My watch is telling me I’m unproductive. But maybe that’s okay?

I got a new watch. I love it. It’s a fancy-pants fitness-watch, because that seems to be who I am at the moment. It’s got so much technology inside its over-sized face it could probably power NASA missions to the moon. It measures my heart rate and oxygen levels, how much I move, sleep or breath, and does all manner of behind-the-scenes calculations to establish my fitness and training effectiveness. Trying to work it all out and keep things in the right zones is exhausting.

Lately it has taken to telling me my exercise activities are unproductive. Apparently my load is balanced, but my fitness is declining. It encourages me to rest and consider my nutrition, the latter of which I assume it knows nothing about. As of yet, my food preparation devices are not connected to the interweb. I’m a hypochondriac, so reading a phrase like your VO2 Max levels are declining, or changes in your heart rate variability contributes to this measure, sets my health anxiety cat amongst the pigeons of my good intentions.

All the advice on the internet is to ignore these AI proclamations and listen to your body. And the truth is, I am tired. I feel tired a lot at the moment, and no, it’s not my iron levels, say the doctors. Their conclusion too is a need for more rest and better sleep. Maybe it’s the “peri-menopause”, which seems to come with all manner of symptoms that fit the bill. And let’s face it, I turn 50 this year, so there has to be a little wear-and-tear in the system undermining optimal performance.

But what did I get the watch for if not to track my exercise and help me improve? If I listened to my body I’d never, ever go for a run again. Jump-squats? Forget it. If I listened to my body right now, I’d be lying on the sofa eating junk food and watching my current favourite TV show on Netflix (Call my Agent…love it).

I think the real problem is that I’m trying to appease my watch. I’m trying to satisfy the whims of an artificial entity, as though it were a very small, very smart authority figure attached to my right wrist. A long time spent psychoanalysing myself over the past decade identified a stubbornly hard-to-shift predilection for external validation. The Garmin, lacking in emotional intelligence, is failing to satisfy this need.

Being labelled unproductive bothers me. I spend a lot of my life trying to be productive, as if productivity is a measure of a life well lived. I’m not alone. A lot of women do this. Juggle multiple things in an effort to have it all. Being busy-busy proving our value. Ticking things off the list, making strides, achieving things. Juggling being a financially productive member of our household with managing the mental and physical needs of our family unit, trying to keep up with the emotional rollercoaster that is having teenagers (or toddlers, or cantankerous grandparents) in the house, trying to find time to do something for yourself – like a masters in neuroscience or a gardening course in how not to kill house plants. No wonder we’re exhausted. Our attention networks are overloaded, we have a lot of tabs open in our mind and we’re trying to run down multiple roads at the same time.

There is a lesson here. A lesson the watch is offering, like a wise old yogi in a virtual ashram. Calm down. Relax. Stop focusing on achievement, as though awards and accolades mark progress towards some mythical destination where you have properly exercised “your potential”. Stop measuring everything against some ideal version of yourself, as though that person could ever actually exist.

 It’s a good lesson. One I wish I knew how to ingrain into my neural connectome for lasting change. Perhaps the watch could do with a tweak of copy to assist me in this mission. The addition of three little words behind the proclamation of unproductive. “Unproductive. And that’s okay.” Maybe it’s up to me to add them myself.

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