It was November 2016 when I got my first Fitbit. I purchased a newly minted Fitbit HR 2 band on Black Friday. I had graduated from college in 2013 and had become considerably less active in my new job. I found myself lethargic and out of energy, something I wasn’t used to and didn’t like. I decided that the best way to get more active was to get some data, with that data I could make more informed decisions about my health. When I picked up my new Fitbit I completed the setup process. It recommended I choose a daily step goal of 6,000, which I knew was lower than the recommended 10,000, so I split the difference and started with 8k.
Now, I work a desk job in the Northeast, which means I get about 1,500 steps a day passively. This means that I needed to find a way to get 6,500 a day. I knew a mile was roughly 2,000 steps which meant I needed to walk 3.25 miles each day. I started by heading to the local Walmart on lunch and walking around the store a few times. This added about 1,000 steps. I quickly realized that in order to meet a step goal while keeping my current position I would need to take up walking or running. I was also coming to the realization that the little analog counter on my wrist was constantly mocking me for my lack of physical activity. I turned on the hourly notification to let me know I hadn’t completed my recommended 250 steps. I got the Fitbit scale so I could keep track of exactly how much I weighed. I bought a treadmill so that I could start walking. I had begun my descent into Fitbit data hell.
This was enough for a while. I found myself walking or slowly jogging until I hit my step goal after work each night. I made a conscious effort to walk a little bit more on lunch and take a few extra bathroom breaks to meet my hourly quotas. Eventually, I consistently began hitting my 8,000 step goal and it was recommended that I up my goal to 10,000 so I did.
Adding an extra mile each day is more difficult than it sounds. I was torn between adding an extra 15 minutes on the treadmill each day or finding a way to fit in more steps at work. I decided that the work option was ideal, I didn’t want to give up more time with my family at home. Instead, I decided that regardless of weather, I would walk on my two 15 minute breaks each day. I picked up a rain jacket, umbrella, waterproof shoes, and a down coat. I bundled up twice a day and braved the weather, I found myself preferring to be half soaked from walking in a downpour than to see my Fitbit tell me I was behind. I also started to set self-imposed step goals. I had seen my average steps at different times of the day and chose to hold myself to those standards. That meant never missing a break, lunch, bathroom break, or anything else. Within a work environment, this is simply not possible, which isn’t surprising. What is, however, is the way I reacted when I would miss my goals. I found myself moody and standoffish with co-workers until I had gotten the number I wanted on my wrist. I would skip meetings, or slack off from work I needed to do in order to fit in another 500 steps. The number on my wrist had become as important as anything else I had going on. Then I changed my step goal to 12,000.
As it turns out, 12,000 steps is incredibly difficult to obtain without a conscious effort. Not only would I need to again increase my steps at work, but I would have to increase my time on the treadmill. I decided that in order to do this I would add another 10 minute (non-sanctioned) break into my day, along with 15 additional minutes on the treadmill each night. It was enough, barely. I had begun to live for my daily weight check-ins and my weekly progress reports. The green circles indicating my successful adherence to my step goal gave me a momentary feeling of glee on Monday morning. I had finally gotten my routine down to hit my 12,000 step goal when I decided that I was ready to move it up to 15,000.
Now, 15,000 was where the real problems started to occur. I moved my run to the morning at this point because it felt better to see a solid 5–6,000 steps already done before heading off to work. I was taking 4–5 breaks a day in order to supplement the steps I got from running. On top of that, I had begun taking a second run after work if I didn’t think I was going to meet my goal for the day. When I did miss my goal I was miserable, not just with myself but with anyone around me. I felt like I had failed somehow, a missed day felt like a missed opportunity, an empty circle on my weekly progress report. Fundamentally I understood that this number was entirely self-imposed but that didn’t matter to me anymore. The breaking point happened when I came down with the flu in March 2018.
It was a Saturday morning and I was up early for my daily run. I felt a little under the weather, but it was nothing a quick jog wouldn’t clear up. I got on the treadmill, put in my headphones and got started. I finished my run and felt worse. Considerably worse. I finished out the day barely hitting my step goal and decided to sleep it off that night. The next morning my fever had spiked to 102.8 and I couldn’t eat or drink. I crawled from my bed to the couch downstairs and slept, or tried to. Soon I realized that I hadn’t gotten any steps in, my Fitbit chimed to let me know that I was slacking off. Against my better judgment, I grabbed a bottle of water, drank it down and pulled myself to the treadmill. I had decided that I was going to get the steps come hell or high water. I started to walk, then jog, then walk again. I struggled and my body fought me to stop but I simply couldn’t. I ended up passing out on the treadmill, my now wife hearing me tumble and helping me get back to bed. I spent the next 2 days in a miserable haze as the flu ran its course.
When I came back to the land of the living I realized that my steps had gone from a healthy data-point to an unhealthy addiction. I reset my step goal to the recommended 10,000 steps and have kept it there ever since. I am in better health now than I have ever been and without all the added stress of trying to hit landmark goals every day. Remember, we are supposed to be in control of technology, not the other way around.