My wife Krisi wears a Fitbit.
If you don’t know what that is, it’s a small device she wears on her wrist that keeps track of the number of steps she takes each day.
My sister has one too. Because she and Krisi are Fitbit friends online, they can see each other’s step counts in real time. They have an ongoing friendly competition to see who can get the most steps for the day or week. Krisi can be pretty competitive which is why it’s disastrous when she forgets her Fitbit at home.
Imagine, all those steps you’ll take and you’re not going to get credit for them. You might as well stay home and sleep all day. What’s the point if you can’t record it?
I have to admit I understand the feeling. I ran a triathlon recently and had to start running again to train for it. At first I hated running. It’s boring. It’s hard. My friend Nick gave me his old Nike+ watch when he got a new Fitbit.
I love running now.
I can track my mileage and upload it to an app that maps out the route I took during my run. I can compare myself to other runners in the area. I can see my calories burned, average speed and total distance to date.
Sometimes when I’m ready to run, I put on the watch and it won’t sync with the GPS satellites (I assume that’s what it’s trying to do). I don’t even want to run at that point. There I am in my gear, shoes on, headphones in, ready to go. But if my watch won’t track my mileage, what’s the point? If I can’t track my success, what’s the point of performing?
This is the quantified self craze at its finest. No it’s not a new phenomenon, but it is a refresh. A redux. The popularity of wearable devices has made the quantified self a mainstream practice. This is likely because wearables are the most convenient solution thus far. Before we tracked our fitness with our phones, but you don’t always have your phone on you when you work out so it wasn’t a widespread practice. The next phase might be implants so we can track our selves nonstop, 24-7. Our generation might not go for that, but I imagine our children will.
So why is it that we like to track ourselves?
We definitely want credit. When I finish a run I want to know that I broke three miles. If I know how much I ran this time, I know how much I have to run the next time to stay the same or improve.
When my wife doesn’t reach her daily step goal of 10,000, she gets down on herself. In fact, if she’s close we’ll tack on a few extra blocks when we walk our dog at night. I’ve even seen here run laps around the kitchen to break that 10K mark.
Why is this? Isn’t 9,647 just as good as 10,000 in the long run? Not when you look at that data beautifully displayed online and see that one day that is just shy of your goal. That doesn’t feel good. This might be the one downside of being shackled to your Fitbit – the mental downfall of not hitting your goals. Reaching 8,000 steps a day is a great accomplishment, but if you don’t hit your 10,000, you feel like you failed.
Fitness isn’t meant to be the same or harder every day. There are peaks and valleys. Some days are you have more energy, some days you make more trips to the fourth floor printer, some days your dog has to go out seven times instead of the usual three. This doesn’t mean those less active days were failures.
The point of a Fitbit and the point of the quantified self is to measure and improve. I haven’t tried a Fitbit yet and I’m positive it’s easy to get swept into the frenzy of hitting a step goal. But I would hope I’d look at the larger picture. Am I improving month-over-month? In Winter, I’ll likely walk less than I did in Summer, but did I improve over last year’s Winter? Long-term improvement is where I see the true value of the Fitbit.
To anyone who uses a Fitbit everyday, I’ll say, I want one too. But I also want to advise you to take that data with a grain of salt. Your days are going to show flux. They will ebb and flow. Don’t beat yourself up if you ebb yourself out of your 10,000 steps.
I’ll let the Internet explain: