Self Awareness with Tools

I saw a tweet that jokes about someone on r/QuantifiedSelf, who was asking if there is a wearable that notifies you when you are feeling angry. As you can imagine, the idea was received with many snarky comments. It also got "featured" by one of my favorite tech sarcasm accounts @internetofshit.

Apart from obvious privacy concerns, however, is it really that ridiculous? Does one really need to be a douchebag to be unable to sense their anger without using high-tech gadgets? Well, if the subject is anger, probably not many people need help; but sometimes we do tend to overestimate our self-awareness.

I became moderately depressed in 2020. I was alternating between feeling desperate and irritable. It was much easier to acknowledge the depression than the irritability. One time, when neighbors upstairs started playing loud music again after repeated reminders, I became so angry that I punched the wall with my fist, a violent act that I found totally unacceptable.

I was lucky enough to be well informed and financially covered to receive help from a therapist. One of the things they had me do is to keep a mood diary -- noting down how I feel throughout the day and what I did before each mood change. Several weeks later, I learned things about myself that I haven't been able to previously. I learned that certain things were making me irritable, and when I'm irritable, the smallest things make me overreact. This seems obvious to me now, but I wasn't able to see it at that time with that mental state. I didn't really understand where the anger was coming from until I got some data from the diary.

In a similar matter, I've had a fragile digestive system since a very young age -- I get diarrhea easily. It was never serious though: I might take a few trips to the restroom but that is it. Thus, over the years I've somehow "normalized" this issue. I mean, I'm always aware that I get diarrhea more frequently than others, but never thought to figure out by how much.

This changed when someone close to me noticed my "irregularities" and prompted me to see a doctor. To narrow down the possible causes, I was asked to keep a diary about what I eat before getting diarrhea. So I did that. In the end I didn't really get any conclusions from the food data, but instead realized that I was averaging one diarrhea per week! In my mind it was nothing close to being this frequent.

I'd say the morale of these two personal stories is that we never fully know ourselves, and that our brains are constantly unreliable. While using a smart watch to find out if you're angry might be laughable, I hope the idea of better quantifying more aspects of our lives in a responsible manner wouldn't be dismissed so easily.

I'm also warming up to ideas like mindfulness meditation. We don't always get facts about ourselves for free. We have to work for it, using any means available.

P.S. After finishing this post I realized I might be falling into the straw man fallacy: perhaps the majority of the people who mocked the original idea are indeed coming at the privacy and other reasonable angles. I decided to post this as-is, though, because it preserves my train of thought.

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