Picking Your Chains

In June 2011, back when trauma was getting lively in this household and comfort food was exactly that, I broke down and got an iPhone. They’d always looked like pretty cool gadgets; I’d just resisted because I never saw the need.

I’m not sure “need” is the right word here. “Utility” is more like it, although that describes a lot of things I don’t have or want. I just reached a tipping point of sorts.

It was a bizarre time, at any rate. My wife, six months out from brain surgery, had a heart attack, and on the work-up for that they found breast cancer. At the same time, work drastically slowed up for about three months, plenty of time for me to find some old habits to practice. Mostly watching a lot of TV and eating a lot of junk.

Four years after losing about 90 pounds, it was the closest I ever came to climbing that ladder again. I gained about 25 pounds over those three months, zoom zoom. And then, before anyone really noticed and certainly no one commented, I dropped them. Within a month I was back in fairly normal range, and by the end of summer I as actually a little lighter than I had been for the past couple of years.

What helped me, besides a new steady gig that helped fill those empty hours and kept me from filling my stomach with ice cream, was the phone. And particularly an app, MyFitnessPal, which is now pretty popular but I just grabbed on a whim because it was free and I thought it would come in handy to keep track of what I was eating and exercise.

I never stopped, either. It may be a redundant app now, but for the time being I still use it the same way. Just punch in what I ate, finding nutritional information online or sometimes just approximating a calorie count. I figured it would all work out and it did, and over the years the app has added features that make it easier to do this.

The point is, I’ve used this particular app without a break for nearly five years, although it tells me that I’ve logged in for 700-plus straight days. I obviously missed a day along the line, catching up the next day, although it still sort of annoys me. I never broke that chain. I’d like some credit.


“Don’t break the chain” is a concept that Jerry Seinfeld talked about in an interview, and which has gotten a lot of attention over the past few years in the life-hacking community. His method, which involved making sure he wrote material every day, was to use a large calendar, putting a big red “X” on every day he wrote. And his goal became not to break that chain. Nothing too complicated, or original, but there’s a nice intuitive bounce here. Visual reminders are helpful. Repetition, discipline, and incremental progress are solid ways to achieve goals. Works for me.

I brought this idea up in a discussion the other day, and people seemed intrigued. Maybe I’ve been living with it too long. Feels like a no-brainer. Pay attention. Write it down. Repeat.

For what it’s worth, I eventually added RunTracker, which is a nice app that tracks my walks via GPS, gauging elevation and estimating calorie burns. It’ll also track walks in the background, which I use for short trips to the store, a mile and a half round trip or so.

And now I have a Fitbit. I have more data than I imagined five years ago. I have lots of data. I am Data King.

Yeah. It’s mostly just fun, some inspiration. Now that I’ve hooked up those first two apps to my Fitbit, heart rate is now dropped into the equation, and that’s really the stat in the long run that tells the tale.

Again, as with a smart phone, I was a late adopter. Both my brother and sister-and-law were wearing the same Fitbit as mine when I saw them in January. Still trying to figure it out.

Once an hour, it’s been nudging me to move, walk for a few minutes, and again the chain comes into play. It shows me nine hours, from 9am to 5pm, and checks off each hour that I moved approximately 250 steps. I’ve gotten to walking laps around the house. Gets me off my butt.

And it motivates me in other ways. It gave me a fitness score ranging from 48 to 52, just numbers but apparently excellent for my age. Now, two months later exactly, I’m up to 49-53. My resting heart rate, which started in the mid to high 50s, went up into the 60s for a week or so, and now sits at 51 this morning, has a lot to do with it.

The world record holder in the marathon has a score of 81, by the way. So that’s not a goal. Hitting 60 might be possible. Gives me something to shoot for.

None of this makes a huge difference in my life, other than to focus my increasingly jumpy brain on something concrete, with a little personal best sort of goal to keep me going. I’m not expecting an increase in longevity, although it’s possible I can delay wearing those chains I forged in my earlier life, the bad habits, the drinking, the smoking, the compulsive eating. They will show up eventually, and there’s no breaking them. I can only hope to mediate the natural progression, maybe keep some decent exercise tolerance for as long as I can.

And the numbers help, in a small way. Yesterday I ate about 1600 calories and burned around 2400, according to Fitbit, resulting in a weight loss of 0.3 pound. Which showed up on my scale this morning. Today I may eat 2400 calories and burn 1600. We are in a stable situation, then, unusual for me and surprisingly helped by this light little thing that always stays on my wrist.

My current pulse rate is 56. I weight 168-1/2 pounds. Hang between there and 171 or so and I can wear anything I own, which is all I’m asking here. That, and a few more years to see if I can figure out what to do with my life. Besides walking and writing.

And now I owe myself 250 steps. Piece of cake, really. Not literally. You get it.

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