I’m no technophobe. In all honesty, I love trying out new technical solutions and finding new ways to automate any boring repetitive tasks. One of the advantages of the recent lockdown has been how many new technologies have become mainstream to help with remote working and the new ways of communicating and collaborating we have developed.
Given that I love working with almost any kind of tech, I’ve been really surprised at one of my recent realisations regarding my running. Like many people who have increased their exercise over the last few months, I’ve done more than my fair share of enthusing over the latest smart watch or run tracking app. At first, it seemed self-evident that this kind of self-monitoring would lead to more effective training, increased accountability and, therefore, to a greater improvement in performance. I was wrong.
It only took a few runs where I left all of the tech behind for me to realise how much the goals and targets and training schedules had cluttered up my relationship with running. Running with a fitness tracker became a competition, albeit only with myself. I was always trying to run further and faster. I was listening to the tech, rather than listening to my body. I tensed up. I pushed myself further than I probably should have at times when I really didn’t need to. There was nothing mindful or calming or meditative about running to a target.
Now, I run with minimal tech. If possible, I try not to even take a watch with me, let alone having an app keep track of my distance, heart rate and whether I slowed down at the steepest hill. I pay attention to the way running feels and I run according to what my body tells me it needs. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that I’m staying within my comfort zone. I still push myself and I’m probably still running about as fast as I used to. The difference is that it’s based on knowledge that comes from a deep understanding of how my body works, rather than being based on numbers on a spreadsheet.
I thought I’d miss the metrics. There’s certainly a buzz to knowing that you’ve exceeded your target, and I’m still a huge advocate of accountability. What I found, though, was that running became a far more enjoyable activity when I took the targets and measurements away. In many ways, I don’t need anything to give me accountability for my running anymore, as it’s become one of my most treasured times of the day.
As always, I’ve been thinking about the ways in which this approach might generalise and where the limits of this might be. I think that the key factor which distinguishes a time where ditching the metrics could be valuable is when the metrics are in some way arbitrary. Having a goal simply for the sake of meeting a goal is hardly likely to be inspirational. Metrics created to measure arbitrary goals will very often start to create problems. We get far too focused on the metrics and have little attention to spare to think about the underlying achievements, which is the part that needs to be meaningful. Most of us can think of examples from corporate or public policy where the adage of “you get what you measure” should have been taken as a warning.
I have no intention of changing my focus on powerful, meaningful goals as an integral part of helping my clients to perform at the highest levels. If anything, these observations reaffirm my belief that these tools are incredibly powerful. The more powerful a tool is to effect change, the more careful you have to be to ensure that you use it correctly. For me, this has been a lesson in calming my enthusiasm for measurement and really reflecting on what it is I need. And when I’m running, what I need is a clear mind and an open road.