The improved sense of self

November 2014

Steps: 18,532. Stories climbed: 12. Kilometers jogged: 3.8. Mood: 9/10. Pages read: 33. Calories in lunch: 538 Kcal. For users who wish to gather every morsel of personal data in relation to their daily routine, the self-tracker’s daily report may well appear like this. Self-tracking, which originated in the USA, is becoming an increasingly global movement under the guiding principle of “self-awareness through numbers”. Many followers of this lifestyle capture every detail of their lives, similar to taking minutes in a meeting, often uploading these to their blog or Twitter feed, in order to lead a healthier, more structured lifestyle. Collecting data on your lifestyle is therefore just one possibility for self-improvement – a buzzword which is already a recognized term for more than one in three Germans.

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Sensors on the body which detect and detail all possible functions for every second, smartphone apps which act as pedometers and calculate the number of calories burned or an online coach, who provides daily tips with regard to improving working performance. There are countless possibilities for scrutinizing personal behavior and making requisite changes based on the results that are generated. Those interested in this subject will quickly find valuable resources online or in all manner of books and articles. But how well known is the movement in Germany? Our results show that 39% of German citizens have heard or read the phrase “self-improvement” at least once in the past. This demonstrates that we are dealing with a comparatively new trend. However, just 8% indicated that they were well acquainted with the term, with the other 31% being more or less familiar with it. In contrast, 61% of respondents had not previously encountered the term. These are the results of a survey conducted by GfK SE on behalf of GfK Verein in September 2014, for which approximately 1,000 Germans were interviewed.

Current level of recognition: highest among 35 to 49 year olds

The current level of recognition is largely dependent on age. The term is most widely recognized by the group covering respondents between the ages of 35 and 49. Almost half of this age group, 46%, has already heard of concepts in relation to the term self-improvement. However, the degree of awareness decreases with age and just a third of respondents aged 65 plus were familiar with the term. As far as the youngest respondents are concerned, in the 14 to 34 age group, 37% have heard of the term which signifies that awareness is close to the average level in this category. While age definitely plays a part in familiarity with the term, gender does not shed any further light: 39% of women compared with 40% of men have already encountered the concept of “self-improvement” at least once before. The only difference appears in the fact that the one in ten men are certain that they are familiar with the term, while the corresponding figure is just 6% for women.

Trend followers: better informed

Taking a general interest in new trends plays just as important a role as age in the familiarity with the term “self-improvement”. Those who possess a certain curiosity regarding emerging new trends are more able to grasp the concept of the term than those who take no interest in new trends. In this way, more than 40% of respondents who according to their answers also take interest in emerging new trends had heard of the term “self-improvement”, while one in ten of these were quite sure they were familiar with the term. However, the concept is disproportionately unfamiliar to respondents who signaled that they do not take an active interest in trend developments and innovations. Nearly three quarters of respondents had never heard of “self-improvement”.

Life areas: professional environment in first place

Improved time management at work, regular further training and career coaching; the world of work offers plenty of opportunity for self-improvement. It is also the area with which Germans most associate the term. A good three quarters of “experts”, that is those respondents who expressed their familiarity with the concept of “self-improvement”, specified their professional life when asked to list their associations with “self-improvement” in terms of various areas of life. Alongside associations with career and professional life, other aspects also named included the following: nearly one in two respondents familiar with the term “self-improvement” associated health and wellbeing in addition to sport and fitness. Leisure time and hobbies were named by 40%, with an equal percentage linking financial subjects to the issue. The lower ranking issues included family life and friends, nutrition and household, with a third of respondents making these associations.

Young and old: fitness versus health and Profession

Whether your focus in all things related to the trend of “self-improvement” is on health, family or career is again related to age. Younger “experts” give consideration to improving their own fitness and sporting prowess more than every other age group. With this in mind, 58% of under 35s associ-ated the term with the areas of sport and fitness. By comparison, this figure is just below 50% for 50 to 64 year olds, while only 43% of over 65s draw a parallel between the term and an improvement in sporting performance. However, at 39%, it was respondents from the 35 to 49 age group who made the link between self-improvement and fitness aspects least frequently. This is perhaps due to the fact that, in comparison with the other age groups, these respondents have other more pertinent focuses in their everyday lives, above all in relation to career. Of course, careers feature high up the list for all age groups, but it is the 35-49 year olds who are most preoccupied by issues in their professional lives and self-improvement, with a huge 86% making this association. That is nearly ten percentage points above the average.

Conversely, if we return to the older generation of respondents who are heading toward retirement, health aspects and ecological issues appear more frequently in responses. An above-average number of “expert” respondents between the ages of 50 and 64 made associations with issues from the areas of health and wellbeing, with 62% of this category considering the state of their health. This equates to a 14 percentage point increase on the average value. The over 65s, many of whom will be retirees, also have financial aspects in their sights: 42% of respondents in this category to whom the concept of self-improvement was familiar associated the term with monetary aspects.

Men and women: largely in Agreement

The gender of “experts” on the term self-improvement plays a lesser role in listing associations. Men and women are broadly united in their answers regarding which areas they associate with the concept of self-improvement. Where differences do appear, they are mainly concentrated around subjects such as family and friends, nutrition and household, whereby women see greater potential for improvement in these areas than their male counterparts. Men, by contrast, view the term more often in connection with their professional lives.

“Expert” associations: increased performance for a better you

There is clearly room for self-improvement in all areas of life. However, how do the respondents interpret the content of this buzzword? When respondents were asked to make free associations around the topic of self-improvement, aspects relating to improved performance predominated: no matter whether at work or the gym, the majority of respondents want to get more out of them-selves. These answers were offered spontaneously by 45% of “experts” on the term self-improvement. However, one in five respondents familiar with the concept were more concerned with concepts such as self-discovery and self-fulfillment, while 15% drew a connection between the term and improved time management. Attaining the perfect work-life balance was an association made by another 15%. One in ten thought the term was specifically associated with topics such as the body, health and fitness.

The extent to which someone speaks for or against the new trend of self-improvement is a personal matter. Those who keep tabs on themselves are more likely to pay attention to their body as well as ensuring they maintain a regular sleeping pattern and get sufficient exercise. Respondents who compare their data with others are perhaps more likely to stick to ambitious plans relating to increased performance or other fixed goals. However, it remains very much to be seen whether this American movement of meticulous personal data collection for the purpose of self-tracking will also take off with the majority of Germans at some point.

Data source: GfK Verein

If you have any queries please contact Claudia Gaspar, e-mail: