Closing the gap between perception and reality

There is a gap between perception and reality. People consistently overestimate the time they spend on dreaded tasks and underestimate the time they spend on the good stuff, they eat more than they think they do, they move less than they would expect.

It is the gap that makes accurate feedback valuable.

I’ve kept a time diary in the past, and I’ve logged my gym workouts for ages. But until now, I’ve never had a way to track my daily activity level. I think I’m a pretty active person–I love to walk, I choose the steps over the elevator–but I’ve wondered if my perception matches reality.

I decided to find out.

Choosing a tracking gizmo

I decided on the Jawbone Up solely because it’s a bracelet. I nearly got a FitBit, but many Amazon reviews mentioned how easy it is to lose, and I tend to lose things, so I went with the Jawbone Up.

I’ve been using it for three weeks now. I bought it as an assessment device, really–I wanted to know how many steps I take each day. But I’m finding I can’t track this data without acting on it.

When you measure something, improvement happens almost automatically. As one of my deliberate practice books put it, “You get what you count.” Since I’m counting steps, I’m getting steps.

I set my daily goal at the recommended 10,000 steps per day. I use the Jawbone Up’s phone app to track my progress. Here’s what the app looks like:


Left: I missed my daily goal by 67 steps. NEVER AGAIN. Right: I hit my goal and earned a pretty swirly graphic. The blue bar tracks percentage of sleep goal. The green bar tracks food, but I’m still playing around with that feature. I promise I eat more than 842 calories each day.  

Minding the Gap

Since I’ve had the Jawbone Up, I’ve been able to assess just how wide the gap can be between my perception and reality. When I hit Target with 4 kids at lunchtime, I estimated we took 1200 steps. (Reality: 499.) When my daughter and I wandered around the park climbing trees, I estimated 2000 steps. (Reality: 2800.)

The feedback is not immediate. There’s no counter on the device itself and it doesn’t sync wirelessly; I need to manually sync it by plugging it into my phone to view my data. This does put friction between having the data and acting on it. Jawbone recommends syncing twice a day, but I do it a lot more because I want closer-to-instant feedback.)

I started this experiment out of curiosity, but now I am determined to hit my goal each day. I’ve been going on more walks, I’ve made a few extra trips to the library (on foot), and I immediately became one of those people who park at the back of the parking lot.

I even went for a run this week. I don’t even know who I am anymore.

But I’m loving it.

Do you have any experience with a fitness-tracking gizmo? Post thoughts to comments. 


  1. Jillian Kay says:

    I have a fitbit now, but I started with a cheapo pedometer. I went from struggling to get my 10,000 steps four years ago to signing up for a 30 mile trail race in a few weeks. I’m a fan.

    I never lose weight, so I gave that up as a goal years ago. But I feel a lot better than I ever did in my 20’s. I never would have believed someone that told me that simply wearing a pedometer would change my life like this. I guess tracking my steps is a keystone habit.

    • Anne says:

      Oh yes, good phrase: I can see how it would be a keystone habit. I’m leery to call it one for myself since it’s only been 3 weeks….but I can totally see myself saying that down the road.

  2. Corrie Anne says:

    That’s awesome. I love the fitbit zip I have, though you’re totally right — always looking for it!!! I try to switch it to my next outfit ASAP. The FitBit does update your steps & mileage immediately so I like that a lot if I’m trying to get to a certain number. Also, when it syncs to my iPhone, I have about ten people on my friends list that I can “compete” with. It just makes it fun!

  3. Sarah says:

    Just a thougt – Were you pushing a cart at target? I have a Nike fuelband, also a bracelet, and find that it consistently under-counts when I am pushing a cart or stroller, since your wrist isn’t doing the same swinging movement. Now I’m the weirdo who try’s to push my stroller one handed, so I can sti get digital credit for my activity. 🙂

  4. Ruthanne says:

    Great piece Anne. You are one more push for me to count steps again. The Jawbone UP link/Amazon did not work for me by the way.

    I love your posts! I always feel better after reading them. . . even though my two girls are in their twenties.

    Don’t forget to check Darling Magazine (no affiliation, just think you would appreciate the topics and style) Hope you have a great weekend!

    • Anne says:

      Thanks for the tip on the link; it’s fixed now. 🙂

      I’ve heard about Darling Magazine, but I’ve never checked it out. Off to investigate…

  5. Jennifer says:

    I use MyFitnessPal. I’ve used it on and off over the past few years and am trying really hard to track for the next year to see what difference it makes. This past year I gained 10 pounds and those 10 pounds have really hit me hard. I am determined to lose them and keep them off this time around!

    Using MFP is eye opening. I’ve never tracked when my eating was out of control, but I can only imagine how many calories I used to eat (no wonder I gained 10 pounds). Knowing it’s all going down on “paper” makes me want to hit my calorie goals each day. It is also rewarding to see that I’m logging exercise, so I am sure to wake up early and get my workout in every morning.

    I’d never heard of a jawbone up before. I think I may like one. I’m reading a book (Fat Land) which talks a lot about the sedentary lifestyle in America. I know I spend a lot of time in the evenings sitting on the couch watching TV or surfing the net. I wonder if a jawbone would motivate me to move around more after work.

    Thanks for sharing!

  6. Meg Evans says:

    I am going to start saving for the Jawbone. I would love to have this information about myself–especially the sleep information. Thanks for sharing, Anne.

  7. Steph says:

    I’ve used a cheap pedometer in the past as part of a 10,000 steps program at work. I did appreciate the instant feedback. My experience was the same as yours–I was walking to and from work/school (20 minute walk each way) and assumed that I would always hit my goal no problem. Wrong! My response was also the same as yours–I actually started jogging. I’d contemplated jogging before and always assumed it wasn’t for me, but for some reason, the shift to seeing jogging as a quick way to earn steps wasn’t scary, I even completed a couple 10k races. I always recommend counting steps to people as a way to get started with an exercise program–not everybody will have the same response, I’m sure, but even it helps a couple people, a pedometer is worth the small investment!

  8. alyssa says:

    My Galaxy 4 came with an app to track steps, and calories I believe. But since I don’t always have my phone on me, I don’t get an accurate count. Even still, I know I am not coming close to 10000 steps! A bracelet would be great and I had never heard of jawbone up before, so thanks for sharing!

  9. Jessica says:

    I really like using a pedometer. It’s worth it to buy a nicer one. I haven’t been wearing mine and I really should. The downside of a pedometer is that they can be uncomfortable attached to the wait and of your pants, especially if your waist band is already a little tight… I recommend the New Lifestyles pedometer brand. The less expensive models work well ($10). Buy a little guard to keep it secured to your clothes 🙂

  10. Kristen says:

    I also have a fitbit. I always need to move more and the step counting has helped me if not hit my target, consistently up my average daily totals towards it. I have found the sleep tracking feature is the most beneficial portion for me, which surprised me. I have been having a lot of zomg I feel like I’m half dead but I got 7.5 hours of sleep last night days. The fitbit sleep tracking has shown that I sleep extremely poorly under certain conditions (stress, 1 to many alcoholic beverages, heat, off schedule, etc). What it has done is alerted me to the day before, and helped me find a pattern, so I can compensate. On a day when I am over stressed, do 15 mins of yoga before bed, if I have a drink to stop one before I think I would want to, things of that nature. Which in turn has upped my walking during the day because I feel less dead.

  11. I used to wear a pedometer reliably, and then battery died. By the time I got a new battery I couldn’t find the pedometer. I *know* it was helpful for me, and I like the idea of these so much more than the pedometer. I’m just a bit hesitant to spend the money – will it lead to long-term changes?

  12. Beverly Kelsey says:

    I have been wanting to get the Nike bracelet to track my steps, calories etc…I am looking right now and really want to get one that works easy and not to expensive. I never heard of the Jawbone up.I am going to check it out. Thanks Anne for all your great tips!

  13. elizatwist says:

    I recently stumbled onto your site and am finally reading through and clicking on links. Thanks for sharing your insights! You confirmed something that recently experienced myself when I took on a fitness based project of my own: I set out to get my post-childbearing body back using Pilates. I’m not done yet, but I’ve made excellent progress and I attribute it mostly to the mere fact that I set my attention upon the goal and tracked my progress. I didn’t realize that it would make such a difference, but from day to day that goal kept me going in spite of the obstacles that are always a part of my life.

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