Why I gave up my fitness tracker, and you probably should too.
I am a person who loves to quantify things. Ever since I got my first iPhone, back in 2008, I’ve been constantly on the look out for new apps to track my sleep, my food, my activity, my moods and just about anything else that someone had make an app to track! So it’s probably not surprising that the time came when I started look for a wearable fitness tracker. I recently introduced a self-imposed ban on smartphones in my bedroom so I could no longer use my iPhone to track my sleep so I decided I needed something to replace it, primarily to track my sleep but also for tracking activity too. After a little bit (a lot!) of research I weighed up the various options and settled on the Jawbone UP.
At first, I was enthralled by my new gadget. I enjoyed the metaphorical pat on the back, and the resulting rush of dopamine, when the accompanying app congratulated me for hitting my step targets. But, although fitness trackers can undoubtedly be a force for good, I started to become concerned that they had a dark side as well and it appears I’m not the only one to worry about this. Back in June 2015, research into the effects of fitness trackers found that although their use led to some positive changes in behaviour it could also lead to feeling of guilt and pressure that may in fact be counterproductive and reduce the desire to make positive changes.
Personally, I know from past experience with MyFitnessPal that I can have a tendency to get a bit obsessive when I start tracking my food intake too closely, so I mostly steered clear of the food tracking aspect of the accompanying app. Nor did I personally experience the dealings of guilt and pressure in relation to my exercise levels while wearing the tracker. But when it came to sleep, everything stated to fall apart at the seems. You see, I am pretty convinced that sleep is fundamentally important to health. I’m so convinced of this that I can get a bit anxious about getting enough sleep. Which in turn makes it harder to fall asleep in the first place! In theory, wearing my Jawbone was supposed to help me get into good sleep habits. It has a silent vibrating alarm to remind you that it is time to start winding down and getting ready for bed and a further silent alarm to wake you up again when you are in light sleep in the morning. The Jawbone app encourages you to to set these two alarms sufficiently far apart so you can get a good 7-8hrs sleep in in between. Additionally the Jawbone tracks your sleep quality and displays a helpful little graph on the app so you can see just how good, or bad, you night’s sleep really way. So far, so good. Or is it?
In practice, how useful is that information really? I found I would wake up, check the app, see I had gotten rather less deep sleep than was ideal and then start feeing a bit stressed about it! Similarly, an alarm that tells you that you need to be getting to bed soon seems like a great idea until it goes off when you’re still sat at you desk at work with 3 more hours of urgent drafting to do before you can even think about getting into your PJs. In the end I decided the Jawbone and I needed to part ways. I already knew that I would need to make some changes to my life if I was to optimise my sleep and honestly all the Jawbone did was add to my anxiety about it. Sometimes knowledge is not power.
So, that’s why I gave up my fitness tracker. Maybe you should too. If you find your tracker is truly useful and it helps you change your behaviours for the better without making you feel guilty or anxious then, great. But if it doesn’t then maybe there are better ways of making changes and reaching your goals. After all, true change doesn’t come from bullying or threatening yourself to behave differently.