I wake up in the morning and I glance at the clock and quickly calculate how much sleep I got. I then drink 500 mL of water that I keep in a bottle next to my bed. Right after washing up, I put on my FitBit – and I always ask myself, should I have put on my FitBit earlier to have included those 20-30 steps that covers me walking to and from the bathroom and the steps I take as I make the bed? I go downstairs and measure out my food and make sure to write it all down in my food diary.

Watching the clock. Counting steps. Measuring food/liquids. Writing it down. Keeping score.

What’s it all for?

What do the numbers mean?

Am I counting on all these digits too much?

Do they really represent what I’ve done, how much effort I’ve put in, who I am?

First and foremost, regardless of what any number is – your age, your height, your weight, or the number of steps you walked – it does not represent who you are as a person. You are not a better or worse person because of how much you ate or walked on a particular day. So put that thought out of your mind.

That’s probably the clearest point I can make. After that, it all gets a bit fuzzy.

I guess the best place to start is the first question – what’s it all for?

This is a question that only you can answer best. Do you have a specific goal in mind? Will the numbers that you’re counting help you get to that goal? Are the numbers you’re counting reasonable and sensible or are they extreme and unattainable?

I know – I’m doing something that I absolutely hate, answer a question with more questions. However, the only way you can really answer that question is to be honest with yourself and be clear about what you’re measuring and why you’re doing so.

What do the numbers mean?

Again, this varies. There have been some nights where I’ve slept for 8 hours, but the sleep has been restless and I woke up still feeling tired. There have been other nights when I’ve slept for 5 hours and felt great upon waking. Rather than the number of hours of sleep, I know that being aware of my quality of sleep is much more important. The same idea can be applied to my weight lifting – what’s better? Doing a few heavy squats with bad form or decreasing the weight on the bar and squatting in perfect form? See, it’s all relative and it all depends on what you personally are placing emphasis on. There are some days when I feel like I need to boost my self-esteem. On those days I may go for 1 heavy rep and take satisfaction in the big number. On other days, I have to push my ego aside and remind myself that even if I was lifting light that day, I was lifting with better form. It’s a constant internal conversation … and it fluctuates from day to day. The bottom line is, the numbers really don’t mean anything; it’s the significance I place on them that matters. So, if you view your numbers in a positive light (i.e. I only walked 4,500 steps today – tomorrow I will aim for 5,500 vs. I can’t believe I only walked 4,500 steps today; that’s awful!) then you can make all those measures work for you.

Am I counting the digits too much?

I think the impact of numbers is directly related to your attitude towards them. If you feel like counting steps and calories etc. is too much and is really weighing you down, then don’t. If counting is hindering your progress, then you may be counting too much. That being said, sometimes, particularly when you want to make a significant change in your lifestyle, it is important to make the effort and count/measure/keep track. Knowledge is power and a lot of times even though it’s our own actions, we’re not always aware of how much we’re eating or how little we’re sleeping and so on. Overall, I think tracking is good – as long as it is productive and helps you make a positive change in your life.

Do the numbers represent how much you’ve done/how much effort you’ve put in?

Yet another hazy point … again, using weight lifting as an example, if you spent the day doing an amazing heavy lifting session, that’s not going to be reflected in your FitBit count. Or, let’s say you’ve just started exercising and you would never walk more than 2,000 steps a day – in that case, walking 5,000 steps on a regular basis is a huge win! While the number might not look like much if compared to someone who walks 10,000+ steps a day, for you – given your life circumstances, habits, and goals – it is significant, and that’s what you should focus on.

not very impressive right?

given that this was right after major surgery, I thought the numbers were excellent

This idea of comparing numbers/measurements/weights/scores is quite relevant in terms of the Whole Life Challenge (WLC).

The WLC is played by thousands of people around the world. At the end of the day, we enter our score. Everyone is scored based on the same 7 categories. However, the significance of that number is not the same for everyone. It really is important to realize that no matter what number you enter at the end of the day, only you know its significance. Even if you are able to score ‘perfectly’ the range of ‘perfect’ varies – did you have ‘perfect’ meals or did you have compliant snacks all day? Both will score you full points, but they’re not the same. You may have exercised for 10 minutes, but was it half-hearted effort just for the points or did you really give it your all?

As I was mulling this idea of numbers and the scalable nature of ‘perfect’, I came up with this little chart (below). For the categories of daily mobilization, daily exercise, minimum water intake, and minimum hours of sleep, you can only score all or nothing. In order to get a more accurate picture of my effort, I made my own scale. In the picture below, you’ll see 5 main columns that stand for: didn’t happen; made some effort; better than before; really good progress; perfect. Within those 5 columns are 4 other columns: M (mobility); E (exercise); W (water); and S (sleep). So far, I’ve scored ‘perfectly’ in all the categories, however, on a few days, my efforts to mobilize could have been better and on some other days my sleep was complete but restless. Just by looking at the chart I can see that my exercise and water intake are on point. However, I know I need to work on my mobility. By the end of the challenge, I should have a better picture of what I still need to work on.

My main point is, just because there’s a scoreboard and a leaderboard and you have teams and teammates doesn’t mean that everything has to be about the score. Or that your ‘rank’ defines your level of effort and commitment. The score is an added layer of accountability. You have to be able to find a balance between participating at a level that is challenging and understanding how that challenge relates to your life.

Don’t compare what your measure of success is to others. That fact that you’re making an effort is awesome. Celebrate your accomplishments; focus on what you have done; stay positive … and keep showing up.

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