Last Saturday, I got a Fitbit Blaze watch. No worries: It was a gift, so our hard-earned retirement savings didn’t go towards fluff purchase. In any case, after only a few days of use, I’ve already learned some valuable and unexpected lessons applicable to FIRE.
SET REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
Will is a runner. He has competed in biathlons, triathlons, and marathons. I, on the other hand, get exhausted just watching him put on running shorts in the morning. I prefer leisurely strolls–if I have to exercise at all. (Yes, walking the camino was a HUGE stretch for me…)
This is all to say that I was a bit dismayed when I saw that the Blaze watch had a default setting of five miles of daily exercise that I was not even approaching the first couple of days of wear. Sure, Will easily dispatched that goal in his morning run, but I walked and walked and walked and didn’t seem to go near that goal. (More on that soon.)
After giving up in frustration at not reaching my goal, I made a decision. I simply re-set my goal to four miles. My reasoning was that I didn’t appear to have difficulty reaching three miles, but the additional two miles seemed so impossible for my daily activity routine that I threw my hands up in defeat. On the other had, once I re-set my mileage goal, I found that I pushed myself a little harder in the hopes of actually reaching my goal. One night, as we were returning from walking our dog Katie, I noticed that I had 3.88 miles. Then I did something Will has never seen me do before: I ran back and forth in our condo parking area. I was so close that I was not about to admit defeat a mere 0.12 of a mile short of victory!
Likewise, I think it’s important that we all set realistic but challenging goals for our FIRE plans. If you KNOW you cannot save $50,000 dollars in a couple of years on an annual salary of $30,000, then you need to adjust your expectations. Otherwise, this savings plan is doomed for failure. But if you earn $100,000 a year, then make sure that you have a goal that you need to push yourself a bit to achieve. Surely you can save MORE than the default settings!
VERIFY YOUR SETTINGS AND RE-CALIBRATE AS NECESSARY
At first I was puzzled that it was so difficult for me to approach five miles since I wasn’t having the same problem reaching 10,000 steps. Well, it turns out those default five miles seemed so hard because of pre-set stride-length settings for my height.
So then I pulled out the big guns of research; that is, I turned on the GPS on my smartphone. I walked a part of a path wearing my watch and also carrying my phone and discovered that the two yielded surprisingly varied results. My watch said I walked 1.0 mile, but the GPS on my phone said 1.36. So I attempted recalibration. The next day was slightly better when my watch said I walked 2.0 miles to my phone’s 2.49.
This discrepancy is going to push me to do something this week that I do not normally like to do: I’m going to have to run. Apparently when I go running with my watch with the GPS bluetooth connection to my phone, the stride length will eventually re-calibrate and adjust to the correct length so that I can get the credit I deserve.
My experience with the calibration of stride-length reminds me that we can’t just set up our asset allocations and then completely forget about it. That 75/25 (equity/bonds) allocation might have turned to 80/20 in a couple of years. We need to adjust according to the reality of our current situation rather than relying on default settings or even our investments goals (or stride-lenghts) of five years ago.
SEEK AND ENJOY POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT
Here I am, in my middle age, and hopefully approaching early retirement. And yet I feel ridiculously giddy at being told by my watch that I did a good job of reaching my daily fitness goals!
But that’s the point, isn’t it? If we DON’T get a thrill out of each little bit of success and each milestone reached, we can’t actually sustain a long-term goal, whether fitness, financial, or otherwise.
Do I feel slightly silly reporting to my Fitbit app that I drank another 8 oz glass of water and that it now needs to reflect 56 instead of the current 48 ounces it’s recorded? Yes, of course. Do I feel like I’m cheating that I take Katie out for a walk 7:50am-8:10am so that I can get TWO dots for activity that spans two different hourly segments? Well, sure, a bit. Will I keep insisting that my app credit me with each step taken and each flight of stairs climbed? No doubt.
I’ve even started “cheering” on Fitbit friends, the same way I’ve started commenting on FIRE blog posts and responding to other readers. We are social creatures, and it’s important to feel that we are not saving (or exercising) in isolation. We might be mature and successful people approaching early retirement, but it’s difficult to go against the flow of consumer culture (or physical inertia) unless we’re getting regular and reliable positive reinforcement.
We all need to be told, every now and then (ok, maybe every day!), “Wow, that’s a lot of green!”