I’ve never been much into numbers. I’m more of a right-brained thinker. Mathematics, statistics, these were not my subjects. So lately I’ve been giving some major thought to why I have been so obsessed with applying numbers to my life. Counting and tracking my own personal statistics.
Some of the things I’ve been known obsessively quantify include:
- Daily steps
- Weekly weight
- Calories in and calories out
- Daily word counts
- Daily writing times
- Glasses of water/wine/coffee consumed
- Sleep times
- Blood pressure (with anxiety fuelled frequency thanks to my home machine).
Quantity over Quality
I’m not against this sort of tracking per se. For short periods of time, keeping track of our behaviours and the ways we expend time and energy on different areas can be useful for painting a picture of ourselves. But lately I’ve been thinking about how this sort of tracking can be counter-productive as well.
When I start to log things it immediately switches on something obsessive inside me. It turns my daily life into a never ending to do list that needs to be ticked off. It fuels the all or nothing mindset that I have been putting a lot of effort into abandoning. After all, isn’t it a rule that when you start to focus on quality, you must inevitably turn your eyes away from quality?
More is not More
As an example, when I first got a Fitbit it was very motivating to see my steps adding up. It was like a game, trying to beat my own personal bests, winning electronic badges. But like any game, those bests gradually became harder to beat. I found myself devoting more and more time to walking just for the sake of gaining steps. Our culture so ingrains the more is more mentality in us that when I write this it actually sort of sounds like a good thing. I mean, isn’t the ultimate goal to take as many steps as possible? But life is all about checks and balances, it’s impossible to have more of one thing without having less of something else.
Logging more and more steps meant less:
Time for other kinds of exercise like yoga and swimming which didn’t register on the Fitbit and thus somehow ceased to count.
Mobility in my hips as they seized from the ceaseless pounding of pavement on bone (and the reduced time stretching and swimming).
Mindfulness and Enjoyment. Walking used to be a meditative and ponderous exercise, with the Fitbit it became all about the numbers.
Patience. My own patience for people when they wanted to walk slowly, or simply take the bus or drive somewhere. Think about all the steps we’re missing out on. My husband’s patience for me as I made him wander around aimlessly in the dark and cold so I could crest my 30 000 step goal for the day.
Money is numbers, numbers are money
There has been an absolute explosion in tracking apps and devices over the past several years. It’s no wonder. We are taught that if something cannot be quantified it doesn’t have any value. As a health worker I am consistently overwhelmed and frustrated by the KPIs and standardised measures that the system attaches to the people utilising it. How can you reduce a person to numbers? And yet in my own life I have been trying to apply this reduction to myself, to view success as an accumulation of personal statistics.
It’s a very austere and capitalistic view of existence. In the health system we reduce people to numbers because it relates directly back to funding. In our own lives we are sold an idea that we must quantify our existence in order to adhere to ideals prescribed to us. And we must buy products to help us do this – not just Fitbits and apps but programs that assign random numbers to things so we can fill those numbers into our apps.
I’ve made some progress:
- I’ve ditched my Fitbit now, it broke and I decided not to replace it.
- I’ve put away my scale.
- I have made a pact with myself that I will not pay a company money to scold me for eating normal and nutritious foods while selling me toxic processed meals that have the right number on the packaging.
- I’ll drink water when I’m thirsty and stop at one coffee so I have no need to count.I’ll work on the wine.
- As long as I write something every day, it doesn’t matter how much, in the end it will all amount to much more than it would if I avoided it for fear of not reaching an arbitrary number of words.
- I’ll sleep as much as I can and will not give myself insomnia worrying about how many hours I should be sleeping.
- My blood pressure levels out when I stop worrying about all of the above, I’ll check it occasionally, I’ll leave the logging to the doctor.
- Finally, I’ll focus on the quality of my experiences and actions, not the quantity.
When you die it doesn’t matter how many steps you took, just where those steps took you.