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Taking a Step Back from My Pedometer

Note: I mention the goal of getting to 10,000 steps in this piece, and in case you’re curious about the background of this idea, here’s an article with some information and some thoughts on if it makes sense as a goal.

Last week I talked about why you don’t need to earn the right to eat. And I mentioned how fitness trackers can cause problems on that front.

As a follow-up, I thought I’d share a little about my experience with the pedometer on my phone. And how I’m putting some distance between us.

Getting Sucked In

At first, using a tracker seems harmless. Fun, even. You’ve got this device in your pocket or on your wrist or wherever, and it tells you about your activity level.

How many steps you took. How many miles that is. How many flights you’ve climbed. Of course, basic ones don’t measure intensity or heart rate, but you can get apps or devices that track pretty much any number you want.

You’ve also heard there’s something magical about taking 10,000 steps in a day. You might not know exactly why it’s so great, but you decide to see if you’re anywhere near that.

Then you get a shock when you realize how far short you are. And just what 10,000 steps really means. You might be walking 5 miles day! (Although how far depends on how long your legs are.) And it could take well over an hour. Maybe closer to two. Who has time for that?

And clearly you’ve made it this far without doing that much and you haven’t died or had a heart attack. How important can it be?

Competition Sets In

But you hear other people talk about “getting their steps in.” You see posts about it. You start to feel like a slug because you’re not keeping up.

Your spirit of competition kicks in. If other people can do this, so can you, damn it!

You start finding excuses to walk around the office or house. Maybe you pace around in the evening, obsessively tracking your progress until you get to those 10,000 steps (or whatever goal you’ve set). Perhaps you get creative, like jogging or marching in place when you’re in line or waiting for something. It feels really good at first to hit those goals – especially if your device rewards you in some way.

As you’re doing this, though, you might not be paying attention to how you’re feeling. Do you have more energy? Are you sleeping any better? Or are you stressed when you don’t get your steps in?

Or what if you forget your phone at home – heaven forbid – and it doesn’t count your steps? If there’s no record of your activity, did it really happen? Not having it recorded will certainly throw off your stats, so you do it again.

Feeling Virtuous

Doing all of this is kind of a pain, but it’s okay. Because you feel virtuous. You know you’re doing the right thing. You can hold your head up and join in if your office does a walking challenge or your friends talk about their steps.

Then you start to think that if you’re doing all this exercise, you can probably eat more. After all, you walked 5 miles today – or more! Surely you can have that piece of cake. And ice cream. You deserve it after all that. Does it really matter if you’re hungry or not?

Or on the flip side, if you miss getting to your goal, maybe you feel like you can’t have the cookie or piece of candy. You haven’t done enough. Maybe you eat it anyway, telling yourself you’ll work it off later in the day. Or you eat it but feel guilty.

Losing Control

After a while, you feel like someone’s cast a spell over you. You’re not in control of your own life anymore. You’re stuck doing whatever your device or app tells you to.

And it doesn’t feel like much fun anymore.

At the same time, you’re addicted. You don’t even notice how often you sneak a glance to see how much you’ve done – and how much further you have to go.

The thought of not doing it seems impossible. How can you back off now? Wouldn’t that make you a failure?

It seems like it shouldn’t be so hard if everyone else is doing it. (Although of course you don’t really know if everyone else is.) You might feel inadequate, or left out, if you quit this.

Hitting Reset

But one day, you decide enough is enough. Maybe you’ve been sick and haven’t been able to do much of anything, and once you feel better, you start to rethink things. Or maybe you simply discover that tracking your numbers this way adds stress to your life. You don’t have time for other things that are important to you.

Whatever the reason, you stop and ask, “Why am I doing this?”

Clearly it’s not for fun anymore, since it stopped being fun a while ago. And really, who else cares if you get 10,000 steps in or not?

After a lot of thought, you realize a couple of things.

First, you actually do feel better if you get in some activity during the day. Not because anyone told you that you’d feel better. You just have more energy. Your mind is clearer, especially if you’re able to get outside.

Second, feeling better only works if you’re not guilting yourself into the exercise, or forcing yourself to hit some artificial threshold.

So you decide you want to keep moving but give up the tracker. But you’re not sure you can go cold turkey. How do you do it?

Tips for Getting Away from Your Tracker

The above description is slightly dramatized, but it’s a fairly accurate account of my experience. I never did download any apps, just used what came on my phone. But that was enough to get me more obsessed than I’d like.

In my effort to step away from it, here are some things I did that might help you.

1. Put it out of sight

This depends on your device. If it’s a Fitbit or something wearable, maybe you can take it off altogether.

If it’s an app on your phone, that’s usually harder. But maybe you can follow my lead and keep the app closed, and move it so it’s harder to find.

2. Stop checking as often

Tell yourself you’re only going to check once a day, or maybe twice. This seems like it should be easy, but I had to resist the urge to check the pedometer every time I took out my phone.

3. Remember it’s just information

The numbers aren’t there to shame you or make you feel guilty. They’re only information. I found this easiest to remember if I checked my steps at the end of the day, when it was too late to act on any silly impulses to try to squeeze in more.

4. Focus on how you feel

This is the real key. You want to feel good, physically and emotionally, and only you can tell when that is. Plus, you might even want to have fun with your activity!

5. It’s not a daily requirement

Likewise, you aren’t obligated to do a lot every day. You can take days off or do less. Or do more. It’s perfectly okay for you to figure out what works for you.

If you have your own stories about your time with a device, I’d love to hear them. And in the meantime, I hope it helps to remember that activity, like eating, is better when it’s done mindfully.

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