Recently, I came across a box of some of my many old journals. The last time I stumbled upon them, I found some embarrassing relics of my past, including a love letter to New Kids on the Block and a photo of my face pasted onto a model posing with Chris O’Donnell.
This time, I found a notebook of mostly tables and numbers. I flipped through a couple of pages before I recognized it as one of my old “health tracking” notebooks.
From high school through public health grad school, I tracked as many health habit-related numbers as I could.
Steps walked/jogged. Hours of sleep. Glasses of water. Calories consumed. Sit-ups. Cups of vegetables.
At the time, I loved the idea that I might be able to control my health and productivity by carefully quantifying my actions. I was motivated by the feeling of accomplishing each of the numbered goals and tracking them in my notebook, or later on, in unnecessarily detailed Excel spreadsheets.
For some people, tracking numbers can be a fun part of reaching their goals.
I am not one of those people.
For me, the real outcome of tracking all of these numbers wasn’t health or fun; it was health obsession.
Some nights I would jog in place or up and down the stairs at my apartment complex so that I could exceed my pedometer goal before midnight. Then I’d calculate how much sleep I’d have to force myself to get the next night, in order to make up for the time I’d just lost on late-night pedometer cramming.
As an aside, short of an elephant dart, I now understand that I cannot “force” myself to fall asleep!
On days when I met or exceeded my goals, I felt virtuous and proud. On days when I didn’t make the number, I felt like I’d failed.
In other words, the numbers weren’t measuring my health. They measured my worth.
What I now know about myself is that associating numbers with my lifestyle habits creates way too much rigidity, stress, and emotional harm. That’s not self care for me.
For me, self care is an invitation to connect and listen to myself. Letting go of the numbers has made me much more interested in how my actions feel.
I’m not worried about how many steps I walked today. What I’d rather examine is how my body felt while it was moving. How satisfying was the gravel crunching under my shoes on my walk? What was the best part of the sun salutation, the part where I wanted to linger?
I’m not recording how many hours I slept last night. I’m more interested in how I felt at night and how I feel today. Not just in my body, but also in my mood and my thought patterns.
This shift from numbers to feeling has made sleep, movement, food, and many other layers of my lifestyle more nourishing and inviting, and far less anxiety-provoking.
It’s made my entirelife more balanced.
Plus, I suspect that when I find it in 15 years, this will be a much more compelling read than the numbers journal.
What about you? Do you track your lifestyle habits with numbers? Do you prefer to mostly listen and feel them? Both?