Why are we so skeptical of the things right in front of us? “Turns Out It’s Pretty Good” is a series that examines the path from resisting the well-known to wholeheartedly endorsing it.
I used to think that the thing I missed the most about the days before 2020 were the activities themselves. The going to bars and getting coffee, the strolling through museums, the concerts that were very loud, the occasional diner breakfast with hash browns, and of course, haha, hanging out with friends.
But then one week this fall, right as it started to get cold, I realized that I had advanced past the point of missing actual activities, and instead longed for the passivity of plain old walkin’ around. Many of life’s best events come with built-in aimless exercise: In order to get from point A to point B, you are forced to use your body for locomotion. They say life isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey, and suddenly without anywhere to go or anything to do, I came to understand what those greeting cards meant. I had been arrogant to forget about the inherent greatness of the journey.
With most businesses closed or operating with limited capacity, seeking the motivation to get some fresh air is like Nicolas Cage looking for national treasure: I didn’t know if I was ever going to find it. I’ve heard that this is one reason people get a dog or have a child — so that they’ll forever have a dependent mammal looking into their eyes with desperation, imploring them to please go outside.
I have neither dog nor human. So instead, I got a pedometer.
Before all of this, I would have rolled my eyes into the back of my skull if you suggested that I should purchase anything that could be considered a “wearable.” “Everything can be a wearable if you want it to be,” I would have smugly told you while spending the sum total of my 401(k) on nail polish at Walgreens. I used to think that smart watches like FitBits were for tech bros and hot moms. I didn’t want some gadget tracking my steps — and here, I would lower my voice — because of Big Brother. The 10,000-steps-a-day thing has been debunked anyway, so I would take as many steps as I damn well pleased. I’d end by paraphrasing a greeting card: Life isn’t about the steps you take — life is a highway.
Then one day in June, I shit you not, I walked 178 steps. (In my defense, this was when my phone tracked my steps because Big Brother is always watching, and it’s possible I didn’t have my phone with me all day.) (Though, if I’m being honest, I know the truth.) With nowhere to go, I realized I needed something, anything to remind me that a nice walk outside is a good temporary cure for the Modern Era Blues. Forlorn and a little ashamed, I asked my partner to order me a good and not-annoying gadget that would convince me to take a little stroll now and again.
When my step-tracking watch arrived, I instantly hated it, even though it is literally just a watch with a second smaller dial that shows if I’ve moved my limbs that day. I set my goal to 10,000 steps a day, and every day, I would look down at that dial and think, “Fuck, it’s already 4 p.m. and that little hand has hardly moved.” Then, I saw a slow change. When I felt I was being bullied by my new watch’s smug face and bright-blue watch band, I would respond by taking little breaks throughout the day in order to get — as they say — “some steps in.” I started to think about the watch as if it were a very long string that just happened to be connected to my wrist. This string was, say, five miles long and out in the world. If I reached the end of the string, I was given the reward of emotional reprieve, that vitamin D I had been hearing so much about, and some quality time away from my computer. My moods, from doing something as simple as walking, vastly improved. Who would have thought.
By no means am I saying that I went from 178 steps to 10,000 steps every day — but I did start to feel motivation show its face for the first time in months. Seeing the little dial tick upward reminded me that there was indeed an activity that was safe and worth doing, and it didn’t involve going to Walgreens. I loved to walk before — I just had forgotten how to love it. This dumb little gadget only gave me a little nudge in the right direction.
In the beginning of the pandemic, back when it all felt novel, I remember seeing a news story about this French guy who ran a marathon on his 23-foot balcony. He estimates he did roughly 3,000 laps. It took him over six hours, and the last laps were run in darkness. He did it to honor the health-care workers fighting for people’s lives, he said. That’s nice. My motivations for getting some laps in are far less noble, and only a fifth as ambitious, but they’re getting me out of the house, and for now, I don’t even have anywhere to go.