Sunday, October 11, 2009

How to change a habit: the pedometer experiment

Time to read: 3 minutes

Over the years, I have been to more than my fair share of corporate training courses. In general they are mildly interesting with one of two nuggets of information. The real problem is this: despite my best intentions, I rarely do anything differently when I get back to work. I want to. I plan to. But if I’m honest with myself, I always slip back into the old routine. That’s why I’m really interested when something comes along and actually changes my behavior.

I had read that walking 10,000 steps a day was very beneficial to health. Some longitudinal study or other of Harvard Alumni. There’s even a pretty chart about it on the Harvard Health Website showing an asymptotic curve. Walk more, die less. Fair enough.

However there are lots of things that would make me healthier. No beer, no hamburgers, no bacon, no cheese, no fries. I agree with the science. I respect the health columnists who prescribe it. I would like to have more moderation in my life. But I still order a cheeseburger and lager whenever I am in bar. Which is too often.

And then six weeks ago I bought a pedometer and it all changed. It was $25 and had lots of stars and good reviews on Amazon. I popped it in my pocket on Monday morning and set off to work. I live in New York and it’s quite an active lifestyle: you walk to the subway, you walk to grab lunch, you walk home. Sometime I get a cab but normally I’m pounding the street. So at the end of the day I got it out of my pocket and prepared myself to be congratulated. 1,850 steps. Not 8,000 or 5,000, but my entire day was just 1,850 steps. I’ll be honest, it was exceptionally disappointing. This small electronic device was starring at me telling me that I’d failed.

Since that day in September I have changed my daily routine. I now frequent a sandwich shop about ten minutes walk away. Often I walk right down Broadway before jumping on the subway home at Union Square. My wife has one too. We check in during the day to see how we’re doing. It’s ridiculous really.

And I pop it all into a spreadsheet every Sunday night. I’ve average 8,750 a day since September 20th – that was 375,000 steps ago.

So a hundred-fold cheaper and three days shorter than a corporate training seminar. Not bad.

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