I have walked 2,610 steps so far today. Actually, I know it was more than that, because when I came back from the garden I forgot my pedometer in my work overalls for nearly five minutes and missed a trip all the way up the stairs to the bathroom and back, at least 40 steps.
And I think it should be even more. I am newly resentful of any exertion that doesn’t include steps, for its failure to be recorded by the pedometer. Shoveling chicken bedding into the compost? Worth nothing. Hand-weeding the garden on all fours for an hour? Barely registers.
So when did I become so preoccupied with my step count? Am I a born-again evangelical of the amazing 10,000-steps-a-day fitness plan? This week and no, but I might feel better if that was the case. Instead, I just have a case study in how easy it is to manipulate my brain.
I started a summer wellness challenge through work this past week. For six weeks, you wear a pedometer and publish your daily steps to an internal tracking site. There are rewards and teams and leaderboards and I happily joined a team that didn’t care about any of it. We were participating without pressure. I bought my $17 pedometer without any temptation from the fancier gadgets and felt confident that this would be a low-key activity.
Monday came and I dutifully put the pedometer in my pocket for the day. I ended up with a grand total of 2,101 steps. I knew that was pathetic, but it was a busy day working at home and I was participating without pressure. I commuted to Seattle on Tuesday so knew there would be plenty of walking. Almost 8,000 steps, as it turned out. Each day from Wednesday through Saturday, I continued to better my previous day’s count. And not just by happenstance. I found myself checking the little display more and more frequently throughout the day, creating excuses for 5- or 10-minute walking breaks, walking around the block aimlessly instead of just standing in line waiting for the ferry, and generally resenting how much of my day I need to be still in order to get anything done.
Basically, in the course of less than a week, I’ve become an obsessive step counter. I still don’t really want any of the rewards, and I still don’t think that counting steps is a great measure of fitness or activity for me. But if I’m going to count steps, dammit, I’m going to be the best. Or at the least, better than I was yesterday. It’s so transparent and I am powerless to resist. I want to excel at that which is measured.
There’s not a real downside here beyond the mild vexation with my own simplicity. But seriously… never let me near one of those things that purports to tell you your distance traveled, calories burned, sleep efficiency, etc. Please. I don’t have space in my life for that many measures.