I recently started lap swimming again, for the first time in decades. It’s feeling really good, despite the thermodynamic miracle that lets the gym’s pool be south of 65° when it’s north of 108° outside.
As seems to happen whenever I get into a good workout flow, I found myself looking at fitness technology – specifically the new Garmin Vivoactive HR and its robust swim tracking features. Apparently swolf is a thing.
At last count eight fitness trackers (or tracking capable watches) have crossed my path over the last four years. Each had some feature that it handled better than all the others and lacked some essential element which would have made it the one true wearable.
It’s not just fitness trackers anymore. The amount of data we can amass on ourselves is astounding. We can quantify our sleep, food, water, steps, stairs, exercise, heart rate, habits… The list is nearly endless. The excellent Streaks has been on my iPhone (and Apple Watch) for what seems like forever, helping me reinforce daily routines for meditation, exercise, vitamins, and even staying in touch with loved ones.
Yet there’s a real part of me that wonders why I do it in the first place. How many times have I bent the rules to keep a streak alive, grudgingly knocking out 15 minutes of meditation when I know I committed to doing much more? How many times have I given myself a bye and checked the box after an unplanned day off from the gym, not because I’m tired, but because I don’t feel like going or I was too “busy”? How many times have I eagerly anticipated unlocking another achievement star in Insight Timer?
Worse, how many days have I been down on myself for not living up to my own arbitrary performance standards?
My point isn’t that we need to be flexible and accommodating with ourselves – that’s clear. Instead, I worry that my motivation is no longer to stay healthy and live well, but to keep that 154-day streak alive or fill those rings just one more day.
The streak has become the goal.
Surely isn’t what we do to live better today much more important than the fact that we’ve checked the same box 8 weeks in a row? Is day 42 inherently more impressive than day 4?
Sometimes it seems that all my trackers have become ends in themselves. I keep finding myself investing time, energy, and funds in the wrong place. If fitness is the destination, then isn’t my body the only Fitbit I should need?
At what point are we no longer using this technology to improve our lives, but instead finding ourselves entering numbers into a machine every few hours to prevent some sort of personal apocalypse?
In the end, I decided to pass on the swim watch. I’ll keep track of my distance by counting laps in my head, like I did as a kid. I’ll watch the lap clock by the wall for my pace, and count my heart rate using my, well… heart rate. I’m not training for the Olympics.
It’s not like the world is going to come to an end if I miss a lap.