Confirmed. Tracking Is Still Like the Panopticon: Reflections on 100 days of counting steps in the GCC

calendarBack in May I embarked on “the Global Corporate Challenge” with a sense of excitement and enthusiasm. See my post about those early days here. Partway through, the veneer of the novelty of tracking my step count each day and doing my part for the team was starting to wear a bit thin. See my update about that here.

Today is Day 100. The last day of the GCC.  I’m ready for it to be over. In fact, after keeping a close eye on my step counter for over 95 days, I had a mishap on Monday at the doctor’s office and managed to flush my tracker down the toilet. The momentary sense of disappointment (because I was about to have a really big step counting day, the first after my vacation) gave way to relief in fairly short order.

I am done with counting steps. It hasn’t been all bad, not by a long shot. But it’s not been all good either. Tracking anything has never been a favourite thing of mine. I’ve blogged before about how tracking is like “the panopticon.” If you want to know what that means, you can read my post here. The panopticon is a prison design that instills self-surveillance into the inmates because they don’t know when they’re being watched. Tracking is like that, I think, because it teaches us how to monitor our own behaviour and keep ourselves in check.

Here are my reflections on 100 days of step-counting with the GCC, in no particular order:

(1) Other things matter but counting steps doesn’t capture that. As I mentioned in my mid-challenge report, step counting has its limitations. Lots of activities don’t translate into steps. Like weight training, for example, or yoga. But these are good things to do, too. My desire to hit my step count for the day and keep up my average (over 16,000) meant that on occasion I sacrificed other healthy activities in favour of more steps. As a way of monitoring an overall healthy lifestyle, step counting just isn’t comprehensive enough.

(2) More isn’t necessarily better. I’m a more is better type of person, and step counting makes me obsessive about racking up more steps. This can be a good thing, but there is more to life than keeping track of steps. And — here’s where the panopticon and other tracking behaviours kicks in for me — I felt badly about myself whenever I fell short. Having a metric that supposedly tracks how healthy my lifestyle is narrows my focus and can set me up to feel bad.

(3) Being on a team only works if the whole team is into it. I thought the whole team building thing would be fun, and that the support of the team and the enthusiasm of the team and, to be honest, the competition aspect of the challenge might be motivating. Maybe that’s the case with some teams. But not everyone on my team was into it. And so fairly soon into the challenge it became obvious that we weren’t going to be a particularly competitive team. As it stands today, with just over 24 hours left in the challenge, we’ve clocked 4920 kilometres as a team. To give that some context, the best team of the 200 in my institution has 10,052 kilometres. The best team in the world has an astonishing 30,270 kilometres (I don’t even know how that it is possible since every team has just seven members).  Even if my teammates filled in their accumulated 68 missed entries, we wouldn’t come close to 10,052 and nowhere near 30,270). Long story short: I didn’t find my team spirit in my team, and that sort of disappointed me.

(4) Hidden gems. The GCC isn’t only about counting steps. I really enjoyed the “balance” part of the program, which worked on simple daily strategies to make you feel mentally better. These were simple–like a breathing exercise a couple of times a day, a list of things you’re grateful for, and writing thank-you cards (not necessarily sending them) to people.  All of these activities oriented my thinking in a positive direction whenever I did them. And they really didn’t take up much time. So in that respect, I like the idea that it’s not just about physical health.

(5) My lifestyle score and my heart age. My ‘lifestyle score’ went up significantly over the 100 days. Upon taking the initial questionnaire, I started out at 366/1000 with a “heart age” of 51 (which is my age, though I’m about to turn 52 next month). Now, after 100 days of step counting and practicing the balance stuff and re-doing the questionnaire, my lifestyle score is 917/1000 and my heart age is 50 years and 3 months (and I’m sure would be lower but I never did go get my cholesterol levels tested). I don’t know what that means exactly, but the jump from 366 to 917 over 100 days seems significant to me and I feel like I’m in great shape mentally and physically as I approach my 52nd birthday.

Part way through the challenge I thought I might start using a fitness tracker of some kind when it was over. But I am less certain of that now — not completely opposed, but not all that keen either. I just want to go back to enjoying my activities for their own sakes. I’ll continue with the breathing exercises and the gratitude (which is something I practice regularly anyway), and I’ll still walk to work and ride my bike into the autumn and possibly even continue walking to work in the winter. But I’m not feeling especially motivated to track my steps.

Are you committed to tracking steps (or were you part of the GCC?) or have you ever been? Did it/does it make a difference to your choices?


5 thoughts on “Confirmed. Tracking Is Still Like the Panopticon: Reflections on 100 days of counting steps in the GCC

  1. I have tracked steps on and off with fitness trackers but I loose interest. Partly because of the downer moment when I don’t hit my target but mostly, after I get a baseline, I don’t need a step count to tell me how active I am.
    Recently I realized I have my phone on me a lot and it just gathers that data for me. About once a month I do a gross error check and make sure I’m
    Not delusional about my activity level.

  2. Loved this analysis — I like the wee bit of affirmation when I do track the steps, but I am half-assed about it because my tracker is my clunky running watch and I don’t wear it all the time. I kind of like that I can see the steps on an active day (when I would wear it) and I don’t feel bad if I leave it off on another day.

  3. Google Fit is pretty good. It can tell when I’m biking and when I’m walking or running. It even does sleep analysis but I don’t like having to keep my phone with me. I tried wearing a wrist step and sleep tracking thing but I also want heart rate. Still undecided but if I actually went for it, I’d get one thing that stayed on and tracked everything including heart rate. Some super interesting issues here about data and the possibilities for personalized medicine. Also concerns about privacy….

  4. As mentioned maybe ages ago, I used to track my cycling mileage for lst 5 years of returning to cycling in a diary. That was in my 30’s.

    Since then, I just have a “feel” for amount of distance I’ve done for a wk. etc. When I was unemployed I did track cumulative mileage more accurately and helped motivate me.

    I just want to cycle because it’s my transportation choice most of the time during non-icy days of year, and most of all, to continue to love the sensation of cycling –whether it’s just 10km or 65 km. that day…and do it daily or at least several times per wk. It’s the psychological high /destressor that wins spades for me rather than mathematical counts.

    Hope cycling love returns daily for you and walking too.

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