Measured Steps

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.

I’ve done 0! Of something!

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?

My preference to is to wander, notice, observe, breathe… This can’t be rushed!

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?

13 thoughts on “Measured Steps

  1. Ahhh, fitbit. I love this post! 

    For years I had a love/hate relationship with mine. I wore it on the job (my walking mail route) and on hikes where it was a meaningful tool. When I retired, it went into the junk heap along with my watch. I can be a bit obsessive about things and this became a big one. I think the sleep feature was the most fascinating part for me, but I love your musings about the “what ifs” of measuring other things: “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”.  

    It seemed to taunt me after a while and I felt myself slip into the “not good enough” stuff that messes with my head. It’s a great reminder to keep moving though and there are enough built-in rewards to keep it slapped happily on the wrist. Good luck! I’ll look forward to hearing how you settle in with this new tool cheering you on.  

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    • I can see the obsessive part. We’ll see. I hope to keep it meaningful in some way, info about the things that I tend to not think about, the things I should pay more attention to to live a longer better life. If only it could fulfill all my dreams. Guess I’ll have to keep looking for that. And yes, the not good enough monkey shouldn’t get a place at the table, so I’ll watch for that, thanks for the warning.

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      • One of the things I found helpful was having friends to compete with. Real people trying to do what I was trying to do. We could encourage one another and commiserate on those days when it was tough to get up and out the door. A little like having a workout buddy at the gym. It isn’t just misery that loves company. Success does too. You go girl!

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  2. I had been thinking of getting one, but now I think not. I don’t need another device that makes my brain hurt trying to figure out how to use it for things I don’t need to know! When all I want it for is to do a better job of tracking hiking mileage than my phone does! Remember pedometers? My mother’s quit working (died with her, I think) and the guy in Best Buy said, “You know your iPhone has one, right?” Wrong, I did not. Now I’m thinking about finally getting an iPad, but do I want it for anything other than reading books? And do I want to do even that? (Longer story.) But, to your point, I have noticed being entirely too content with sitting all day long, never even unlocking the door. That definitely needs to change. Will it tell you how many buttercup you have pulled? And is that cardio?

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    • The stress of just dealing with buttercup is def cardio! It’s good to figure out the info you really want first, then which device will best suit your needs. I would like an implant that does everything. Pushes me out the door. Can’t wait for better weather… Thanks Gretchen.

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  3. Kudos to you for upping your game in the health fitness world. So many ways to track all the things we are doing just to stay ahead of the curve. Some days I just want a launch of butterflies because I made the bed and got the toothpaste back in the drawer or loaded my dishes after breakfast! Keep going – it’s inspiring.

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  4. So funny, just recently I got one of these too. Mainly to get going (once again) on a “start-to-run” program, which I haven’t started yet. I also connected it to my smartphone and get slight thrills on my wrist each time a message comes in. I love it because, most of the times, with just a quick look on my watch and only seeing the first words on the small screen I immediately know that there is absolutely no hurry to grab my phone and react. Of course it can all wait until later, after all the workouts, and then in the end I sometimes forget about my phone. I couldn’t agree more with you than on the app telling what you were thinking about or why you came into the room… Keep moving though, with or without staring at the device!

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    • Ha, great minds think alike! I haven’t connected to messages because even the quick look is distracting for me. There’s actually nothing in my life that needs a quick reaction. 🙂 Looking forward to hear about the running! Time for triathalons!!

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  5. Nancy
    Having worn my Fitbit for the past umpteen years I so enjoyed your blog!! I am onto my 2nd generation and several wrist bands worn to a thread. I c’ompete’ since that is how I was hatched…with several others that I have never met but whose weekly promptings and it helps me achieve my daily/weekly step goals. I follow the sleep data and wonder how accurate it is and why I am nearly ‘awake or restless’ the same amount of time that it logs me in ‘deep sleep’ patterns. This reminds me that I ought to be wearing my sleep apnea face masks which remains in the case as it doesn’t facilitate coziness with sleeping partner but neither does my snoring! Ok, tmi.
    If you wish to have a Fitbit challenge, let me know…the 9 hour time difference won’t really matter as much as the benefit of additional communication connections!

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    • I too wonder about the sleep app’s accuracy, and whether I need a cpap machine, but I will put that off forever if I can!! I’m competitive but I hate to “lose” so I may just keep it to myself, we’ll see! 🙂 Thanks MJ.

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  6. I love this Nancy….especially after our “weak-strong” prompts…..No Fitbit for me yet, though it could be of benefit…. And yes, “Connection”, the key word and motivator…That is what lights me up and opens me to a deeper wandering and pondering….So grateful for our writing practice and all practice….Thank you!

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