218 in 2018 · body image · Fear · fitness · Metrics

Changing my mind about metrics: how counting can be cool

Keeping track of number-y things has always been a little scary to me. I have never actually balanced my checkbook. There, I said it. Billable hours accounting? Hah. After all, I’m an academic. I don’t really want to know how many or few hours I work in a day/week/month. Yes, some of you may be thinking, what’s the deal with this?

Cartoon of ostrich with its head in a hole, against a lovely sky-blue background.
Cartoon of ostrich with its head in a hole, against a lovely sky-blue background.

Actually, I don’t think I’m really like the ostrich. I’m more like this:

A cartoon turtle, hiding in its shell, with the message "duck and cover".
A cartoon turtle, hiding in its shell, with the message “duck and cover”.

When it comes to physical activity, I’ve resisted metrics with every fiber of my being. And blogged about it here– Cycling (not) by the numbers.

Why? One word:


I didn’t want to be exposed and revealed– to myself, to anyone else– to what I was actually doing; how fast/slow I ride, how many minutes I worked out, certainly not how much I weigh.

What was I afraid of? Feeling demeaned by actually knowing how little I could do, how heavy and slow I was, etc., leading me to lose my identity as a cyclist, an athlete, a strong person, a worthy person.

Wow, that’s a lot of burden to place on a) myself; and b) some otherwise-unsuspecting numerical information.

Lately, though, I’ve grown really tired of carrying around those burdens of fear and shame, and doing all that ducking and covering, bobbing and weaving, all in service of– what? Trying not to know how my body is doing?

A duck, weighing in on the previous paragraphs, saying "well, that's just silly".
A duck, weighing in on the previous paragraphs, saying “well, that’s just silly”.

I have to agree with the duck here. This past year, I’ve experienced the non-catastrophic effects of keeping track of my activity. Last year I joined the 218 workouts in 2018 Facebook group, and I’m signed up this year for 219 Workouts in 2019. So are Sam, Cate, and a bunch of others. You can read many blog posts about it here. And you can read my post about meeting my 218 goal here.

For the record, so far this year I’m at 30 workouts. What I’m tracking is workout days. If I do a yoga class and take a walk or ride, I count all that as one workout day. This is my choice. It’s what *I* want to track, namely consistency (and gaps) in being active during a given week. Others are tracking individual workouts, and have their own ways of defining what a workout is for them. Their choice.

I love doing this. It is giving me information about how I’m doing, making me curious about what causes workouts to be easier or harder during my week, and helping me rethink my work/play/travel schedule to make more room for physical activity. This process just wouldn’t be possible without the data. So I’m officially embracing it.

I heart data!
I heart data!

Where is this going? Technology shopping, that’s where. I think I may finally, FINALLY buy a Fitbit or some such activity tracking device. I’m definitely putting my cheapo CatEye bike computer back on the bike. Perhaps a Garmin or other schmancy computer is in my near future. But no scales. I don’t need that information. Although if/when I do, I’ll use one at the gym or doctor’s office.

I’ll be posting more about this, asking for your advice on devices and reporting on what I buy and how I like them. For now, I’m curious about what trackers people use and how they like them. What do you recommend as a step counter/activity tracker? Thanks for any advice, and as always, thanks for reading.

Cookie cake saying "you rule", which all of you do.
Cookie cake saying “you rule”, which all of you do.

9 thoughts on “Changing my mind about metrics: how counting can be cool

  1. I have mixed feelings about metrics for my own fitness and diligent tracking. I’m better to use metrics in a light touch/vague way. It helps me to have a few metrics to reach when I return to cycling daily in non-snowy/icy weather…I must reach this destination, do these hills, etc. But I don’t time myself…it’s more reaching several enjoyable points along a return to cycling-daily seasons benchmark kind of thing.

    Got it? I used to track every km. for lst few years of cycling. It blew my mind how much cycling I could do in 1 year. After knowing that, it was good enough for me. If I overfocus on a metric too much, it drains the joy of cycling for me. I wouldn’t have been a cyclist for fitness, commuting, if it was metrics daily.

    Whatever works for you, Catherine.

    1. Thanks, Jean. I bet you racked up (and still rack up) zillions of kms! I think I just want to know how riding X miles makes me feel, and if doing some sort of training can help me ride 2X miles sometime later. In this way, I think keeping track of numbers will help. Then I can let it go again when I’m in a place where I’m happy with my riding, etc.

  2. I’ve been a cyclist, commuter and tourer for over the past 25 yrs. It’s important I enjoy cycling: I haven’t had a car ever in my life. I stopped driving in my 20’s.

  3. I started keeping a workout diary to track my progress when I started weight training two years ago. I’ve found that tracker to be a vital tool because I can’t always remember how much weight I put on the bar last time, and I don’t want to waste time putting too much or too little whenever I work out. So I write down what I’m going to do before I start, and then track what I was able to accomplish as I finish each set. It has been very satisfying to see how much stronger I am now than when I started two years ago. I wouldn’t be able to see that half as well if I didn’t keep track of things.

    I’ve also been keeping track of my body composition, which does require me to weigh myself and take measurements occasionally. Although I’m not going after a particular weight, and while my fat percentage has been more or less steady and my measurements haven’t changed all that much (except in a few places), it has been really uplifting to see that I seem to have gained about 10 pounds of muscle.

    1. Thanks for the comments. yes, all this makes perfect sense. I just started weight training and keeping track of the numbers will make it safer and healthier and more effective. And congrats on the extra muscle— that’s cool to see the effect of work on your part.

  4. Although generally here on the blog I take on the role of data geek and someone who likes tracking, it’s actually more complicated than that. There are things I don’t find it that helpful to track–deep sleep, for example I have no idea how to improve that! When it’s bad I just feel bad. I find tracking protein and veggies helpful. I get frustrated tracking calories. I like tracking HR and kms on my Garmin. I like knowing that I am getting faster (or not!) on routes I regularly ride. So dip your toes in–that sounds like your strategy–and see what works. I love the 219 in 2019 groups b/c they keep things simple.

    1. Yeah, I use my Garmin watch to track my runs. I find it satisfying to see that I’m slowly getting faster. 🙂 I also agree with others who track lifts. I can’t really imagine lifting without my log book.

      I have a more complicated history with tracking food, and I have to be very mindful of what I let it *mean*. As long as it’s just data, I find tracking helpful–am I consistently eating as much produce as I mean to? Do I get enough protein? However, as soon as tracking becomes a tool of evaluation–a means of determining “goodness” or “badness,” then I’ve entered a danger zone and I have to step away from it entirely for a while. Goal-setting is very closely tied with this, and for me, I can’t let certain numbers (especially calories) be the goal. It can be a by-product of change but not directly what I’m attempting to change.

  5. Reblogged this on FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE and commented:

    This year, 2020, is the third year in a row that I’m counting my workout days. I’ve been in the 218 in 2018 and 219 in 2019 FB groups, and these experiences have helped me realized that counting can be a positive, motivating tool in my health-to-me pursuits. I also bought a fake-o Fitbit, which I used off and on in 2019. I plan to use it more on than off in 2020. Again, allowing myself access to data about my activity is proving more useful than scary. Of course, context is everything, so the numbers don’t say much by themselves. But over time, they do reveal patterns that I am finding useful. Take a look at my blog post from 2019 about changing my mind about metrics, and I hope you’ll tell me what you think about your numbers, if you collect that sort of thing.

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