The complex science of numerical motivation (or, how I use my Nike+ Fuelband)

I know I’ve said it before – I’m highly motivated by numbers.  That’s why I feel off when I forget to pack my GPS watch for a Thursday Run Club.  When I wanted to totally overhaul my life and really up my active time it only made sense to try and find a numerical way to do it.  Enter, the Nike+ Fuelband.  A lot has been said about this black-strip-of-a-bracelet.  At it’s heart, it’s an accelerometer that counts your steps, calories (based on the weight you input) and calculates your daily fuel.  I still don’t quite understand how fuel is calculated.  I never really looked into it.  What I do know is that a day of very little activity and lots of sitting on the couch will net me around 2,500 points, compared to a day of running, walking, skipping, playing with my daughter at the park which could net me anywhere from 4,000 to 6,500 and sometimes even into the high 6,000s or 7,000s!  Long run days obviously equal more fuel and rest days equal less fuel.  So, how does one go about setting a daily goal with the variability of training?  Easy!  I’ll give you the secret formula!

The daily goal is set all the time at 3,500.  That means on a rest day I try not to get too much over that mark.  After all, I’m meant to be resting.

On days when I run I add 150 points per kilometre to the base, unchanging 3,500 goal.  That means that today (for example) I ran 10k, so 3,500 + (10×150) = 5,000 points.

On days when I don’t run, that also aren’t designated rest days (cross-training days, for example) the amount I will add to the base goal varies.  Unlike some people, I don’t ever take the Fuelband off my wrist (to tie it to my shoe, for instance) so if I spend a lot of time on the exercise bike then the numbers are obviously not going to show.  On those days, generally, I aim for 4,000 and just try and push as far as I can go (which is the same for running days – the goal might have been 5,000 today but it’s 9:15 and I’m sitting on a near-PB of 7,220).

I find that being really clear about how the goal changes in relation to the runs makes me less likely to sit on the couch all day thinking ‘oh well, I’ll pop out for a cheeky 5km later.’

I think I would feel totally lost without the Fuelband now, and I certainly wouldn’t be as active as I am.  Even making simple choices like walking the 20 minutes to the supermarket rather than catching the bus – all those bits of incidental exercise that don’t do much on their own but together, and in conjunction with thoughtful and structured training, add up.

So, if you’re thinking of delving into the world of the numerical-motivation-monitor, feel free to nab my daily-goal-plan.

Happy Running.  And walking, jumping, playing, skipping, and general sillyness.  It all counts.


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