It has been a few weeks since my last blogpost and I think it is about time to write another one, and share what has changed since then! 

Novelty Effect

One major change I have been experiencing lately is how the novelty effect of the device is fading away slowly. Compared to the first couple of weeks of the project during which I was checking the numbers frequently, these last weeks I have become pretty much accustomed to receiving the real time feedback, and stopped looking at the numbers that often. Especially after turning off the hourly reminders, I got notifications only when I reached the ‘magical’ ten thousands steps.

“The weekly reports of the data have started to make much more sense!”

Instead of checking the screen during the day, I have started to spend more time checking and analysing the weekly statistics of the data. Once I started getting to know “my average quantified self”, the weekly reports started to make much more sense. I could compare my last week’s “average” self to my present self and gain more insights by the aid of the archived data. 

I am more present-focused now

Temporal focus, a widely studied topic in social psychology, is a concept that explains the extent to which individuals direct their attention to past, present or future. While studying temporal focus in the labs, one common way of manipulating participants’ temporal foci is to ask them to imagine themselves in one week vs. in five years. By doing so, one can direct his/her attention to a near vs. distant future and behave accordingly. I am sure you see where this is going: the reason why I am explaining the concept of temporal focus is because I have started to experience that the use of a self-monitoring technology has been influencing my temporal focus. 

Take running, for example. Before using self-tracking, if I would find it difficult to complete my 45 minutes of running, I would remind myself of how good it is going to feel afterwards. In a way, by redirecting my focus to the after-run and adopting a rather future-focused mindset, I was motivating myself to finish my workout. The way I motivate myself has changed after adopting Fitbit into my workout routines. While running, I do not really think about how I am going to feel afterwards anymore. The continuous real-time feedback keeps me so much occupied in the present that there is no room remains to remind myself about the ‘after-run’ feelings; making me think that wearing Fitbit made me more present-focused. 

So, is this a good thing or a bad thing? 

Construal level theory, developed by Trope and Liberman (2010) argues that there is a relationship between individuals’ temporal foci and the way they think (an event or an object) abstractly vs. concretely; the more distant an event is from the individual, the more abstract it will be thought of, whereas closer events will be thought of more concretely. For example, if you are planning a trip that is six months from now, you are more likely to focus on abstract features of the trip, such as the new cities you are going to visit. However, if the planned trip is only two weeks from now, you will be more likely to think of it more concretely and be more realistic about the costs of that 5-star hotel you booked six months ago. 

I argue that receiving continuous real time feedback has simultaneously primed me to evaluate the activity, in this case running, in a more concrete way with my attention directed to the calories burned and the distance remained rather than the abstract feelings of enjoyment I will experience afterwards. Adopting a more concrete way of thinking certainly brought along some benefits, such as an increase in my performance. However, I can also imagine that in the long run, it may cause a decrease in enjoyment by treating the activity in a less abstract way. 

So far, I am still enjoying wearing the Fitbit and will continue to observe how I experience myself in the face of continuous real time feedback of my own body. Until the next post! 

NB: The views here expressed are mine. They do not represent the views of our research group, affiliated parties, or the TU/e.