How to Use a Fitness Tracker Without Letting It Rule Your Life

If you notice any of the signs above, the below tips may help you establish a healthier dynamic with your watch. At any time though, if you feel like you need additional support, seek help from a mental health professional, says Brauer.

How to improve your relationship with your fitness tracker

Mending your relationship with your watch isn’t one-size-fits-all, says Brauer. Strategies that work for some folks may not be all that helpful for others. That said, there are some general tips worth trying.

1. Dig into your real relationship with your watch.

If you want to establish a healthier dynamic, you first must gain awareness of your existing relationship with your watch. This involves being honest with yourself about how the watch is serving you, how it’s hindering you, and whether you’ve developed any obsessive or dependent patterns around it, says Brauer.

To aid in this process, she recommends trying a mindfulness exercise where you pick two days—one where you wear the watch, and the other where you don’t—and take note of your experience, mood, and thoughts. Then, compare the reflections.

After trying the mindfulness exercise myself, I realized the watch was helping me incorporate more movement throughout my work day (a positive) while also causing me to become obsessive over closing my rings and eliciting feelings of failure related to certain metrics, such as when I noticed my VO2 max decline (two big negatives).

2. Recall why you wanted a watch in the first place.

If you find yourself obsessing over metrics, it can help to reconnect with why you first wanted the device. For most folks, that why is some variation of “I want to live an active lifestyle,” says Ross. From there, ask yourself if you are already achieving that “why.” If the answer is yes—for instance, you’re working out a number of times each week and getting in regular movement during the work day—then do your best to accept that that’s simply enough. The nitty-gritty watch metrics don’t matter.

In my case, I actually didn’t have a strong why behind having the watch—it was a surprise birthday gift and not something I sought out. Nevertheless, realizing that I already led an active, movement-filled lifestyle before I got the watch opened my eyes to the possibility that maybe I don’t need to be relying on it to dictate when and how much I move day to day.

3. Customize your watch in a way that works for you.

Instead of blindly accepting whatever generic fitness goals your watch comes programmed with—say, the classic 10,000 steps per day—customize the targets to fit you. “It’s really important to be your own advocate and think about your own needs,” says Brauer. That might mean setting a step goal at a number that’s more doable for your routine—or it might mean ignoring that metric completely.

While goals can vary for each person, you may find it helpful to avoid the ones that are concrete, non-customized, or remain the same every day (say, like daily steps, stand hours, or closing all of your rings). Even if you programmed these metrics yourself, striving to hit the same targets each day interrupts your ability to be intuitive with your needs and also disregards “the fact that our needs change,” Brauer explains.

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