In the last decade, a new kind of product has taken over the health & wellness market — wearable health trackers and monitors like Oura Ring, FitBit, or SmartWatch. They track heart rate, physical activity, temperature, sleep patterns, and more; plus they provide personalized health insights and structured guidance. I was recently gifted an Oura Ring, and it’s amazing! But it also has me thinking about intention and responsiveness.
These devices are the latest example of two very human (sometimes oppositional) desires for autonomy and structure. Because these tools provide the kind of ongoing knowledge formerly reserved to physicians, they give people a more intimate understanding of their health. On top of that, they give guided suggestions on how to become healthier. With all of this incoming information, though, we can end up on autopilot, conforming to structure without question; and, in doing so, give up the very autonomy we craved.
Who else with one of these devices has ever found themselves throwing on slippers right before bed and doing laps around the house because they “didn’t reach” their physical activity goals for the day? It has a tendency to turn into a system and pattern of perfunctory responsiveness, pavlovian almost, where we fall into defaults instead of making ongoing, intentional choices based on what our goals are.
So, how can we address this problem while still using these devices and absorbing information in a healthy way?
Here are four tips to avoid perfunctory responsiveness:
1. Set Your Intentions
Figure out where you are, where you want to go, and how you’ll get there. It doesn’t need to be as rigid or as specific as a multi-step program or plan, but when you look out at the horizon, you should have a clear vision of the mountain you’re headed toward. The scary thing is that if you don’t have clear intentions, any advice will be right.
2. Stay Vigilant
I’m not in any way suggesting that you shouldn’t use wearable health trackers, just like I’m not suggesting that you don’t see a doctor, buy your favorite author’s latest book, talk with a therapist, or call your mother. Input, data, and structured advice can be fantastic, even necessary, but commit to staying vigilant to the data and your intentions, because it can be easy to get caught up in just the former. When it comes to your health and happiness, there will always be a level of subjectivity. In other words, be the master of your own ship and keep an eye out for well-meaning mutineers.
3. When in Doubt, Strive For the Goldilocks Effect
When it comes to all the incoming information and opinions we receive on an hourly basis — whether it’s from wearable health trackers, friends, family, the media, or our own internal biases — it’s important to question everything. Practice enacting a filter — What do you think? Is it right for you? The Goldilocks Effect of questioning is a balancing act: are you questioning too much, not enough, or just right? It’s not that you have to become completely skeptical or trusting, but find a middle ground.
4. Give Yourself Grace
Breaking out of a cycle of perfunctory responsiveness can sometimes trigger guilt. Maybe you didn’t reach a specific goal or the data doesn’t look how you wanted it to. Be mindful in these moments. Did that goal truly serve your intentions and values? Does that data actually say what you think it does? Even if extenuating circumstances meant you didn’t achieve an intentional goal, zoom out and look at the bigger picture. Did something unavoidable come up — illness, for example, or a competing value? Grant yourself a little bit of grace. If you missed a turn or two, you can still head North.
It’s like the paraphrased Lewis Carroll quote: “If you don’t know where you’re going, then any road will get you there.” Pick a path, be wary of distractions, and most importantly, enjoy the journey. Know that potholes happen, roadblocks happen, re-routes happen — the most important thing to do when you get lost is refocus your intentions… on the same destination or somewhere brand new.