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Can a Fitbit create a transformational learning experience?

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5 February 2015

Can a Fitbit create a transformational learning experience?

by Laurent Bernard

Like more and more people, I have a Fitbit — a little device that captures a lot of information about me: how much I walk or exercise, how well I sleep and even what I eat.

After months of ubernardsing it, I wanted to share some of my findings and ask whether we can learn something from the Fitbit experience that we can replicate in the work environment. My goal is not to talk about wellness best practices, but to provide some thinking about how we can better manage change. I’m thinking about transformational learning, which uses new skills to gain a new perspective and new behaviors.

I got my Fitbit more because it was trendy than because I thought I really needed it. What does knowing that tell me about my motivation? It means that by keeping this mindset I would probably miss the opportunity for transformative learning. So, why do I need a Fitbit? What am I trying to accomplish?

The Fitbit experience is, first of all, a great feedback experience. This device does not point the finger at me or blame me; it just shows me the facts. It is interesting to see how receptive we are to facts when at the same time we can be so resistant if someone points the finger at us — even if the person is right. The straight facts are essential for effective feedback.

But a fact without later reflection has limited value. If the facts are telling me that I don’t walk a lot, that is not enough to trigger change in the long run. At best I will have a response called reactive learning, which never lasts.

This was in reality my first response to using the Fitbit. But once I realized this, I decided to work on transforming my beliefs and creating a purpose. I can work on changing my behaviors if I have a meaningful reason. So I defined my objectives:

  • In the short term, improving my stress management
  • In the longer term, maintaining the best and longest quality of life — which means outdoors activities and a social life, like traveling with family or friends

Then I had to face my reality: If walking more than 15,000 steps every day would support my purpose, why don’t I do it? Why don’t I walk enough? What worries are keeping me from walking more? Thinking this way means understanding why I do things as I do and what prevents me from changing. To put it differently, what do I need to remove from my belief system to finally make a change?

Such reflection tells us a lot about ourselves and the choices we make every day.

In my case, I had to start removing from my mind the idea that I have time in the future to keep healthy. I didn’t see myself as aging, so I needed to create a sense of urgency for change and start to become disciplined. This discipline showed up in two areas:

  • Routines: Habits and routines are a good thing — but my current habits were misaligned with my challenge to work on my well-being. Achieving my purpose required changing my routines — and the Fitbit acted as a disruptor. Designing new routines as experiments to serve my purpose was really the key. These included leveraging good habits (like walking my dogs) and creating new habits, like using the elliptical and stretching, rethinking how I organize my workday and week, sitting less, picking meeting rooms on different floors, parking far from the building, etc.
  • Motivation: To motivate you, the Fitbit delivers data and the notion of gamification — belonging to a group and challenging each other, encouraging each other or taunting each other is fun. It looks like you work out alone, but you feel like you’re doing it in group. Belonging to a shared-purpose community is a great way to relearn and to commit to a new routine.

So what did I learn from my Fitbit experience that I can reuse for my personal transformational learning and growth at work?

I learned to do this: Use feedback based on facts for clues, build a sense of purpose, create a sense of urgency, understand what currently stops you from doing something, reflect on your own story, leverage some routines and create new ones that involve having fun with others and creating a sense of community. This just may be a magic recipe.


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