Hey there readers! It’s been a minute, right? I apologise for my absence of late. I think I had been hoping to start writing again when life felt “normal” once more. Seeing as that seems to be taking longer than any of us anticipated, I have decided to flip the switch. Maybe writing again will be the thing that makes me feel like the old Arwen? Please bear with me as I attempt to shake off the cobwebs.
As many of you will know, I am an accountant by trade. I adore numbers. I love that they are either black or white. There are rules to follow with numbers. Debits on the left, credits on the right. No matter how screwed up the world gets, 2×2=4.
It would seem to follow then that my constant quest for information is a natural enough thing. It’s useful to have empirical data to establish the direction things are going in. We measure all kinds of data. It can inform us that today is the hottest day of the year so far, (this reassures me as the act of typing has me sweating!) Or that Avatar is still the highest grossing movie of all time. These facts interest us and at the very least give us something to talk about.
For the past 18 months, statistical data has been a big part of all our lives, as we try to comprehend the incomprehensible. We have sliced and diced numbers every which way trying to make sense of the pandemic. Sometimes these numbers can reassure us, make us feel that those in charge are doing a good job of navigating the Nation through this. Other times, however, they do the complete opposite. They can cause anxiety and panic. Fear and anger, and perhaps most worryingly, they instil a deep sense of helplessness.
As I was gathering my thoughts to sit and write this, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between how some of us data junkies respond to external events, like Covid 19, and how we manage our own lives.
Over the last few months, I have begun to notice just how many parts of my life I am measuring.
I keep an eye on my weight. I track my steps, sleep and resting heart rate using a fitness tracker. My heart rate monitor lets me know how many calories I have burned during my workouts. I periodically track my calorie intake and macros with MyFitnessPal, and I ALWAYS log the weights I lift in the gym. With the technology that exists now, we can literally measure and monitor everything that we do, and the impact it has on us. However, just because we can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean we should!
Is all of this data really helping us to “hack” our health, or are we simply seeking validation from our myriad devices? Are we merely finding new ways of asking “am I doing this right?” The more important question perhaps is if this over dependence on tech is muting our ability to maintain health intuitively? Are we building a rod for our own back?
In my own experience, I have often found myself feeling guilty or inadequate when the numbers don’t go in the “right” direction. One example of this is with my resting heart rate. Before Covid, it was usually around 58-60bpm, which my Fitbit tells me is good. External validation achieved. The wearable Tomigotchi God has been pleased! Now, it is hovering in the low 70s. This is rated by Fitbit as fair/average for my age. External validation not achieved!
There are lots of factors that have may have influenced this increase. I have put on weight in lockdown. I am more sedentary when working from home. There had been long periods during the pandemic when I have not trained like I normally would. I have probably drunk more alcohol in the past 18 months than I typically would and I for sure have experienced more stress. This is to name but a few of the potential factors which may explain the shift. In other words, the cause and effect are not easy to ascertain. There isn’t one thing I can do to guarantee a reduced HRH. It is not simply a case of trying harder.
There are lots of things in life which are like this. Our bodies are not algebraic equations where you can always solve for x. Our methods for analysing our inputs, for example our food intake, can be mistaken. And the devices which measure our outputs, such as calories burned, can be inaccurate. Yet we still sacrifice at their alter. Tell me I am not the only one who has done laps of the kitchen at 5 to midnight, trying to hit that arbitrary 10,000 step goal.
You see, the truth of it is, we have very little clue what we are doing. We make literally hundreds of decisions each day. Sometimes, we will figure out quickly whether it was the right decision or not. When we wake up hungover, we can be pretty sure that last drink was a mistake. But other decisions, especially if they are longer term, do not readily yield this kind of feedback. If you start a new job in the morning, it might be months before you can be sure if it was the right move. Start seeing someone new, it could be a few dates before they reveal that they think Brad Pitt is a lizard!
It is easy to understand the allure of these devices and their instant feedback. That buzz on your wrist or notification on your phone to tell you that you got it right. You did what was expected of you. You won the day!
How can we strike the balance between observing and chasing? How do we recognise when these numbers have stopped helping us to achieve our goals and have become the goal in and of themselves. To go back to the steps example, many of us will have first bought a fitness wearable out of curiosity. We wanted to figure out how active we were at that time, and see if we could be encouraged to move more. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. The goal was to become more active and the wearable was the tool. However, when we allow ourselves to become overly fixated on an arbitrary number and allow hitting this number to define success then it has become the goal and may no longer be helpful.
We are all rational people. We understand that 9,950 steps is as close to 10,000 as makes no odds, but it doesn’t deliver the same dopamine hit, does it?
It is a hard and scary thing to rely on your body to tell you what it needs. Sometimes my body lies and tell me it needs 6 hours of Netflix and a pint of ice-cream. But other times it will tell me exactly what I need, if only I can log off my devices long enough to listen to it.
Phil and I have been back to consistent training for about 10 weeks. Prior to that it had honestly been about 6 months since I had done much more than walk Annie. Obviously it has been an adjustment getting back into the swing of things. But we are doing our best and had been hitting the same number of sessions each week. Before I knew it, this number of sessions had become a little goal of mine. Another external validation point. Do x number of workouts per week and you’re a good girl, otherwise you fail!
This was all fine (not fine but you know what I mean) until last week. We trained on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as usual. The plan was to train on Thursday as well. However, when Thursday came, I was seriously sore. I am not entirely sure why. Maybe there was a lot of interference between sessions, maybe it was doing something new that caused it, or maybe I just hadn’t had adequate sleep or nutrition to properly recover. Who knows. The point is, by Thursday, my body was in no fit state to train again. So, I didn’t!
This was not an easy decision to make. Not only would it make it impossible for me to hit my workout quota for the week, but in a world where resting is for the weak, it seemed like a cop out. No excuses, right? Was I a loser for not sucking it up and getting it done?
I will admit that I felt conflicted. I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing. I continued to stress about this until I got out of bed on Friday morning, feeling fresh and without soreness. I had gone against the numbers and it had turned out to be just what my body needed.
This is just a small example of how chasing numbers can be detrimental. The vast array of data available to us can be really helpful, as long as we don’t live and die by it. I am toying with the idea of going it alone for a little while to see if it will give me back a little more space in my head. But I am not sure I am brave enough to go cold turkey just yet. I mean, how will I know if I slept if I don’t wear my FitBit?
If you have thoughts on this, I would love to hear them. Be well, with out without your wearables xxx