Restaurants and Self-Monitoring.

For fun, some people collect things like stamps, coins, and music. I apparently collect data.

One of my goals in 2010 was to keep a record, using Google Maps, of all the restaurants I dined in. New York City has 24,000 restaurants, many of which feature dishes from countries around the world. I wanted to make a record of my culinary travels.

Other than that, I didn’t have further goals in collecting this information. I did wonder what the map and list would look like at the end of the year: What types of cuisines did I eat? Where did I tend to dine? How many restaurants did I visit?

The act of collecting this information is called “self-monitoring”.

It appears that I visited 146 unique restaurants in 2010. Most of them, marked by blue icons, are in Manhattan:

Map of Manhattan restaurants

I apparently did not eat in the Upper East Side in 2010. (The lone blue marker near Marcus Garvey Park is Taco Mix, which is essentially an indoor taco truck. The staff there do not speak English and there are no menus, but the tacos are tasty.)

Here is a a graph that describes the types of cuisine I most frequently ate:

Top cuisine choices

That American category includes diners, those establishments that are open 24 hours a day and feature hundreds of items of their menus, ranging from silver dollar pancakes to broiled lobster tails. The “Mexican fast food” category includes two different Chipotles and one Taco Bell. (I had not eaten at a Taco Bell in over a decade and went there for that exact reason.)

Here is the remainder of the list:

  • Korean
  • Middle Eastern/Mediterranean
  • Burgers
  • Vietnamese
  • Italian
  • Lodging (1 hotel restaurant and 2 bed and breakfasts)
  • Greek
  • Jewish deli
  • Vegetarian/Vegan
  • South American
  • American fast food
  • Malaysian
  • French Caribbean
  • Asian fusion
  • Caribbean
  • Russian
  • Cambodian
  • Himalayan
  • Airport (not a type of cuisine, but a class in its own right—Charlotte, NC, in this case)
  • Polish
  • Filipino
  • Bagel
  • Cuban
  • Peruvian
  • Venezualan
  • Indonesian

I apparently favored restaurants that feature cuisine from the Asian continent. Foods from Africa, Australia, and Antarctica (…) are missing. Now that I know this, I could seek out foods from those regions. (I am surprised that I did not eat any Ethiopian food in 2010. There is an Australian savory pie shop in Manhattan that I visited in 2008.)

While most of the restaurants I ate at were in the state of New York, I also ate elsewhere:

State distribution

Other things I could look at:

  • What was the average cost of my meals over the year?
  • Who did I eat with most often?
  • On which day of the week was I most likely to go out to eat?

Is this sort of data gathering self-indulgent? Sure. But, ample evidence supports self-monitoring as a means of changing behavior. This kind of data gathering helps people figure out (1) where they are now and (2) where they want to go. It helps with setting and reaching goals, even if there is no initial intention to change.

Tracking weight over time is a strategy used to help with weight loss. Doctors and nurses encourage people with diabetes to track their blood sugars regularly because the act of following it increases the likelihood that the values will fall within a healthy range. Measuring how much time you spend checking your e-mail each day may give you some information about how connected—or disconnected—you are.

Consider tracking some data about yourself in 2011. It doesn’t have to be anything “serious” like tracking your finances. If you’re not already doing that in some capacity, jumping straight into that may actually be punishing. The initial exercise should ideally be interesting and fun. (Try Joe’s Goals.) Once you’re comfortable with self-monitoring and have found it useful, then you can tackle more “serious” topics.

Self-monitoring can help you change your own behavior and your own story for the better.