EMA: A Personal Experience

The user experience for ecological momentary assessment (EMA) and intervention (EMI) has greatly evolved in the past few years. I was first exposed to EMA/I in 2011 through an app called iHabit. As a part of a research study looking at time management and the habits of first-year college students, I used the app to track daily events. Using the app was simple enough. Notifications rolled in and I answered a few quick questions. It was easy to use and nonintrusive, but I wasn’t sold on the idea. I told myself that I already knew my habits and how to use my time. What new insights could EMA/I possibly offer me? This is what I thought, but I was wrong.

Young people often have a reputation for thinking they’re invincible, or that they know it all. But not me! (I suppose there is a theme developing here.) I didn’t think I would gain anything from this experience, yet I ended up learning a lot about myself. Even though I had a skeptical view on the viability of EMA/I, my overall experience ended up being incredibly positive. Not only did the app change my opinion about EMA/I, but I also gained personal insights. I learned that the little experiences in our everyday life can seem innocuous and inconsequential at first glance, but when recorded repeatedly and accurately in the moment, their true impact penetrates in a new way. Becoming aware of your habits and time management is an important component of self-improvement. My experience with iHabit led me to this realization.

As an example, I felt as though I didn’t have much free time as a college student. I thought I was constantly busy with having to work on a paper, study for a test, or go to track practice. However, after simply reporting what I was doing, I began to realize just how much time I spent sitting around accomplishing nothing. Too often, my use of time was neither relaxing, relational or productive. I was wasting time in a bunch of 15-minute intervals. This insight led to a desire and willingness to change and better myself in a way that I didn’t realize was necessary before using EMA/I.

EMA/I technology helps individuals grow and gain a better understanding of themselves. It works by gently interrupting, tracking and recording the random moments of life, allowing users and researchers to find meaning in the data. I went from being a fairly inefficient student to being more aware of my potential for managing time. This allowed me to change my schedule and become more economical and intentional with my time. EMA/I was the facilitator for that change. I’m glad I decided to take full advantage of the possibilities and power of EMA/I technology… it’s life changing.

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” Benjamin Franklin

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