For years now the old paper and pencil method of tracking goal progress has gone the way of the dodo. Smartphones can record our every step and tablets keep a tally of the pages read in our e-books. Tech bracelets clock in our miles and apps count our calories. However, research is uncovering how the effects of all this record-keeping can actually diminish how much we enjoy the activity itself.
A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research recently detailed how we enjoy an activity less when we know it is being quantified. And the type of activity does not seem to matter—if we know our progress is being recorded it takes away from the appeal and overall pleasure of what we are doing.
The researchers held a series of experiments asking participants to complete tasks on their own or while being told their progress was being tallied. Those who colored in shapes, for example, while receiving feedback after each completed shape ended up coloring more, yet enjoying the activity less. This was true when participants were asked to read for a period of time while the number of pages read were tallied. Finally, people asked to wear pedometers reported not having as much fun walking as the other participants—even when they did not know their step count!
Before you start pitching your Fitbit and deleting your running apps, be aware that the motivation behind our chosen activities plays a big role in whether or not quantifying our progress is helpful. Jordan Etkin, a Duke University marketing professor behind the study, told The Atlantic, “The reason why you’re engaging in the activity matters a lot. If it’s something that’s really goal-directed—I’m walking to lose weight, I’m walking because I want to be healthier—if walking serves some goal that I have, then measurement doesn’t make it feel less enjoyable. In fact, it can have some benefits for enjoyment.”
The distinction is between something we do for a driven purpose or for the sheer enjoyment of it. She explains, “The negative effects of measurement are really where you were just doing something for fun. Measurement makes it not fun.”
So, the next time you hit the pavement or walk into your favorite fitness class, ask yourself if you are there for pleasure or for a goal-driven purpose. If you are being active because it feels good, try turning off your measurement devices and truly experience the present-moment. Life is already full of things we do not enjoy, why turn something delightful into something dull?