My Fit Bit and Me

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What gets measured gets improved.

What gets measured gets managed.

What gets measured gets done.

These ideas or variants thereof populate management, education, sports and even personal development.

The basic idea is that if we quantify X, then we will achieve the desired outcome, goal or performance that we want.

If you want to increase customer service efficiency, keep track of how long your agent is on each phone call.

If you want to understand the gains in math proficiency of a student, test them at the beginning of the year and then again at the end of the year.

If you want to know who the best hitter in baseball is, measure the number of hits he gets over the number of times he bats.

If you want to develop better eating habits, write down what you eat each day.

The key is to focus on what you want to achieve, find the metric that best represents the achievement., measure that metric and (ta-da!) success is yours. Or maybe it’s not.

Recently, I had this powerful idea driven home when I, as part of my New Year’s resolutions, chose to work on getting in better shape and losing weight. (I know, how terribly original.) As part of this goal, I purchased a Fit Bit, a $86 fancy pedometer that measures my steps, tells me how many calories I have burned and sends me little measures of motivation (or nudges to get moving) from the nice people at Fit Bit or from friends on my Fit Bit network. The data all gets calculated and then is sent wirelessly to my iPhone, iPad, computer or other mobile device.

I began wearing my Fit Bit in honor of the new year. Fit Bit defaults to setting your goal at 10,000 steps per day. Not really focusing on what the goal was (and because I was too lazy to adjust the setting), I decided that would be the number I went with. Besides, I was simply out to collect the data so I could see how my resolution was going.

In January, I (mostly) faithfully wore my Fit Bit and, when I looked at the data at the end of the month, I had made Fit Bit’s goal of 10,000 plus steps a scant 12/31 times…or 38.7%. In other words, an F.

Which led me to my first conclusion about the usefulness of data: having a goal of measuring is not enough. I need to commit to a goal, set by me (and not by default) of what I am aiming for the measurement to be in order to have meaningful change. At that point I committed myself to take Fit Bit’s challenge and go for 10,000 steps a day.

Second, I learned, I have to actually look at the data with some frequency to see if I am on the right track. By waiting until the last day of the month to check in on my progress, I failed to notice that I was, well, failing! Daily check-ins are a must.

Next, I understood that for the measuring to be effective, I needed to be sure that I had a system to ensure proper data collection, aka my Fit Bit. Some days, I forgot to put it on. And then, once I lost it entirely. So, I now store my Fit Bit next to my toothbrush where I am certain to see it upon waking. And, I sprang the extra $99 to purchase an extra Fit Bit should I misplace the first one. Yes, and costly insurance policy to be sure, but I know myself well enough to know that I will lose it and that if I lose it I will not be as interested in exercising.

Finally, without a plan of how I was going to achieve the goal of the steps, measuring really was not terribly efficacious. So, with February beginning, I decided that I would get up early each morning and take a walk at least 30 minutes long in order to get a jump-start on my daily steps.

These simple changes: committing to 10,000 steps (instead of defaulting to it), checking my progress (daily, instead of monthly), ensuring I had the proper tools (a place where my Fit Bit would reside as well as a spare) and deciding on a plan of action (taking my morning walk) resulted in me meeting my goal of 10,000 steps 65 of the 69 days, or 94.2%, an A.

(Insert cheering and whistling here).

Was it my Fit Bit that caused my success? (I am pretty sure that while motivating, the Fit Bit did not give me some extraordinary willpower or additional energy to complete my workouts.)

And would it surprise you to know that I lost the most weight in the month that I walked the least? (It’s true: fifteen pounds in January and just ten from February and March).

Would you then conclude that consistent use of my Fit Bit and meeting my goal of 10,000 plus steps caused my weight-loss to slow down, rather than speed up? Or would you think that other factors might be at play, such as increasing my muscle or that weight loss tends to be most rapid in the initial weeks anyway?

The point is: measuring is not magic and that has it’s drawbacks and limitations.

Measuring is simply a tool to inspire and give feedback. It is not the catalyst that causes meaningful change. Meaningful change only comes from within ourselves: our commitments that influence our decisions that lead to our actions—that is what really drives change.

Furthermore, measurement has downsides and unintended consequences as well that can actually impede progress or fail to give a full and complete picture. But that is a blog for another day…

In the meantime, measure away but do so with care and caution, knowing that while good data is useful in providing feedback, that there is more to defining success or gauging value than a number. Numbers are great for comparisons sake but they are simply as snapshot of a more complicated story. Data is a tool that motivates and tracks, it is not the be-all-end-all of success.

The value of my exercise plan isn’t validated in my Fit Bit or even the number on the scale. The value is in my discipline to execute my daily commitment to reach 10,000 steps, the well-being it has had on my physical and emotional health, the time it has afforded me to spend time with my best friend when we walk together or to reflect, think or listen to a book or podcast when I walk alone and the sense of satisfaction that comes from setting and achieving a goal.

Think about this the next time your child comes home with a graded piece of schoolwork or competes at a gymnastics meet and earns a certain score. How much does a B plus tell you about what she has learned or how she has grown from her struggle or triumph? Does a 9.2 give you any information on how meaningful your child’s time is in the gym, the quality of her friendships, the building of her character or the development of herself as an athlete and a person?

Numbers are just numbers. Even if they are 10,000 steps, 100% or a 10.0.

Now I need to go for a run…I only have 7035 steps for today.