New studies show that it’s hard to persuade people to exercise, even with a fitness tracker that counts your steps. Even when people were rewarded with cash for being active, they showed little improvement in their health.
“This isn’t the first scientific blow to wearables; a study in September found that when people were put on a weight loss program and told to either wear a device or not, those who wore one lost less weight, not more.”
One expert says:
“We found that just giving people a device doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to result in something you think it’s going to result in. These activity trackers really don’t engage people in strategies that really make a difference in terms of long-term lifestyle change.”
The rest of the article discusses ways the technology could improve, giving more incentive toward walking.
Fitbit and the Heart
I’ve been wearing a Fitbit for a couple years now. I enjoy it. The measuring of daily activity does move me to move more.
But the Fitbit itself cannot inspire; it can only inform. To put it another way, it’s not the Fitbit that motivates you to exercise; it’s your motivation to exercise that gets you interested in the Fitbit!
Measurement is one thing. Motivation is another. The Fitbit can track your heart rate, but it can’t change your heart. It can’t make you want to lose weight or be more active; it can only tell you how you’re reaching your goals.
Why People Smoke
Here’s an example of motivation coming from the flip side: a disincentive to a certain kind of behavior.
Cigarette packs sometimes have graphic pictures plastered on them. Rotting teeth and gums, people hooked up to breathing machines, a corpse, blackened lungs—these grisly images are the newest attempt by the government to curb smoking.
I don’t think the gruesome cigarette pictures will make a big difference, for the same reason I don’t think a Fitbit will suddenly make you healthy. Unhealthy behavior cannot be eradicated by merely pointing to the consequences.
The problem of addiction goes much deeper than a warning label. And though the FDA is commendably seeking to put an end to a destructive habit that leads to the premature deaths of thousands of people each year, it is naive to think that grisly images will deter a large number of smokers.
Heart of the Problem
Sometimes, we think about sin and sanctification in terms of cigarettes and Fitbits. We think that if we just warn people away from the consequences of sin, then people will steer clear. Sometimes, that works. But often, it doesn’t. Sin, after all, is irrational! It doesn’t make sense. That’s the whole nature of sinfulness—it goes against the reality of the world we live in. It goes against the grain of our intended submission to the One who has created us.
And on the flip side, we think that if we just give people tools that can track their spiritual habits and practices, such as a Bible reading plan, or a prayer journal, or a new book, then that will be the silver bullet to get people “walking” more with the Lord.
I thank God for these tools and methods. But measurement does not motivate. A reading plan won’t change the heart. These tools are like the Fitbit, a nice way to track your progress in a spiritual discipline. But unless your motivation comes from something deeper than tracking your progress, you are unlikely to stick with it.
Worship as Motivator
Yes, we should remind people of sin’s consequences. It is crouching at the door. It has the desire to master us. One of the ways we learn good behavior from bad behavior is by recognizing that our choices have consequences.
And yes, it’s good to have an intentional plan for discipleship. It is good to follow a Bible-reading plan, a prayer book, or a Bible study with people from your church.
But we should not assume that life change comes from the newest tool or from the most glaring warning. Measures and warnings can lead to temporary obedience, whether it be the desire to outshine the competition with your spiritual Fitbit, or the fear of facing consequences for sinful behavior. But neither of these can remove and replace a settled, sinful heart.
The problem is deeper. It’s a worship issue. Our destructive behaviors are not just behaviors. They are a symptom of a deeper problem—idolatry. Our affections are elsewhere. Our behavior follows our affections. And only the gospel can change the affections to the point that behavior follows.
So, this year, whether you’re wearing a new Fitbit or starting a new Bible reading plan, make sure you’re tending to the relationship with Jesus that will motivate your heart, not just to the tools that will measure your activity.