar disorder. Fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), or sertraline (Zoloft) are a few that are used. However, people with bipolar disorder should not take an antidepressant on its own. Doing so can cause the person to rapidly switch from depression to mania, which can be dangerous.9 To prevent this problem, doctors give patients a mood stabilizer or an antipsychotic along with an antidepressant.

Research on whether antidepressants help people with bipolar depression is mixed. An NIMH-funded study found that antidepressants were no more effective than a placebo to help treat depression in people with bipolar disorder. The people were taking mood stabilizers along with the antidepressants. You can find out more about this study, called STEP-BD (Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program for Bipolar Disorder), here.10

What are the side effects?

Treatments for bipolar disorder have improved over the last 10 years. But everyone responds differently to medications. If you have any side effects, tell your doctor right away. He or she may change the dose or prescribe a different medication.

Different medications for treating bipolar disorder may cause different side effects. Some medications used for treating bipolar disorder have been linked to unique and serious symptoms, which are described below.

Lithium can cause several side effects, and some of them may become serious. They include:

  • Loss of coordination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Blackouts
  • Seizures
  • Slurred speech
  • Fast, slow, irregular, or pounding heartbeat
  • Hallucinations (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
  • Changes in vision
  • Itching, rash
  • Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, tongue, throat, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs.

If a person with bipolar disorder is being treated with lithium, he or she should visit the doctor regularly to check the levels of lithium in the blood, and make sure the kidneys and the thyroid are working normally.

Some possible side effects linked with valproic acid/divalproex sodium include:

  • Changes in weight
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Anorexia
  • Loss of appetite.

Valproic acid may cause damage to the liver or pancreas, so people taking it should see their doctors regularly.

Valproic acid may affect young girls and women in unique ways. Sometimes, valproic acid may increase testosterone (a male hormone) levels in teenage girls and lead to a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).11,12 PCOS is a disease that can affect fertility and make the menstrual cycle become irregular, but symptoms tend to go away after valproic acid is stopped.13 It also may cause birth defects in women who are pregnant.

Lamotrigine can cause a rare but serious skin rash that needs to be treated in a hospital. In some cases, this rash can cause permanent disability or be life-threatening.

In addition, valproic acid, lamotrigine, carbamazepine, oxcarbazepine and other anticonvulsant medications (listed in the chart at the end of this document) have an FDA warning. The warning states that their use may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. People taking anticonvulsant medications for bipolar or other illnesses should be closely monitored for new or worsening symptoms of depression, suicidal thoughts or behavior, or any unusual changes in mood or behavior. People taking these medications should not make any changes without talking to their health care professional.

Other medications for bipolar disorder may also be linked with rare but serious side effects. Always talk with the doctor or pharmacist about any potential side effects before taking the medication.

For information on side effects of antipsychotics, see the section on medications for treating schizophrenia.

For information on side effects and FDA warnings of antidepressants, see the section onmedications for treating depression.

How should medications for bipolar disorder be taken?

Medications should be taken as directed by a doctor. Sometimes a person's treatment plan needs to be changed. When changes in medicine are needed, the doctor will guide the change. A person should never stop taking a medication without asking a doctor for help.

There is no cure for bipolar disorder, but treatment works for many people. Treatment works best when it is continuous, rather than on and off. However, mood changes can happen even when there are no breaks in treatment. Patients should be open with their doctors about treatment. Talking about how treatment is working can help it be more effective.

It may be helpful for people or their family members to keep a daily chart of mood symptoms, treatments, sleep patterns, and life events. This chart can help patients and doctors track the illness. Doctors can use the chart to treat the illness most effectively.

Because medications for bipolar disorder can have serious side effects, it is important for anyone taking them to see the doctor regularly to check for possibly dangerous changes in the body.

bStable in NAMI North Carolina 2013 Spring Clippings Newsletter

on Saturday, 25 May 2013. Posted in General

McGraw Systems Proud to Support NAMI

bStable in NAMI North Carolina 2013 Spring Clippings Newsletter

bStable Presented to Alzheimer's Association!!

on Thursday, 09 May 2013. Posted in General

bStable Presented to the Western North Carolina Alzheimer's Association Chapter's Caregiver Education Forum

bStable Presented to Alzheimer's Association!!

bStable Should Have Been Mentioned in Our Data, Ourselves - Discover Magazine 2011 Issue

on Friday, 02 August 2013. Posted in General

“Self-Tracking” enthusiasts collect 
data on every aspect of their lives. If digital navel-gazing goes mainstream, 
it could transform medicine.

bStable Should Have Been Mentioned in Our Data, Ourselves - Discover Magazine 2011 Issue

By Kate Greene|Thursday, December 08, 2011


Bob Evans has spent most of his life obsessing over how to track data. When the Google software engineer was a boy in Louisville, Kentucky, he collected star stickers to show that he had done his chores. In college, where he studied philosophy and classical guitar, Evans logged the hours he spent playing music. Later, as an engineer for a Silicon Valley software company, he defended his dog, Paco, against a neighbor’s noise complaints by logging barks on a spreadsheet (the numbers vindicated Paco, showing he was not the source of the public disturbance). For Evans, collecting data has always been a way to keep tabs on his habits, track his goals, and confirm or dispel hunches about his daily existence.

Last May, Evans reminisced about those early days in data collection as we sat in a large-windowed conference room in Building 47 of the Google campus, near San Jose, California. His personal fixation is shared by a growing number of self-trackers, a movement that is spreading far beyond data-obsessed engineers. Taking advantage of new wearable wireless devices that can measure things like sleep patterns, walking speeds, heart rates, and even calories consumed and expended, more and more people are signing up to download and analyze their personal data. Nearly 10 million such devices will be sold in North America in 2011, according to the market forecasting company ABI Research.

Most self-trackers are extreme fitness buffs or—like Evans—technology pioneers inherently interested in novel software applications. But Evans believes that personal data collecting could have stunning payoffs that go beyond just taking a better measure of everyday behavior. Already, some proponents claim personal benefits from logging their habits—eliminating foods that trigger migraines or upset stomachs, for instance, or saving certain tasks for their most productive time of day. Applied more broadly, data collected by self-trackers could help them find better treatments for diseases and even predict illness before symptoms become obvious.

Evans also sees the potential for individual citizens to pool nonmedical data collected through tracking experiments. Such data sets could have important social benefits. For instance, if members of a community tracked their feelings about safety in their neighborhood and shared their data regularly, crime trends could be detected earlier and addressed more effectively.

As Evans’s history with data collection shows, basic self-tracking is possible with nothing more than a pencil and paper. Still, people have been reluctant to sign on to an activity that has historically required inordinately high levels of self-curiosity and motivation. Now, with the wildfire spread of smartphones and tablet computers, that resistance could be melting away—and Evans plans to capitalize on the change. He has developed a tracking tool, conveniently contained in a mobile phone app, that he thinks can make self-tracking appealing to the masses.

Most self-tracking devices currently on the market measure only a few data points and have their own proprietary software and code limiting how users can analyze their own metrics. Evans’s app is different: It can be set up to track any kind of behavior or event and keeps data in one place, making it possible to analyze it all together. It is also designed to address another major objection to such detailed self-reporting, the fear that our personal data could too easily be leaked, stolen, or simply exposed to the public.

My visit to Google was a chance to understand Evans’s vision and to try out its practical application. I’m not a data obsessive by any means. If Evans could convert me, self-tracking just might be for real.

In 2009, while Evans was working for Google to help create new tools to increase programmers’ efficiency, he realized no one was working on the “soft science” side of the equation to help the programmers become more productive in their personal behavior. In his data-oriented way, he set out to understand everything that happens in a programmer’s work life. He wondered how attitudes toward food, distractions, and work environment—sampled throughout the day
—might affect creativity. If a programmer was stressed out or unhappy with a project, could a glance at her daily stats help set her right? Could immediate insight from a survey encourage her to make a change for the better? Evans had a hunch that by gathering the right data sets, he could help people improve their job performance in real time.

To make this process as simple as possible, Evans decided to collect the data through the smart cell phones that Google employees already kept close at hand. He set up an app so a programmer’s phone would chime or buzz a few times throughout the day at random times, as if a text message had arrived. When the employee clicked the message open, the app would ask her if she felt passionate and productive about her project. If not, it asked what she could do to change it.

In addition to gathering data about work habits, Evans set up another survey that asked programmers to outline their work goals. When the app checked in later, it listed those goals and asked which one the programmer was engaged in—the idea being that if a programmer had been distracted, a reminder of what she wanted to accomplish might improve her focus. “I thought it would be cool to build a platform that was not just for collecting data,” Evans says. “It could have the tools and interventions so people could do their own self-improvement.”

The survey was rolled out two years ago to a small number of programmers at the Google campus. Although Evans worried that the app would be too intrusive, he was heartened to see that most programmers continued to use it even after the pilot program officially ended. Since each programmer had different goals, measuring the overall effectiveness of the app was difficult, Evans says, but subjectively, he and his colleagues felt the simple act of observing their behavior through the app led them to change in ways that helped them meet their work goals.

Evans’s daily productivity surveys soon inspired him to create a broader, more flexible mobile platform for self-experimentation that he dubbed PACO—an acronym for Personal Analytics Companion, but also a tribute to the dog that helped inspire his data-tracking ideas. Now PACO is used by thousands of Google employees, and not just for productivity. The app is fully customizable, which means it can track any data point a user dreams up. Some Googlers employ it to log exercise or participation in volunteer programs. Evans tailored his version of PACO to monitor his work tasks and exercise and as a reminder to eat fewer sweets. A colleague uses it to track carbohydrate intake and weight fluctuations and to compare trends across PACO experiments. “I look at the information I track every couple of months and remind myself of the progress I’ve made, or where I need to change my behavior,” Evans says.

After hearing him describe all the ways PACO has subtly changed the lives of his colleagues, I was ready for my own plunge into the world of self-tracking.

Logging personal data is probably as old as writing itself, but some modern self-trackers trace its origin to that godfather of American ingenuity, Benjamin Franklin. He was interested in how well he adhered to his famous 13 virtues, including frugality, sincerity, and moderation. Each day for several years he noted the ones he’d violated in a book he kept especially for the purpose.

More recently, Gordon Bell, a computer pioneer and researcher at Microsoft, introduced the concept of “life logging.” From 1998 to 2007, Bell collected his emails and scanned documents, photographs, and even continuous audio and video recordings of his day-to-day life into a searchable online database—an attempt to create a digital record of every thought and experience he’d had for a decade.

Within the past three years, though, self-tracking has grown into a veritable grassroots movement, embodied by an organization called Quantified Self, a community of data-driven types founded in the San Francisco Bay Area by journalists Kevin Kelly and Gary Wolf. Most Quantified Selfers have technology backgrounds, or at the very least a penchant for numbers. They gather in online forums and at face-to-face events to talk about their self-experimental methods, analyses, and conclusions. How does coffee correlate with productivity? What physical activity leads to the best sleep? How does food affect bowel movements? Mood? Headaches? No detail, it seems, is too intimate or banal to share.

The current explosion in 
self-tracking would not be possible without the mass digitization of personal data. Websites for tracking, graphing, and sharing data about health, exercise, and diet—many of which are linked to phone apps—are on the rise. RunKeeper, a popular data collection app for runners, reports 6 million users, up from 2 million in November 2010. The new small, affordable sensors, like the $100 Fitbit, can wirelessly log all sorts of human metrics: brainwave patterns during sleep, heart rates during exercise, leg power exerted on bike rides, number of steps taken, places visited, sounds heard. And a number of these sensors, such as microphones, GPS locators, and accelerometers, come inside smartphones, making some types of tracking effortless. Research firm eMarketer projects that by the end of 2012, 84.4 million people will use smartphones in the United States, up from 40.4 million in 2009.

2011 study by Pew Internet, a project at the Pew Research Center that investigates the impact of the Internet on American society, estimates that 27 percent 
of Internet users have kept track of their weight, diet, or exercise or monitored health indicators or symptoms online. Still, the Pew report also hints at a limitation inherent in the current self-tracking paradigm. It is still done mainly by conscientious people who are highly motivated to collect specific types of data about specific cases. Of the adults surveyed who own a cell phone, only 9 percent have mobile apps for tracking or managing their health.

“It’s still a relatively new idea that phones are windows into your behavior,” says computer scientist Alex Pentland, director of the Human Dynamics Laboratory at MIT. Most people, he adds, think that “health is the responsibility of your doctor, not you.” But self-tracking tools that give both patient and physician a snapshot of symptoms and lifestyle could become increasingly important to personal health.

Health is exactly what was on the mind of Alberto Savoia, a Google software engineer who supervises Evans, when he joined us in the conference room to discuss which PACO experiments had worked best for his team.

Savoia himself had created an experiment to track the effects of his allergy shots. He’d never had allergies until he moved to America from Italy. “I made fun of Americans,” he says, for sneezing at everything from cats to dust. “But lo and behold, I started to sniffle.” He suspected that his shots were helping, but as an engineer, Savoia knew to be skeptical of his own perceptions. He wanted quantitative proof. “Our brains construct fabulous stories,” he says. The daily reports he logged into PACO indicated that his shots for cat dander and pollen were working well: His symptoms were less severe and less frequent than they had been before the shots.

During the same test period, Evans created an experiment called Food Rules, based on the book of that name by Michael Pollan, a journalist who advocates eating simply and avoiding processed food. After each meal, PACO would ask: Did you eat real food? Was it mostly plants? Evans found that the very act of responding to these questions made him more aware of his eating habits. He started choosing his food in the Google cafeteria more carefully, knowing he would have to answer for it after lunch. Within weeks he stopped running the experiment because every answer was “yes.”

I considered their examples. It occurred to me that I sometimes sneeze fairly aggressively after meals. When I was a teenager, I ribbed my mother for her after-dinner sneezes, but in my early twenties I started sneezing too, with no obvious connection to specific foods. My mother had a hunch that the trigger was sugar, but I had my doubts: Who ever heard of a sugar allergy? I never kept a food log to find the actual culprit, but the question seemed perfect for PACO. In just a couple of minutes, the Google engineers walked me through the steps of creating my own experiment, which I called Sneezy, to track the problem.

I constructed a handful of 
other experiments as well, including one I dubbed Good Morning, Sunshine! in which PACO was programmed to ask me how well I had slept and what I’d dreamed about; Flossy, in which PACO asked me if I had flossed the day before; and the self-explanatory Call Your Mother, 
which had PACO pestering me on Sunday evenings to see if I had talked to my mother lately—and if so, what we’d discussed.

I chose to keep these experiments private: No one else could sign up to use them, and my data would be stored, encrypted, on a PACO server. The issue of privacy looms large over discussions of personal data collection. “It’s your daily ebb and flow,” Evans says of PACO-
collected data. “That’s something you need to control.” As PACO is currently built, a user can keep everything private, or she can share data by joining an experiment created by someone else. The information is stored in the cloud, on servers rented from Google. But unlike search terms, data from PACO are not mined by the company for patterns.

Self-tracking tools will probably never catch on with the wider public unless people are confident that their data are safe. “The key is giving individuals more control over their data, yet the flexibility to share it when they need to,” says MIT’s Pentland. To do this, he suggests, data should be protected by a “trust network” that is not a company or government agency. People might then establish their own personal data vaults for which they define the rules of sharing.

Pentland participates in a group called id3, which brings together government officials, academics, and industry representatives to establish guidelines for such networks. He expects the details to be worked out within the next two years. The stakes are high. If secure methods for sharing data anonymously can be developed, it won’t be just individuals taking advantage of the information they gather through self-tracking. Society as a whole could benefit.

in 2009 Matt Killingsworth, a psychology doctoral student at Harvard University, put a call out for people to join a study he called Track Your Happiness. An iPhone app queried participants—ranging in age from 18 to 88, living in 83 countries, and working in 86 job categories—throughout the day about their state of mind, their current activity, and their environment, among other things. At the end of the study, participants were given a happiness report, with graphs illustrating how happy they were and the activities and environment that affected their mood.

In 2010 Killingsworth analyzed responses from more than 2,200 people to see if what they were thinking about affected their happiness. The most striking result was that overall, people’s minds were wandering in almost half the survey responses, 
and people were less happy when their minds were wandering than when they were not. The findings were unexpected because previous studies, done with small numbers of people in the lab, concluded that people’s minds wander less often.

“The project illustrates that the promise and ability to track things in real time on a mobile phone in the course of your daily life is incredibly powerful,” Killingsworth says. Most previous studies would have been limited to questions asking a small number of people, after the fact, how they had felt at a certain time. Using mobile phones for this sort of study is “incredibly exciting,” Killings­worth says. “It allows us to collect more accurate data from many thousands of people.”

In the same vein as the health-oriented PACO experiments, Ian Eslick, a Ph.D. candidate in the New Media Medicine group at MIT’s Media Lab, is helping online patient communities convert anecdotes about treatments, such as how certain diets affect symptoms, into structured self-experiments. He is building an automated recommendation system that can suggest experiments to people based on their previous symptoms and responses to interventions.

For instance, no studies have uncovered a solid connection between diet and the symptoms of psoriasis, an inflammatory skin condition from which Eslick suffers. Some people find that cutting out sugar alleviates symptoms, while others 
do not. Eslick hopes that by collecting information on people’s self-experiments over a long period of time, he’ll have enough useful data to warrant the deployment of a traditional clinical trial to investigate the most successful interventions for psoriasis. “It’s a very different model than traditional medical research,” Eslick says. “Trials are expensive and hard to administer. They’re short. They run once and have to get your answer.” Self-experimentation, on the other hand, has the luxury of time. Experiments can run longer and produce more data because they are cheap to administer.

Customizable data collection systems like PACO make it easy to run those experiments, Eslick says. “PACO is cool not so much because it does data collection, but because it’s trying to make it easier to collect just the data you want, and just the stuff that’s relevant.”

Today’s smartphones can collect data such as location, speech patterns, and motion without any active input from the user. This sort of passive sensing of a person’s daily life makes them powerful tools for personal medical and psychological diagnostics.

Data sets of a person’s speech and movement could provide insight into conditions such as depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Some people’s speech and movements slow when they experience severe depression. If phone sensors could effectively measure change in speech or movement over time, then an app could suggest a doctor’s visit when a person’s state of mind declines.

A 2010 study by William Jarrold, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, Davis, suggests that an automated system that analyzes speech patterns on phone calls can potentially pick up on cognitive impairment and clinical depression or determine if someone is in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s. “Machine learning is getting better, the prevalence of cell phones and cloud computing is increasing, and we’re getting more data and doing more studies,” Jarrold says. “When data are collected over the course of years, they can provide relevant information about a person’s cognitive functions, diagnosing a decline before obvious symptoms arise.”

Data tracking could even help monitor infectious disease. Pentland has shown that certain patterns picked up by a person’s phone—such as a decrease in calls and text messages—correspond to onset of the common cold and influenza. If outfitted with software that can intervene when data analysis suggests the early stages of an illness, your next phone could help you figure out you’re sick before you are even aware of a problem.

My PACO experiments ran for about a month. Initially I wasn’t sure I’d like the distraction of a self-tracking app, let alone one that insisted I respond seven to nine times a day. Unexpectedly, I came to appreciate the way the app made me mindful of what I ate and how well I slept.

One thing I learned was that my mother was wrong: It wasn’t sugar that caused my sneezes. The Sneezy experiment told me that my morning meal was the main offender, especially when I drank coffee with cream. Beer also seemed to give me sniffles, though not every time. Thanks to PACO, I have narrowed down the possible culinary culprits. The experiment Happy Work Day was less surprising but also instructive. Twice a day it asked if I was working at my desk, and it often caught me doing something other than work (16 counts for not working to 25 counts for working). It made me more aware of the non-work tasks, like household chores, I spend time on during the day. I’ve since left many of these tasks for after conventional work hours.

The two experiments I hoped would influence my behavior were telling. According to Call Your Mother, I spoke with my mother only three times over the course of the experiment. I can’t say I have radically changed that behavior yet. But Flossy was a complete success. Having PACO ask me every day if I had flossed the day before seemed to do the psychological trick. I’m flossing every day. It’s a small miracle.

My thoroughly nonscientific experiences also suggest that PACO will have widespread appeal. When I explained it to my nontechnical friends, most instantly grasped the possibilities. A social worker imagined using the app to help find the triggers for negative feelings or actions in clients. A teacher wanted to use it to measure how exercise and food affect student engagement in class. A college professor I met thought he could use PACO to get a sense of how students are handling their workload.

It is still early days for the self-tracking movement, and future versions of applications like PACO will, no doubt, be much more powerful. Even if PACO itself doesn’t catch on, the idea of a program that allows people to adjust their behavior and monitor their well-being is too enticing to ignore; someone will make it work. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the mHealth Alliance, a group that includes representatives from the United Nations and the Rockefeller Foundation, are already encouraging the development of health-related phone apps. They are acting on the premise that a world in which it is easy for anyone anywhere to collect and securely share data with medical researchers could be a healthier place for all of us.

As any self-tracker knows, there is strength in numbers.

[12 3 4  >>