A new study has confirmed that wearable fitness trackers result in more physical activity for those who wear them. ‘Well that’s surprising!’ said nobody, ever. What does make this piece of research interesting, however, is that while it increases our steps taken, it decreases our happiness on a day to day basis. A not-so-sought-after side-effect, right?
Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business carried out several experiments on the impact of fitness trackers and, sadly, they can make you pretty miserable. The study has been titled “The Hidden Cost of Personal Quantification.” As part of their study, 100 participants were given pedometers to wear, some of them had tape covering their display screens while others were able to see exactly how many steps they had taken, whenever they wanted. 70% of those who could see their progress reported that they had regularly checked in but by the end of the day, they were feeling pretty crap. Explained by the study’s lead author, “participants who could see how many steps they had taken walked further but enjoyed it less. They also reported walking seemed more like work, and were less happy and satisfied at the end of the day.”
In other words, unintended consequences of such personal quantification may lead us to dislike something we used to enjoy, like walking, and have the adverse effect of making us want to do less of it. Speaking to USA Today, Professor Jordan Etkin explains what lead her into this particular strand of research: After giving her father (an analytical type who likes numbers) a Fitbit to measure his steps she noticed his behaviour change, but not necessarily for the better: “He seemed very focused on those quantitative outcomes and, as a result, he became much more stressed about how much he walked. Even though tracking output can encourage us to do more, it also sucks the fun out of activities we previously enjoyed, which makes us enjoy them less and be less likely to keep doing them in the future.”
For us, the key is to set realistic goals and not become obsessive about outdoing your results on a daily basis. Otherwise, you will be frustrated and feel a lack of satisfaction on the days that, for whatever reason, you can’t smash those targets. If (like yours truly), you go from the couch to the car to the office desk, it’s likely that you’d see more pros than cons when encouraged to get moving.