Kevin D. Arnold, Ph.D.

Kevin D. Arnold Ph.D., ABPP

The Older Dad

FitBiTillomania: A Great “Obsession”

The Joy of a Healthy "Obsession" is a Wrist Band Away

Posted Sep 16, 2014

You’ve seen me—I’m the guy that walks back and forth in the hallway, around my patio, and up and down the driveway. I’m obsessed….with serving my Fitbit. I have FitBiTillomania.

What is it about these little devices we wear that gives them so much power to control our behavior? Here are five reasons why Fitbits (http://www.fitbit.com) are so “addictive.”

1.  Passive Feedback: A key way to overcome unhealthy behaviors (like not exercising) involves being honest with ourselves. The Fitbit stops how we ignore how little we exercise by proving us with feedback on our “steps,” without any real effort on our part. The more we must work to keep track of our steps, the less likely we will pay attention to how little we've done. Fitbit solves most, if not all, of this barrier by effortless self-tracking.

2.  Truthful Evidence: How many times have we tricked ourselves into minimizing (or dismissing) negatives and magnifying positives. Without a Fitbit, we convince ourselves that we exercise more than we do, and nothing can refute our convicted (mis)belief.  The Fitbit won’t lie to us (unless you intentionally cheat it with arm motions).  With a simple tap of the wrist, it tells us our progress with little dots. When we open our phone app, we can find out the exact number of steps we walked. We have to be honest with ourselves, because the Fitbit speaks the truth.

3.  Rewards: Rewards increase behaviors—that’s the definition of a reward. Of course, rewards must be delivered in a quick, and meaningful way. The Fitbit outdoes the Skinner Box in delivering immediate rewards: When you meet your daily goal, it vibrates a friendly “Way-To-Go!” while the lights flash in an approving pattern. As our day unfolds, and we progress toward our goal...the Fitbit sends us an update, “You’re almost there!”  If you hit a milestone, like 100,000 steps, you earn a badge that anyone in your circle will hear about. The Fitbit works because of sound behavioral principles.

4.  Social Pressure: Remember when, as a teen, you did whatever everyone else did? We are all still prone to give into social pressure, and the Fitbit uses social “encouragement” to get you started and keep you going. So many people have begun to use these devices that you bump into someone with a device all the time. According to ZNet (http://www.zdnet.com/canalys-wearable-band-shipments-up-684-percent-fitbit-and-jawbone-lead-7000032848/), the 2014 worldwide sales of Fitbit like devices has reached over 4,000,000 (that’s million). Wearing one is the newest fashion statement, and Fitbits make us hip.

5.  Friendly Competition: Fitbit’s app allows you to create a circle of friends that you can watch to see how your last 7 days of steps compare to theirs…..and they can keep track of you too. If someone wants to encourage you, they can “Cheer” you….or if they want to be a little devil, they “Taunt” you.  Competition can make most of us work harder if we know others are watching.

Most of us could benefit from more exercise. We sit in offices or at home, in restaurants, in cars...we could do better. The Mayo Clinic (http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/adult-health/in-depth/office-exercise/art-20047394) recommends things like taking exercise breaks, and standing part of the time while working.

So, when you walk around the patio, or up and down the hall, just let folks know you're becoming healthier. Your friends already know you’ve taken the lead in steps! And, besides, you have to walk some more...You have FitBiTillomania.