By now, regular Cranky Fitness readers know to pay little attention to extravagant claims made in the title of a blog post. (Because you've all figured out that it usually means Crabby's just messing with you!) But bear with her as she tells you about this awesome workout gadget.
You use it to use to track your workouts and eating plans and evaluate how you're doing. Just look at all the data it can factor in! Like: your current weight; your desired weight; the calories you consume and whether they are nutritious or junky; the amount of force your muscles exert; your heart rate; metabolic rate; your dehydration level; your available caloric reserves; the amount of sleep you require versus the amount you've been getting; your blood pressure; your stress level; and even your hormone cycles. This ginormous amount of data is all filtered, sorted, and weighed to give you incredibly useful information to evaluate your performance.
So what is this amazing device? Let's call it the "F-4", short for the "effortometer." It is, as you probably already guessed, something you already own. It resides in your brain, and it tells you whether what you're attempting to do is easy or hard or freakin' impossible. It alerts you to whether you need to stop whining and work harder; whether you're doing just great; or whether you're overdoing it and need to give yourself a break.
This complex measurement is also known colloquially as "how you feel." It's your subjective sense of how much effort you're putting in, and how much discomfort that effort is causing you at any given time. Readings range from "wow, this is easy" to "damn, this kinda sucks," to "ulp, this feels so awful I think I'm going to die, like, now... aaarrrgghh..."
If you're like most people, you've learned to ignore how you feel if it happens to disagree with a more "objective" measure of how you're doing, like the time it takes you to bike fifteen miles uphill or the number on the scale at your last weigh-in. If the gadget you bought says you're doing terrible or doing great, that's 'real.' Whereas that sense you have yourself of how hard you're working is only 'psychological,' and doesn't count as much. Right?
So if you woke up this morning feeling fatigued for no particular reason, and despite feeling dreary and unmotivated you put on your running shoes anyway and went out for a jog, but the stopwatch said your 4 miles took you longer than they ever have before in your life--well that's bad isn't it? It means you should have pushed yourself harder so you'd go faster. The stopwatch knows better than you do what you should be doing, doesn't it?
Well, no it doesn't. In every way that counts for the long haul, you did great. The stopwatch data is completely irrelevant. Your trusty effortometer says you completed a workout of extremely high difficulty--and it can factor in all kinds of complicated physical and psychological data you have no conscious clue about. So screw the stopwatch. Feel proud of yourself.
And sure, if you're running a big important race next month and running races is a huge part of your life, these objective numbers can be very informative. And Crabby is a great believer in heart rate monitors and body-fat measuring scales, and sports watches, and pedometers and all that stuff. But only insofar as they provide Positive Reinforcement for your efforts. They're great for letting you know that you're doing something real and measurable. And look, over time, you're making steady improvements, hooray!
But if you get too caught up in numbers, they can be very demotivating. In the long run, unless you're a professional athlete or have a lot of ego at stake, it's the subjective effort that's crucial and is going to pay off. Keeping going is the most important part.
So then, what about Accountability, something we were just talking about recently? If you only pay attention to how you feel and not what the scale or the stopwatch says, isn't that a sure road to denial and slacking?
Actually, not usually, if you're being honest with yourself. But your effortometer, like any piece of complicated equipment, may need periodic recalibration. Use your common sense to see if, generally, your own sense of effort is correlating with more objective measures. If it's been six months of "trying really hard" with no noticeable improvement, then maybe something's wrong. It could be a problem with your expectations, your plan, your commitment, or your goals.
Another thing that can mess with your internal effortometer is depression. Depression is a real and treatable medical condition that can make damn near everything feel effortful. Rather than berate yourself over it, be kind to yourself and think about getting some help.
So how do you guys evaluate how you're doing in working towards your goals? Do you obsess over objective measurements or even keep track at all?