Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Pedometers: Measurement, Motivation, or Keeping Score

My daughter was two weeks away from her fourth birthday and dressed as Cinderella for her Halloween Trick or Treating.  She was so proud of that dress.  She twirlled in it.  She gazed at herself in it.  She experienced enraptured joy in it.

About half-way through the night we met a girl twice her age, also dressed as a princess.  My daughter watched her pass with wide eyes and mouth agape with a smile at this older girl's finery.  After she passed my daughter looked down at her own dress, took hold of it to inspect it, and then dropped it with a huff and a pout of disgust.

Competition has its place, undertaken in its proper place and proper limits, it can even be a source of joyful exuberance.  When injected where it does not belong, however, competition becomes nothing but comparison and joy quickly sours into envy.

After I'd been walking for over a year I bought a used activity tracker, a Jawbone UP.  A new model had just hit the market.  It was the week after the new year and between Christmas and flailing resolutions the used market was heavy with sellers, prices were depressed and eventually hit my trigger point.

My goal was both measurement and motivation.  I had been using my phone's gps to get a general idea of how far I'd been walking but as my walks grew longer the battery in my cellphone did not prove up to the task.  I also thought using the Jawbone might motivate me to move a little more between wooded wanderings or urban treks.

Both of those things happened but I soon discovered that measurement and motivation easily morph into score keeping.  The first motive was measurement, how far am I walking.  The second is inward focused, I want to try to walk a little more.  Both would be challenged by an emerging sense of competition.

Thanks to the connection between the pedometer, my cell phone, and the cloud I could compare how far I was walking to my co-workers, a friend in high school, strangers on the other side of the globe.  Yes, this became an external motivation to move more but at the cost of introducing rivalry into the activity.  Competition is good in the marketplace but it became corrosive to my joy.  I knew I was drifting from my intent when I began to mentally accuse someone I've never met of putting their activity tracker on their ankle while on a bicycle to inflate their numbers.

So when the Jawbone started to fall apart, I decided to replace it with something a little less networked, a little less easily compared or contrasted via automatic updates.  I got a plain old digital pedometer.  It sits hidden in my pocket and once a day I record that days miles in my calander.

If I choose to move a little more, I can still measure my progress.  If it seemed like I went farther or faster than normal, I still have an objective measure of what I did or did not do.  But remaining ignorant of what anyone else is doing, I am not tempted to exchange the joy of walking for the pursuit of winning.

The pocket pedometer also has the benefit of being about 90% cheaper.

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