Quantified-Self: Well-being and its Norms

Summer 2016 Report


“The game is true in that its algorithm is consistent, but this very consistency negates a world that is not.” – Mckenzie Wark, Gamer Theory, 2009

6 out of 100 Popular health and fitness apps encouraging self-reflection.(a)

9% New Year’s resolutions’ success rate.(b)

How to address this?

  • Focus attention from “quantified” to “open-ended” well-being.

  • Move from measurable progress to personal solutions (cognitive therapy).

New Habit and There for You prototypes

60% of users saying that the apps were helpful for them.(c)

  • Collaboration with a team of life coaches to promote alternatives to quantified-self apps and gamified lifestyles.

  • Extensive user testing both in the U.K. & North America.

  • New Habit (now offline): a self-help app designed to make you think.

  • There for You (now offline): a game to encourage mutual help through questioning.

With the participation of:



(a) Apps dedicated primarily to self-reflection, either through meditation or life coaching. Top 100 Health and Fitness free iOS apps on iTunes (U.S.), August 2017. (b) Statistic Brain Research Institute – January 2017 (c) New Habit users having completed a life coaching program (23rd June – 29th August 2017).

The Overall Issue: the Standardization of Well-being

A reductive view of what well-being is prevails nowadays: one based on health, social, and economic indicators.

While these norms might be justified at the macro level, they can easily become prescriptive – and counterproductive – at the individual level. They can lead to:

  • A lack of exposure to alternative lifestyles and life choices.
  • The pursuit of ready-made solutions, and norms, to fix existential problems.
  • A rapid loss of motivation and little opportunity to change one’s life for the better.

A Cause to Address: Life Gamification

Life gamification is based on the belief that the more we track our everyday activities (measure our sleep, track our food consumption, record our fitness exercises, etc.), the more we can measure our “progress” and improve our lives.

This is accentuated at the personal level by the lack of time to think, get out of the game, and be creative about our lifestyle; and at the social level by the lack of communication and mutual support for reinventing ourselves.

Life gamification is by nature playful and can help people achieve their goals. But we believe it only can, and should, do so when personal motivation has been worked out and is fully understood, which can require as much effort as the achievement of the goal itself.

How to Address It: “Open-Ended” Well-being Programs

Our recommendation is to disrupt the ideal of a standardized and quantified existence by reintroducing open-ended questions at the core of any well-being program.

We believe that programs that make cognitive therapy, open-ended discussions and reflections as appealing and accessible as their quantified-self counterparts should benefit from more investment.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are technologies that could facilitate the introduction of cognitive therapy in self-help apps, and disrupt the widespread quantified-self paradigm.

New Habit and There for You Prototypes

To make our case, we have collaborated with a team of life coaches to develop a series of A.I. powered prototypes aiming at competing with quantified well-being applications: apps that are as satisfactory as mini-games but more meaningful, and conducive of change.

We have conducted extensive interviews and user tests both in the U.K. and North America to investigate to what extent the apps can be fun and simultaneously encourage personal reflection.

The best results were obtained with two prototypes relying on quotations and insightful questions: New Habit, a self-help app encouraging people to think creatively about their well-being, and There for You, a more socially oriented app encouraging mutual help and mindful conversations.

By focussing on asking the right questions and not providing any answers, the two apps promote a more personal and diverse approach to well-being: one that is opening up the horizon and empowering people to change their lives the way they see fit.

60% of New Habit users said that the app was helpful for them, leading us to believe that similar apps could have a positive impact on people’s well-being.

Our assessment is that A.I. technologies are not yet mature enough to provide meaningful feedback to users. Furthermore, consumer demand for instant well-being packages is high, which makes it harder to compete with apps based on that promise.

However, life coaching is a discipline that is growing rapidly. The current low percentage of people achieving their personal goals coupled with the high satisfaction rate of our prototype, and the progress of A.I. technology lead us to believe that similar solutions will eventually become serious competitors to quantified well-being applications.


quantified self, self-help, well-being, norms, measure, gamification, cognitive therapy



Disclaimer – please use the following reference when using this report: Quantified Self & Self-Help Apps – Well-being and its Norms, Christophe Bruchansky, Plural think tank, Sept. 2017.