This is an odd post, but then again, if you’ve been around my blog long enough, odd posts are probably more normal than not. In any event, this is a personal examination of motivation, behavior and the hidden side of metrics.
Like many people, I have become a touch enamored with my iPhone. For years, I had mobile devices to test with, and to that level, I typically had wifi access to do most of the functional testing, plus borrowing a friends device if needed to actually test on a carrier. Still, at the end of the day, I was content to put down the mobile device and get on with my life. That dynamic changed when I got my first Android phone a few years ago, and the change really accelerated when I bought an iPhone. I made the shift away from the idea of a mobile phone that can do a few things to a pocket computer that “has plenty to keep me interested, engaged and thoroughly distracted if I choose to be”.
The apps that I have been interested of late have been “personal motivators”, or those things that track goals in the way of using time, getting exercise and health in general. A neat little discovery on my part was the fact that even before I had installed a fitness app to track walking, running and bicycling, I had data for an entire week ready to display. How? The motion tracking feature is already on the iPhone and it’s active, so all this data was ready to be picked up once I installed the app. Cool… and a little creepy at the same time.
One of the things that I notice about myself is that I personally love messing with gameification systems in devices or apps. I like trying to figure out ways I can leverage the apps to generate numbers and see how I can tweak them or apply them, and once I get my teeth sunk into a number, I tend to obsess over it. The number I’m currently obsessing over at the moment is “10,000”, which is to say, the goal of getting in 10,000 steps a day. This is the number that is currently touted as being part of an Active Lifestyle. The app I use, Pacer, considers 10,000 steps and more as being “Highly Active”. At this point, it’s easy to conclude that getting in 10,000 steps will be the ticket to getting me in shape, getting that weight off, and putting me on a path to health and wellness… or is it?
Taken by itself, 10,000 steps has lots of supporting variables to consider. I’m 6’2″ tall. My 10,000 steps will cover more ground that someone who is 5’2″. Additionally, how are these 10,000 steps performed? In the area where I work, were I to get those 10,000 steps in at one time, it would be on flat ground. Were I to do it where I live, I’d have the option of choosing paths that are relatively flat or with some steep hills thrown in. I live at the top of a hill in my town. The street leading from the main cross road up to my house is steep enough for half a mile that I’m definitely huffing and puffing by the time it flattens out. The calorie counter reads the same amount regardless of which path I take. There are also paths I can take that will have me under tree cover and in the shade, and others will have me exposed to the sun and heat with little to no cover. The point to all this is, by throwing a bit of variety in, those 10,000 steps will vary in the level of effort, the level of sunlight and heat (which affects the amount of sweating I do), and the speed in which I can complete those steps.
For a few days, I experimented to see what it would take to get those 10,000 steps in all at once. The answer is, for me, that it requires five miles of walking, and usually is accomplished in an hour and forty minutes. By comparison, just walking around my neighborhood, walking from my car to the train, pacing on the platform, walking from the train station to work, wandering around the office, and reversing the trek gets me pretty close to 10,000 steps without even realizing it. The difference in effort and how I feel on days where I front load those 10,000 steps, versus days where I reach them literally at the end of the day, is phenomenal.
I’ve gotten interested in tracking weight loss with this app, and I’ve set up a few goals. I’ll say that at the start of this experiment, I weighed 260 lbs. For the record, that’s my all time heaviest. When I was more athletically involved (at my peak in around 1995 when I was training to become a competitive snowboarder), my leanest was about 190 lbs. and my bulkiest was around 225 lbs., both with aggressive training, eating like a horse, and being super active. When I broke my leg back in 2011, I chose to slow down some of the aggressive sports stuff to let the bones heal and get back to their former density. After four years, it’s safe to say that my bones are as dense as they will get at this stage of my life, but my habits went significantly downhill, resulting in the weight gain I’m trying to reverse now. Over the days I’ve been doing this (i.e. less than ten) I’ve managed to pull five pounds from my frame. I’m currently at 255 lbs. I hope to lose more going forward. Did 10,000 steps have something to do with it? Yes, but perhaps not in the way you might think.
As I embarked on this approach, I wanted to see how I dealt with other things I did. Would getting in 10,000 steps make me more lazy? In truth, I’m finding it makes me motivated to move even more, and on certain days, I get well over the 10,000 steps threshold. Another thing I’ve noticed is how I eat and what I eat. Prior to doing this, I’d typically just eat whatever was available. Now, I find that I am being much more deliberate in the choice of food I eat, and when I eat it. Part of me thinks this might hearken back to what I’ve called “The Craddick Effect“. When you are scared to do something, force yourself to walk back and attempt it again. Repeat this until you tire yourself out to get your mind and body ready to conquer that fear (and yes, it works 🙂 ). I think my slightly fatigued body starts to shout down my lizard brain trying to find comfort in junk food. It’s yelling “hey, I just walked five miles to burn off 600 calories, do NOT sabotage my efforts!” I’d figured it would be the other way around, where I’d say “hey, I’ve worked hard, I deserve this” but the opposite is proving to be true.
A TED Radio Hour Talk that I enjoyed greatly, titled “Amateur Hour” (of which I expect to talk about in later posts more in depth) had an interview with A.J Jacobs, the editor at large at Esquire who takes on some pretty extreme challenges and writes about them. In the process of talking about his “Year of Living Biblically“, he took on the idea that “if we change our mind, we will change our behavior” but in reality, it’s the other way around, i.e. “by changing our behavior, we change our minds”. We can understand something, we can believe it, we can internalize it intellectually, but if we don’t DO anything with that knowledge, we won’t actually cause any change. Though early in the process, I can say, at least for now, that putting in 10,000 steps each day, especially if I aim to front load those steps, that my subsequent behaviors around food, activity, and rest change. When I hear of people saying they drop anywhere from twenty to fifty pounds in a year following this approach, the 10,000 steps is merely a catalyst. Sure it’s a measurable number, but it’s the underlying “infrastructure and behavioral changes” that go on, many of which are imperceptible, that really do the hard work of transformation. I’m looking forward to seeing if this holds three weeks from now, when I next report in on this (and yes, I give you permission to call me on it if you don’t hear back from me 🙂 ).