I recently joined the flocks of Fitbit aficionados, in hopes of discovering a better me. The learning curve on the electronic gizmo has been steep with its many screens and buttons and parameters and graphs and comparisons. I’ve been talking to it, this slender bit of plastic, asking about my sleep and movements and habits, muttering to it when it annoys me, and staring at it as I would a new lover, needing to hang onto the nuance of every word, waiting for intimations of love or approval or knowledge. It hasn’t been as forthcoming as I’d hoped.
It seems late in life to start tracking how fit – or unfit – I am. I splurged on this bit of extravagance in an effort to overcome the last several years of sitting and writing, sitting and reading, sitting and scrolling, sitting and thinking or breathing or talking. I watch everything slide south, from skin to organs to brain cells to mojo, and realize that it’s time once again to get a grip, spend more time in my body and less in my brain, hoping to rejuvenate a fraction of what’s been lost.
It’s no coincidence that I chose spring and the end of quarantine and mask mandates to do this. By the look of traffic lately, and the number of folks out and about, I’m not the only one leaving the confines of home. There’s an energy in the air for new beginnings, and the list of pent up desires is long.
I’m trying to get comfortable with the multitude of measurements. It throws mysterious numbers at me: 126! 3 out of 5! Well done – you reached 350! I have no idea what I did or what these mean, but I like the success of a job well done, though I can’t replicate it except by accident. I’m offered a free six month premium account with even more numbers, but I better let this all sink in for a bit.
I forget about my fitbit for some minutes, but then checking it for the hundredth time, I see that yes, my heart is still beating, that I walked 1301 steps this morning just around the house and from the car to the swimming pool. But here’s the thing. I parked a little further away than I usually do just to earn more steps. And I took a walk later in the day even though I’d already exercised. Not my usual MO. So I guess that this little gadget is doing what it’s supposed to, motivate me to work a little harder, take the extra step, get off of the couch or away from the writing desk, and go.
The other morning I caught myself running from the car back to the house, as usual, for the things I forgot. My water. My wallet. A mask. A book. And then I thought, I could really milk this – every time I’m forgetful, I get more steps in. Later, as I loaded up my arms to carry 3 or 4 things at once from my writing room to the living room – my laptop AND my water glass AND my book, AND my sweatshirt – courting disaster – I realized I could carry these things one at a time and get more steps in!
Then I read a recent David Sedaris essay and heard myself in his description of leaving his hotel in some strange city to “get some steps in” and I thought, what the hell? When did walking become “getting steps in?” How about just taking a walk? Being with nature? Taking in some sights? Getting some night air? Stargazing? Moving around? Even calling it a “constitutional” takes a whole body approach to exercise.
Going for a walk is generally a bucolic experience for me, a time to observe the graceful bend of a branch, the song of the chickadee and song sparrow, the sweet scent of lilacs and daphne, the shifting shapes of the clouds. Must there be a loss for every gain? Now I check the screen and see that I’m Fat Burning! Or in Cardio mode, even better! My pace has numbers attached! Go go go! This is what I wanted, right?
I imagine how great it would be to have an app tell me what I was just thinking about, what I came into the room for, what I was about to say, the name of that person, that place, that thing. Nouns are a bitch these days. And where’s the motivator to do the laundry, send that email, weed the garden, wash my car? The tiny things that get pushed back and back and back. My calendar app gives me reminders, but I need a motivator, a feedback loop, and if I’m being honest, a reward.
A childhood entrenched in rewards and punishments for learning and behavior left me with an addiction to that feedback. How am I doing? Am I good enough? Smart enough? Fast enough? Creative enough? Judging by how many of us use social media to share a meal, a hike, a friendship, a milestone, an achievement, or a complaint, I’m not alone. Truthfully, I like the “likes” as much as anyone, and go back to see if there are more. But what I love even more is the connection, especially in these distanced times, sharing thoughts, the exchange, the back and forth. It’s not just approval or encouragement – the connection is the piece that motivates me to write and share.
But sometimes life gets a little lonely and one-sided, so I connect with my fitbit. Don’t judge. I track how much water I drink, my steps, and minutes of sleep. Perhaps I could train it to track how many how many songs I played today. And where’s the app that will track how many times I smiled, or hugged you, how sorry I am, how much forgiveness I need, and how glad I am that we connected?