My name is Dimity, and I have a confession to make: I’m slightly obsessed with how many steps I take daily.
I tried for the better part of a year to pretend to be indifferent to the metric, clocked on my Garmin 735 XT, that I can access by pushing a button a few times. I’d only check it slyly, while l was on a walk or on the phone or maybe sitting on the toilet. (Because what else are you going to do?)
Then, in April, as Ben and I were driving to Albuquerque for a water polo tournament, we listened to a delightful essay by David Sedaris about his preoccupation with his FitBit.
Validation from a best-selling author? All the permission I needed to go public with it. For the record, he clocks over 35,000 steps—or 17.5 miles—regularly. (2,000 steps is roughly one mile.) Even when he was sick with the flu and on book tour, he made himself walk around the airport prior to boarding to get to 10,000 steps, the daily accepted amount for general health and wellness. (10,000 steps started with a Japanese pedometer in the mid-60’s, according to this article, which also disputes the precision of the number.)
I’m not as bad as Sedaris. But I will admit, watching my steps climb over the course of the day is oddly soothing and surprisingly fulfilling.
I have some loose rules, but the gist is this: The weekly overview screen stores seven days. If a blue bar (a day when I walk less than I have for the previous seven days) is the next one to be eliminated, it can be replaced that day with a blue bar. If a green bar (a day I’ve walked more than the previous seven days) exits, I pinky-swear to myself to do my best to make the current day green.
Although most weeks I exercise five to six times, I’ll run two times, max, for about 6 miles total (a mere 12,000 steps for the entire week). So I don’t have that gimme like I used to. At the gym, the Stepmill tallies steps, although the total always feels a little stingy. The bike nets zero, and the elliptical, as far as I can tell, does not. Swimming is great exercise, but strokes aren’t steps, and only steps create green bars.
So I work towards my green bars as I do any other goal: by inching towards it incrementally. In the summer, I’m happy to walk the dogs (4,500-7,000 steps depending on my route). When I need to grab my favorite capris in the laundry room, it’s not a hassle. It’s 100 more steps. My laptop cord is down there too? Rack up another 100. I have a standing desk that I use more often now, but standing doesn’t register squat.
I’m a little disappointed that my weekend double-feature of Costco + Target (which includes parking far away and then unloading everything) typically nets less than 3,000 steps, but maybe I’m just being greedy. In the evenings, I’m inclined to go for at least 1,000 steps—I mean walk—with the dogs, my husband or my kids, or any combo thereof, which is much more pleasant than doing dishes or checking Facebook. Last week, I walked about 2,200 round-trip steps to get a pedicure in a nearby shopping center, and when I arrived 20 minutes early for a haircut, I took a pedestrian tour of the neighborhood.
Just like a workout, I never regret taking a walk.
I typically get green bars for just four of the seven days of the week, which really doesn’t sit well with my perfectionist tendencies. The blue bars are a gentle way, though, to sand those rigid, sharp corners that jut into my expectations and perspective.
With the exception of one single night, when I paced back and forth, iPhone light on to avoid stepping in dog poop, in my backyard to get to green, I haven’t let the blue bars coerce me to take off my PJs and get dressed to round one more block or run up and down my stairs. That’s a victory in my (sharp-cornered) book.
When Sedaris’ validation feels lacking as I press the Garmin’s lower left-hand button for the 34th time today to see where my steps are, I remind myself that despite nearly daily exercise, I have mostly sedentary lifestyle—and we all know sitting is the new smoking.
I spend the majority of my day either over a keyboard or a steering wheel. I love my job, I love the out-of-district schools my kids attend, I love that my kids do theater and play volleyball, but the underlying, sit-sit-sit commitments that go with them? Not as much.
Beyond the physical, there’s a mental component that feels even more valuable. Like most of us, I am immersed in plenty of tech that feels both dictatorial and out of my control. I adore how basic this one slice of technical data is. Two screens that I choose to scroll to; two screens that involve no push notifications or associated pace, no breaking news or bullying tweets, no uninvited intrusion into already swirling chaos that is this modern life that we live.
Perhaps more importantly, my pal Pema Chodron reminds me again and again that the only thing certain is uncertainty. I believe her, and am trying my hardest (do Buddhists allow you to try hard?) to live with that truth. That said, my step fascination allows me to selectively ignore her on one benign subject—and reaffirm my faith in the most basic motion.
Today, I am certain that my legs and body are healthy enough to move forward. Today, I am certain that I care enough about my mental and spiritual wellbeing to move forward. Today, I am certain that even if my blue bar doesn’t turn green, tomorrow will be another day to try again.