I might be addicted to data

Hello to everyone and thank you for being here in Data Addicts Anonymous,

My name is Aylin, I have been addicted to data for the past seven years. I don’t think I will stop. I also don’t know if I should.

I delved into the world of data and activity metrics when I got myself a heart rate monitor in 2016 and a sports watch in 2017. I wanted to get more accurate feedback about my runs and training, but it turned into a whole thing where I postponed training sessions if my watch was charging. Training metrics became a point of obsession and always check them right after a session. I regularly check my sleep data, heart rate variability during the day, body battery, and stress levels just to count a few.

Why do I need it?

From my perspective (an incredibly biased one I must say), it helps me get a more accurate feeling of what I am doing at least than what I thought. After observing my obsession, I realised that I assess the training session or how tired I am during the day according to the numbers on the screen. It is quite ironic to say “a more accurate feeling”. Because I almost exclusively use the data provided to me rather than checking in with my body. Instead of taking a minute and trying to understand how I am feeling or how was my week, I include more variables in my routine assessments.

For example the other week, it was the last week of my training block and I was trying to understand if the training load was appropriate or too much for me. An easy way to do this is to ask myself how I feel about being on the bike x amount of hours or if I have any soreness. However, what I did instead was to check how much time I spent in each heart rate zone and try to make an inference from that. I did not feel like that was enough to make a proper decision because recovery is not only affected by training but also by my daily activities and stress, so I decided to add resting heart rate data to the mix as well. I saw that my resting heart rate was elevated meaning I was not recovering as well.

As I stated before I could have just skipped this whole analysis and focused on the feeling, but I do not think I am able to do so anymore. After years of reliance on data and outputs, I believe I forget how to. I feel that my own feelings or assessments are not as reliable and this is heartbreaking. It is a two-sided sword situation, at the same time I have this very powerful tool for getting instant feedback about myself but I became heavily dependent on it in a way that I do not completely trust my own bodily sensations.

How to be more mindful?

As specific as my case might sound, it is actually quite common in any user of activity-tracking apps or sensors. Here are some tips that I found that help me stay more in tune with myself and obsess over fitness data;

  1. Delay the analysis: It is quite straightforward. Instead of checking my watch right after a training session, I try to give myself some space to evaluate it on my own. I try to appreciate the work that I put in before I see the data and decide whether it was a successful session or not. I am actively trying to change my mindset on what is a successful session. I used to think if I hit my goal pace and speed average, it is successful; but also finding time during the day to train to is successful, too. Sometimes I am not able to finish a training session, it happens and it is completely natural. I used to beat myself up over it, but starting the session is a success and also deciding when I should quit is a success, too.
  2.  Try to incorporate no data sessions: This is a hard one, but I definitely recommend it. I try to do at least one session a week without my watch. An easy session where I only focus on my breathing, how my body feels, and how I am feeling in general. I can do whatever I want, I can go slow, I can sprint. I do whatever feels right.
  3.  Resist the urge to compare: Another thing data allows us to do is giving measurable variables where you can compare with others’ or your past data points. This was especially challenging after taking a break from running last summer. I was always comparing my running pace and distance to my previous sessions before my break. I was feeling bad about my performance and how slow I had gotten. Fitness is a process, nothing is going to get better with one training session, and every effort counts.

Fitness data is greatly beneficial in meeting my goals, seeing my progress, and planning future sessions, and races. However, it creates a huge reliance on metrics to assess even simple questions like “Am I tired?” or “How was my sleep?”. It is easy to get lost in the overwhelming amount of data and put aside our feelings. I am not saying we should stop tracking our activities, but we should see and use it as a tool rather than the truth.