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My Own Change: Streak Culture

In my recent post, Make Your Own Change, I noted three ways that I was trying to reevaluate my behaviors. This post marks the second of three notes on what each behavior looks like in practice and how the change affects a portion of my daily life. Links to the previous notes are below.

When discussing streak culture, my behavioral note stated, "Disengage from the streak culture and focus on the intended outcomes, e.g. refocus on actively being healthier instead of just closing rings or stop playing the daily game if it has lost its luster."

Motivation is a fascinating thing that as a leader and manager I am interested in exploring and discussing more in depth at a later date through the lens of the workplace. However, when I started talking about a reevaluation of my personal behaviors, I was not focused on work; to the point, my focus was on my Apple Watch.

Since late 2016, I have had an Apple Watch on my wrist every day except for one random day when I walked out of the house without it and was crushed by the idea that I would lose my streaks. Last Friday (1/13) was the second day without my Apple Watch and I have not worn it on my wrist since. I intentionally left my Apple Watch at home on Friday and I am going to stop wearing it for awhile. Before I get into the why, a little background.

Since purchasing the Series 3 that has been on my wrist for years, I have had a complicated relationship with the Apple Watch because I don't use all of its features, but the features I do enjoy, I love. My focus on its use has always been about fitness and health metrics though, more than smartwatch functionality. I have told my wife on plenty of occasions that I could go without it and there have been plenty of opportunities to upgrade the watch to the newest versions, but I find that the Series 3 does enough for me, so I have kept it on my wrist. That is until recently when the screen shattered and left me heart-broken.

My heartbreak was the basis for my realization that I maybe needed a break from the Watch.

Motivation is a funny thing. I no longer have an Apple Watch on my wrist, but I'm still motivated toward my health goals. The key detail above is that I have worn the Watch for over four years now. When I started, I was like most people: attracted to new technology, new ways to track and collect health data, and new ways to be motivated toward goals. The novelty of the Apple Watch was the rings, awards, and streaks; all factors of motivation, but also factors of addiction.

My personal focus for my behavioral note was the Apple Watch, but streak culture is now prevalent everywhere. Years ago (meaning pre-pandemic), there was a lot of discussion around the gamification of life. Between life hacks becoming common verbiage and publicly sharing the money passed among friends, implementing game-like rewards for habit creation and maintenance is something we all just assume to be normal now, but it still makes me pause when I open an application for health management only to find that I am getting "points" for something I should be doing without a toddler-like need for artificial approval.

Games themselves, language-learning, completion of to-do list items, closing the rings; every aspect of life is now about creating streaks and never letting go.

An aside about going without the Apple Watch. I am still within the first week of letting go of the Apple Watch. These are my week one notes for the things that were disrupted by the absence of the device:

  • I look at my wrist for the time more than I realize (read: a lot).
  • My Apple Watch is set to unlock my computer and my phone (when I am masked) automatically, which doesn't work without it.
  • Getting tapped on the wrist is a really nice way to be notified and reminded of things; I actually forgot how jarring phone vibration can be at times (phantom vibrations, here I come).
  • I was dedicated to closing my rings, but even if I wasn't having trend data for workouts, stand hours, sleep, and heart rate is beneficial (and I miss it already).
  • I will likely take to using my iPhones lock screen widgets for things the watch used to do (at a glance weather, calendar, and fitness metrics).

Additionally, technologically speaking, switching away from the Apple Watch to track health metrics is astoundingly hard. The iPhone has the ability to track this data and with iOS 16, even allows the phone's movement to close the Move ring, but Apple seemingly really doesn't want you to do that if you ever owned an Apple Watch or at least doesn't make the switch a simple process. After searching the web for a longer time than I would normally have to, I not only chatted with Apple Support but got on the phone with escalated support and then talked to an Apple Health-specific support person and was still unable to make it happen. After waiting a full 24 hours after removing my Apple Watch from my device, the phone started showing some signs that it was tracking my Move ring without the watch, albeit not well.

Motivation in these situations is linked to habit-forming. Depending on the type of app, I would say the the underlying rationale can be considered good: learning a language takes daily practice and intention, goal setting and project management take action which can be linked to daily tasks, and if you never exercise, starting a daily regimen can be overwhelming. However, once the habit is formed, the structure that helped create the habit can change or can go away entirely. I potentially don't need to have a smartwatch strapped to my wrist to remind me to take steps toward my health goals. I have been aware of my stand hours for so long that I may not need to be reminded every hour to get up and stretch my legs.

The key is that if the goals are not at the center of the activity, the activity loses its meaning. I want to be intentional about how I approach my health goals and I can do that without the watch. In fact, the watch may have hampered my ability to be flexible in the way I approach those goals because the point over the years has become closing the rings, not being a more intentionally healthy person.

Similarly, I want to be intentional about my personal and professional goals and I can use apps to do so, but I can also use paper. I don't always need complicated systems or gamification to motivate me to pursue the things that bring me joy and perhaps the things that don't bring me joy should well be forgotten anyway.