For my birthday this year, I received a Misfit Shine, which is an activity tracker you wear on your clothes, shoes, around your neck or on your wrist. It measures how much you walk, run, or swim each day, can keep track of what you eat, and records how long you sleep each night and how much of that sleep is “deep sleep.” As is the case with most gadgets, I saw no need for this device until I started using it. It’s been on my wrist ever since (except for the four hours when I lost it in my daughter’s room after changing the sheets on her bed) and one of the first things I do each morning is check how much I sleep.

This is what I’ve discovered so far. First, I generally don’t walk for exercise; but the days when I don’t reach my goal number of steps, it’s because I’ve been in meetings most of the day. I experimented with one all-day meeting and spent an hour of the meeting standing or pacing in the back of the room. The impact showed up on my activity tracker. Second, the tracker has made me realize the value of going downstairs myself to get something rather than getting one of the kids to do it. It’s extra activity and is healthier for me. I’ve also realized that I can use this device in a positive way to take advantage of what I perceive to be a most negative trait — which is that I am super-results oriented. It doesn’t seem that a little computerized device telling me “good job” should be that important, especially since I know full well the benefit of exercise and sleep, but it does. I feel good when I reach my daily goal and less than good when I fail to do so. Finally, I’ve realized that I need my sleep. Actually, I need more sleep than I usually get. I often fool myself into believing that I’ve slept more than I have, but the device doesn’t lie.

I have mixed feelings about devices like these in general. I’m not sure they are worth the hype or expense, and I’m not a huge fan of anything that ties me even tighter to my smartphone. However, I also realize that measuring something is one of the first steps to improving it. If I don’t even know how active I am, how many calories I’m consuming, or how much sleep I’m actually getting, how can I do better? Additionally, there is something rewarding in receiving a “good job” even if it is just from an app on my phone. Humans do thrive on feedback and rewards — even of a virtual nature.

So, as I continue to use this device to track my steps and my sleep, I am learning something about my own habits — both the good and the bad. That knowledge is the necessary beginning to improvement.

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