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Jake Marx

With the holiday season in full swing, you may be considering buying one of the latest wearable technology devices. Over the last few years, we’ve tried just about every consumer wearable device on the market. You’d be amazed at the looks people give me when I walk into a coffee shop with flashing lights coming from under my shirt thanks to all the rings, arm bands, watches, headbands, and other sensors covering my body. While some devices may be more accurate or more aesthetically pleasing than others, we've found that the most important thing is how you use the device rather than which device you get.

Wearable sensors have pretty much the same limitations and benefits regardless of the brand. Becoming knowledgeable about the limitations and benefits of these sensors can help you pick which one is right for you. Here are some of the limitations we've found through our testing:

.01 Almost every device overpromises and underdelivers. This typically manifests as either poor quality of data or overstatement of the usefulness of the parameter being measured. If you already have a device, you most likely have tried to check your heart rate or measure your sleep and knew immediately that it was inaccurate. Although sensors have come a long way in improving their data, there is still a long way to go. When talking with my colleague at Stanford about the wearable industry, he simply said, “It’s the wild west out there.”

.02 There are very few products that make the data useful to consumers. Ok, you completed your 10,000 steps. What does that mean? My sleep quality was poor... what should I do with that? In reality, the impact that these data points have on our performance is highly individualized and means very little without adding subjective feedback. There are a few products beginning to tie these data points together and create a “virtual coach” feel. However, at this stage, none of these feel truly tangible enough to keep users engaged (especially not this user), but they are getting closer.

.03 The nocebo effect. Many products are now combining sleep measures with movement and other data points to provide the user with a “readiness score.” In theory, it sounds great. I can learn how to maximize all my data points to ensure I’m ready for the day. But, what happens when I’m traveling all over the world, sleep deprived, and my readiness score is 45%? This can have a significant detrimental psychosomatic effect because you’re already starting to think you're in trouble before the day has even begun. In reality, there are times when we can actually perform well, despite a suboptimal readiness score, as long as we’re strategic and plan for High Performance Recovery afterword.

We’re not suggesting wearable devices have no utility. They can be very powerful when used correctly. In fact, we’ve found time and time again that we can multiply the power of wearable technology by combining it with the ultimate biosensor: YOU.

Many of us have been on the speed train for so long that we become numb to the impact that our habits have on us. By using a week or two of consistent data from wearable devices, you can heighten your awareness around how your movement, sleep, resting heart rate, etc. actually impact how you feel and perform. We refer to this as an awareness sprint.

Here’s how to do it:

.01 Pick one variable that your device measures reliably, and track it closely for 1-2 weeks. Let’s use movement as an example. It’s likely that most devices would track steps, intensity of movement, and frequency of movement and also give you the option to manually log activities.

.02 Reflect on how you felt and performed each day. Do you still have energy left in the tank or are you burnt out at the end of the day? How solution-oriented, creative, focused, or purposeful were you? How does your body feel? You could ask yourself any number of questions that you find important here based on which variable you're testing.

.03 Cross-reference your answers to those questions with your data each day. Do you notice any trends? Do you notice an ideal number of steps, intensity of movement, or frequency of movement that optimizes your performance? Was there a specific type of movement that made you feel great or one that really drained you?

After 1-2 weeks of analysis, you'll identify some unique trends of your own. When we do movement awareness sprints with clients, they usually find (to their surprise) the most important movement variable for their performance is actually the frequency of movement rather than making sure they hit those 10,000 steps each day.

Creating this heightened awareness around how certain habits impact your performance helps you create the context to modify or focus your current approach. No matter which wearable device you have or decide to get this holiday season, we recommend you multiply its utility with an awareness sprint. The holidays are actually the perfect time to experiment, especially if you sometimes feel like you struggle with your movement, sleep, etc. this time of year.

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

Jake Marx

Tignum // Performance Coach