Counting, Challenges, and Joy

Do you count workouts? Do you count books read?

I count workouts here and here. And I count books read here.

The Count with number 8

I was surprised to see this critique of counting. In “If your New Year’s resolution is to read more books this year, this is why you shouldn’t” Max Liu argues that counting robs us of joy. In reading for the sake of numbers, you lose the joy and pleasure of reading for its own sake.


Maybe that’s true for some people, for some things.

But I feel pretty joyful about both reading and working out.

I like having a number and counting reading just like count workouts. The counting part is an extra pleasure. Often, if I’m feeling lazy I’ll watch a show rather than read or workout but I know that working out and reading make me happier. So for me it’s an extra incentive to do a thing that I know makes me happier. I love reading, love exercising, but sometimes getting started can be a challenge. Not for everyone, I know, but for me it’s a reminder to do a thing I love.

In Ask Fieldpoppy, resident fit feminist advice giver Cate takes on this question of challenges and says that the external framework (say working out 223 times in 2023) is part of the story, it’s not the whole story, or even the most important part. She writes that it’s about meaning and “…to make any of these things meaningful — and to set yourself up for success – you need to know what “meaningful” means to you.”

So if counting gets in the way of thinking about why reading or running or strength training matters for you, if it just becomes a thing you log and tick off a box, then maybe counting and number based challenges aren’t for you. For me it’s true that the happy feeling of logging a workout or entering a book read is part of the story, it’s always an add on. The important feeling is immersion in another world, in the case of reading, or the feeling of connecting with my energy and strength, in the case of working out. For me, counting doesn’t take away from that.

It helps, I think, that I am gentle with myself when I don’t meet a numerical goal. I’m happy to start over and I don’t tend to punish myself or dwell on my failures. For me, challenges are all about the positive motivation and if I miss a day or don’t make a goal, I pretty quickly move on. I also set reasonable goals so more often than not I make them.

How about you? Are you a counter? A fan of numerical challenges? Or do you find as Liu suggests that counting, like comparing, is a thief of joy? Let us know what you think in the comments.

A woman in a green tank facing a climbing wall.

2 thoughts on “Counting, Challenges, and Joy

  1. The only thing I really count are my consecutive days of meditation (I’m on a quite long streak at the moment). And I’m pretty disciplined about working out 6 days a week, but that’s not cumulative counting, just paying attention to the day off. Interestingly, I have always counted number of cross country ski days. But this year, out of the blue, I’m enjoying snowshoeing equally as much (as rigorous and backcountry, instead of ski center), so I’ve decided I don’t care at all about the xc skis count.

  2. I like to count, too. I count when I am doing something, and forget about the numbers as soon as I am done, whether I got where I thought or hoped I would, or not. Seems like a perfect example of how one size does not fit all!

Comments are closed.