It’s easy to obsess over numbers, and fitness trackers give you plenty. When you strap a tracker to your wrist, it’s judging your calorie burn, your steps, your sleep. You can end up anxious about your stats, or find yourself over-relying on them to make decisions about your life.
That doesn’t mean collecting data is bad, just that you should use it to inform you, not to rule your life. Here are some ways to cultivate a healthy relationship with your fitness tracker:
Check your gut feelings
Hands up if you’ve looked at your sleep report to decide whether you’re really feeling tired. If you see that your “deep” or “quality” sleep was worse than usual, you might convince yourself that you’re sleep-deprived.
So, decide how you’re feeling before you look at your data. Your own body does a pretty good job of monitoring itself, so don’t substitute your own feelings of hunger, tiredness, or energy with tracking data—which can be unreliable, anyway.
Know the limitations
Sleep trackers are okay at telling how long you were resting in bed, but very bad at distinguishing stages of sleep. Trackers that tell you how many calories you’ve burned can give you a number that’s in the right ballpark, but there are too many variables for it to be totally accurate. A running watch can accurately report the time you spent exercising, and (usually) the distance you went, but it doesn’t truly know what effort you were putting forth or how much recovery your muscles and tendons might need.
Break your streak
Companies want you to stay excited about using their products, so they set up their apps and gadgets to give you lots of notifications. They also give you goals—or spur you to set your own, within their narrow parameters. The Apple Watch, for example, really wants to you “close your rings” every day, and to build longer and longer streaks of doing so.
But does the tracker’s goal actually fit with any of your own goals? I kept up a streak on the Apple Watch for weeks before remembering that I don’t actually want to exercise every day! Taking a day or two off every weekend keeps me physically and mentally healthy. I suppose I could use the streak feature the opposite way—if I ever have a streak that goes longer than a week, I should ask myself if I’m taking enough recovery time.
Take it off sometimes
What happens when you don’t wear your tracker? If you feel lost, anxious, or depressed, maybe you’re depending on it too much. Break your streak, get your tracker off your wrist for a little bit, and rethink how the tracker can serve you instead of the other way around.