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I write in my diary irregularly and in the diary I record my schedule and mental state. I find that it is a good way to know myself. However, I am not satisfied with that because:

  1. The record is irregular, I am not writing daily and I when I do it's when I am in troughs of mood and want to cheer up;
  2. The history record is of little use, I seldom look back at previous diary entries since all there are is words such as tired, sad, frustrated or in peace, excited, etc.

So I wonder whether there is a more scientific way to record one's mental state, say a kind of psychological scaling method to qualify and quantify one's moods, so that through daily recording one could draw some curves and find some kind of period of mood, and then adjust oneself.

Also, are there any related mood tracking tools or mobile application?

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Welcome to Personal Productivity. How would this be related with GTD exactly? –  THelper Dec 20 '13 at 10:16
You might also be interested in some of the more academic related questions at Cognitive Sciences Stack Exchange, eg. "Longitudinal mobile mood tracking app with random reminders", "What is a validated single-item measure of mood?". –  Jonathan Deamer Dec 20 '13 at 14:24
@THelper maybe i misunderstand the meaning of GTD(actually i use no GTD except google calender). What i mean is some kind of mood tracking tools just as @JonathanDeamer(thank you for the useful links)mentioned. –  Mathieu Dec 21 '13 at 16:35
@Mathieu - yep, GTD is a specific time-management method, but your edited question is now great :-) –  Jonathan Deamer Dec 23 '13 at 12:39

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The best method I've found is the BEAM mood chart (PDF), which is recommended by doctors treating patients with depression and bipolar disorder, but is just as useful for folks with an interest in "quantified self" tracking.

BEAM mood chart

This document (PDF again) explains it quite well:

At first sight this can look a little complicated but once you get into the swing of it you will find it hardly takes any time at all every day. You put an “X” every day into the box beside the level you think your mood is at in the coloured area. Some people like to record their highest and lowest points in the day by placing two “X”s on the chart for that day. You record your anxiety and irritability on the scale provided every day, but only record your weight every month on day 28. Put a figure in for the number of hours you slept that night. Write in the names of your medications and the dose in the bottom left of the chart and then beside it record the number of times you have taken that dose in the day.

Of course, you don't need to track things that don't apply to you or you're not interested in (eg. meds, weight). I've personally found using a paper printout of the above to be more useful than some of the mood tracking software available. I thought mobile apps would be useful as I could easily track throughout the day, perhaps with reminders from the app, but I found this overcomplicated things. Many of the apps also require you to rate various aspects of your mood out of 10, as well as logging activities you're engaged in at the time of tracking, which felt a bit like overkill!

Nonetheless, you may be interested in looking at these apps:

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Your question actually brings up one of the toughest things about psychological research that exists. While one can use the scientific method to analyze the data, COLLECTION of that data is anything but objective because it's based purely on perception--yours or someone else's--instead of quantifiable data. Sure you can use an intrument to track it, but, for instance, there's not any kind of objective measure of when "irritated" becomes "mad".

That being said, there are a number of instruments used to scale mood, and a good article to start with is here. Again, these are all based on subjective observation or self-reporting.

Given the situation in your question, though, I'm not sure these instruments will be helpful. What you're trying to attempt is an excellent exercise. Self awareness of mood patterns, and looking for triggers to help less productive moods become more productive moods is an interesting thought exercise, and could yield some great results. However, the recording methods you describe are of more concern to me.

First, many of the instruments will use simple terms like tired, sad, frustrated--so you're already doing essentially the same thing as the more scientific methods. If you're trying to see patterns and triggers, you may wish to consider adding a quick note about WHY you're tired, sad or frustrated. Did you stay up too late? Are you thinking about a friend who moved away? Is your team not giving you information that you need to move to the next stage of a project? In addition to understanding your moods, understanding the triggers is equally important to making the changes you want.

Second is consistency. You say your recording is irregular. Any of the more scientific instruments will necessitate recording at regular intervals. Because you're looking for patterns, tracking mood over time is important as well.

I would suggest that you've already got a system in place, but it's nt working because you're not providing yourself enough detail, and you're not making it a habit regular enough to collect meaningful data. More scientific scaling will require more scientific methods to gather the data, but if you're not using those methods now, a good question to ask yourself is why? Just because you get a new page format on which to record the information, how will that make you record it more regularly? Just because you have a different set of words to record your moods, how will that make you place a tick mark every hour?

I'd suggest that your problem is not in WHAT you're tracking...you seem to be doing fine in that regard, but HOW you're tracking it to produce meaningful data. This may require a re-analysis of your goals so you can understand what you need to understand and which data you need to collect to understand that.

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I have found that subjectivity Wilson talks about is very relevant. It is of not very great value to use hard science methods on what is very soft data (how you feel, what time of the day it is, what has been happening etc.). Ultimately I have found is that I have yet to see a better way than a diary.

With one twist. A diary has to be something in which you can trust that it is just for you, unless you specifically want to share some of it. What happens if your notebook is lost, or your laptop - stolen.

Enter an interesting independent multi-platform program called NoteCase Pro. It is a hierarchical outliner that supports good standard encryption, flat or database format files, searching within the notes, tagging, even recording your note through mic, if you don't have time for typing etc. This is a significant improvement over a paper diary for me. I can be reasonably sure it is private, it gives me a lot in terms of creativity how I can write in it. I personally like simple text type approach with ASCII formatting, but you can use whatever you choose there.

You get the best results if you can spend about 10 minutes per day on it in the evening. I prefer to think about decisions that I have made, or I am making, but mood and relationships surely enter there as well. For me this is better than any chart, which by its format is limiting. If I want to track specific data, I can just remember to mark a line with something like ### MOOD: and I will easily be able to find it across as many notes as I like.

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