My boyfriend and I were making dinner last week.
The recipe hilariously called for “three units of carrot.”
“Who calls them units?” I scorned.
“Computers,” he replied.
It’s been a week since I stopped wearing my step counter. Before choosing to consciously uncouple with my digital jewelry, I had been calculating each walk, run, flat-tidying-spree, or weekly shop in their sad unitary values.
I learned the distance from my flat to the end of the road was 2,500 steps, but if I added on a loop, it’d max out at 5,000. I knew the elevation was around 22 ft, and if I did the course in 25 minutes, I could get an average heart rate of 120 bpm.
But, I also knew I’d come back inside and feel totally unaccomplished because it wasn’t even half of what I had set as my daily goal — a goal which was, in a word, arbitrary. So, at around 12:30 p.m. each day, I’d set out to complete the exact same route to top up the numbers.
There was nothing mindful about the walk. I’d pass the same trees and stomp the same pavements and think of nothing but “Good, that’s another 1k done.”
I hadn’t really realized it then, but what I was doing was obsessive. It’s probably ironic that it took something as simple as a carrot to make me see that what I was doing every day was wrong.
So, I set about taking a week off from my step counter. Here’s what I learned:
Plunging my whole hand and wrist into the soapy bowl of washing up is fun and liberating (I promise they get more interesting than this, but we’re still living through a pandemic, so I need to find little wins somewhere).
Brushing my teeth is wonderfully freeing without worrying about artificially boosting my step count – the same goes for hoovering, which makes the not-so-hidden neat freak inside me very happy.
I can prove I have a ‘summer tan’ from the little strip of white skin on my right wrist, although no one really seems as excited as me, which is a shame.
I haven’t felt bad about actually sitting down and not going outside if I don’t feel like it.
My runs and walks have been for pleasure, not for their step values.
The list may seem a little self-deprecating, but wriggling out of an obsession using humor is my preferred method. It softens it and helps me see the light in what I was doing. It’s not to diminish compulsions, but after having ones that used to stop me leaving the house, I think I can discuss them casually now.
The last point in the list is the most important to me.
I took a walk yesterday and joked that what I did wasn’t very COVID-secure: I wandered around the park with my mouth wide open in awe at the changing seasons and the colors of the trees that resembled a mezze board in the sky.
It was the first time in a long time that I had been present, which is agonisingly embarrassing for someone who both journals and meditates each day, but let’s agree not to rat me out to Andy from Headspace.
I still run, but now it’s for fun, and if I don’t fancy a 5k circuit, I can cut it short and just run until I feel I’ve had enough. And I can tell myself that whatever I choose to do on any given day is enough, and crucially, believe it.
Living through the pandemic has taught me a few things. How my smell and taste loss from over two years ago can help other people going through it right now; how there is pleasure in the most simple things, like a new jumper or some nail varnish; how working remotely and for myself probably wouldn’t have happened without the world turning upside down first.
It also taught me that my obsessions came from my fight for freedom, but in fighting, I had barricaded myself into having my life being ruled by a piece of tech.
It’s easy to get stuck in cycles and try desperately to control what little autonomy we seem to have left in our lives. But it’s also important to evaluate what we are doing and if it’s of benefit to us. If it isn’t, we must find the courage to make a change.
As it turns out, my month-long step obsession was easier to break than I had imagined. And all it took was the terminology for a bunch of carrots.