Tracking as a way of life? No thanks

Six different fitness trackers--3 with black wrist bands, one light blue, one yellow, and one darker blue, all against a green background.
Six different fitness trackers–3 with black wrist bands, one light blue, one yellow, and one darker blue, all against a green background.

Yesterday Sam asked people to weigh in about whether she should replace her FitBit. It’s not working properly and she still has some time to go in the summer step challenge. The thing is, Sam likes tracking. And I can appreciate that. She said she knew what I would say (meaning, she knew I’d say, “Noooooooooooo!”).

But I would only say no to the question, “Should, I, Tracy, get a FitBit and start tracking everything all the time?”  For Sam, my answer is different. In fact, if she likes tracking (and she does; she’s a data hound) and it doesn’t have a negative impact on her attitude about herself (and she’s so darn well-adjusted that it doesn’t), then yes she should. Why suffer along with broken gadgets when you can get a new one? Also, she’s about to make a very cool and upward career-move, so she can reward her accomplishments with a new shiny toy.

I’m the opposite. I lamented last week about how the 100 day step challenge is about a month too long. I find it interesting at first to get a read on my activity level. But after that I’m more like: are we there yet?

Sam said, “I think you take it all more seriously than me.” That’s very likely. It’s not that I take it super super seriously. Part of me knows that in the grand scheme it doesn’t really matter. I mean, it’s not like the teams actually win anything. And come September we’ll just move on and I’ll do what I do without counting my steps.  I’ll know when I have a “good activity” day, but I kind of know that anyway. How does being able to say “I hit 36,000 steps today” change anything?

If, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter, I don’t really need to know. So that’s kind of where I end up if I take things to their logical conclusion.

For me there is something insidious about monitoring and tracking. I have compared it to the panopticon before (an 18th Century prison design that forces inmates to engage in self-surveillance because they never know when they’re being watched). In that first early blog post, I was talking about food tracking (that’s got to be the worst type of tracking I’ve ever experienced). Sam chimed in about how she likes it in “Another Perspective on Tracking.”

We go back and forth with this issue a lot. And we’re both of the “you do you” variety. And I would never begrudge anyone their simple pleasures (like tracking gadgets).

I’ve gone even more in the other direction lately. This summer, I’ve gone out a few times without my Garmin! Just running freestyle. I didn’t even take it with me to Scotland in July and I had some amazing runs where I felt satisfied and free, not checking my pace and instead doing what felt right at the time. That pleases me and more importantly, feeds my soul in ways that external measures never do.

I blogged last week about intuitive eating and how much I like it. This is another place where Sam and I go in different directions. But the appeal of intuitive eating is consistent with my affinity for becoming aware of and following internal cues. I realize that my inner cues might sometimes be off (if I’m sick, if I’m tired, or what have you). But personally I do better when I try to live with that sort of mindful awareness for the most part.

And that’s why the idea of tracking as a way of life doesn’t agree with me. But if it agrees with you, that’s okay and I encourage you to venture out and find the right gadget for you.

So to answer your question, Sam: yes, get yourself a new one!

Does tracking as a way of life appeal to you or leave you cold (or somewhere in between?)?

8 thoughts on “Tracking as a way of life? No thanks

  1. My husband thinks that tracking my daily exercise is an artificial way to have a fitness regimen. I, on the other hand, need the quantification to feel good. We stopped arguing about it because, hey, whatever rocks one’s boat !

  2. Some vague numbers help me abit. But I don’t track. I generally know the distance that I cycle. I took off my cyclometer about 15 years ago.

    Right now measuring for me is wrong for motivation: I’m not cycling for a few days after dealing with neck muscle pull and headaches. So am walking… I’m seeing a physiotherapist who is a cyclist also. She wants me to dial down for a wk. or so. So measuring is not going to help me.

  3. But I have count my prescribed exercises that my physiotherapist gave to me to do for next few wks. 90 repetitions of 3 different exercises to strengthen tiny back muscles near my spine..

    So quantification for rehabilitation purposes as prescribed can help.

  4. I like activity tracking, but food tracking drives me batty. In part because the tools make it difficult to measure anything not pre-packaged.

  5. I’m with you. The fine line between helpful data and subconscious pressure to accomplish something is too complicated for me.
    I like not knowing. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

  6. Is it maybe that Sam thinks she needs to lose weight and you don’t? Is that were her obsession comes from?

    My verdict sides with yours. The “trackers” can be tricked into thinking you’re taking steps when you really aren’t and malfunction, under-reporting your efforts. I might need more steps than you, or the other way around, so one size does not fit all.
    From observation – these trackers are not the best motivators. After their shine and new smell wear off, you just use it as an accessory more than anything else.
    And then, there are the braggers “I’ve done xyz today. Can you believe it?”

    I guess different things work for different people. Some people need companions to motivate them to exercise together, all I need for my motivation is MYSELF.

    When it comes to eating… More often than not, tracking makes you aware of what you can’t eat, which leads you to crave those things even more. Sooner or later, you will get sick and tired of it and just give in. I believe in my internal stimuli and moderation.

    My brain has its natural ability to track things. I do not know exactly how many steps/ miles I walked/ cycled, etc, but I know how long it took me, how hard I worked, etc.

    Just some scrambled opinions. Cool post!

  7. I’ve never been into tracking activity in terms of steps but I track my exercise when it comes to lifting weights, how much I lift, reps, etc. When I don’t track I tend to plateau and do the same things over and over.

    I do track food but mainly because I have to tendency to under-eat and I I screwed up my metabolism from years of over exercising plus under eating. Tracking my food keeps me honest and mostly aware with what I eat to be sure I eat enough.

  8. I own a fit-bit….oh, wait – it’s in my drawer in my bedroom….anyway, I just retired…I am not tracking anything! I plan to live each day doing what I want, when I want…..

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