The holidays might ruin your Apple Watch fitness streak. Good.


All good streaks must come to an end
All good streaks must come to an end
Photo: Graham Bower / Cult of Mac

For many of us, Christmas is a time for relaxing with family, sitting in front of the TV, overindulging and generally moving as little as possible. In other words, all the things your Apple Watch hates you doing.

So if you have a nice streak going in the Activity app, chances are it is about to come to an abrupt end. And that may not be a bad thing.

The power of the streak

With each shiny “Perfect Week” medal I collect in the Activity app, my sense of pride and smugness steadily grows. I know I’m on a winning streak, and it feels awesome.

The Carolina Panthers have also been enjoying a winning streak recently. After 13 games, they remain unbeaten in the NFL and their fans are starting to hope for a perfect season.

Whether it’s your football team or your Apple Watch, the trouble with streaks is we get so distracted by them that we risk losing sight of our actual goals.

For an NFL team, the ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl. This means once you have clinched your postseason place, your main priority is to avoid injuries so you’re ready for the playoffs. A head coach would willingly sacrifice a streak in order to win the championship.

It is not about the perfect streak

For most of us, our goals are far more mundane than winning the Super Bowl. We just want to improve our health and fitness. Maybe we’re in training for a running event. Perhaps we want to lose weight. Whatever it may be, your ultimate goal is almost certainly not just to collect pretend medals in the Activity app.

Apple Watch is incredibly valuable as a tool to help keep us motivated because it raises our situational awareness. We can literally see how we are doing, thanks to the Activity app’s brightly colored goal rings. It shows us the important details. But we should not let all that detail make us overlook the bigger picture of why we started in the first place.

I was reminded of this fact when I caught up with Paul Loewen, one of the Cult of Mac readers featured in our Apple Watch success stories roundup back in October. Since then, Paul has been on an impressive 64-day streak. But this week he intentionally let his streak fail.

“I was starting to obsess about it and it was getting in my headspace all day,”
Paul explains. “I didn’t want to break the streak.”

And that is the trouble with the Activity app. It is compulsive. When you get the taste for success, you want more of it. Before you know it, you are obsessing about keeping a streak going. This compulsive quality may be the reason behind its success, but too much of it could have a negative impact.

Paul’s goal for getting fit was to have more energy to get up and chase the kids around. And enjoying time with loved ones is exactly what Christmas is all about. So he decided it felt right to take a break from the streak to enjoy the real benefits of his improved fitness instead.

Paul Loewen is taking a break from his streak this Christmas
Paul Loewen is taking a break from his Apple Watch streak.
Photo: Paul Loewen

It’s the perfect effort that counts

All this talk of streaks reminded me of 2014 movie When the Game Stands Tall, which tells the story of a high school football team that achieved an incredible 11-year, 151-game winning streak.

The responsibility of maintaining the streak became a heavy burden. The team’s coach tells his players that it was never about a perfect streak. All that counted was that they put in a perfect effort. This helped them to reconnect with each other and to rediscover what is really important about the game.

I think this insight makes my obsession with earning trophies on my Apple Watch seem a bit trivial by comparison. Sometimes we need to take a step back from the streak and ask ourselves what this is really all about.

Give it a rest

Paul says he already feels the benefit of getting some rest. “Having taken yesterday off, I realized the importance of a break, both from a physical and a mental aspect,” he said. “Once I decided to give the streak up, I felt emotionally lighter.”

The concept of rest is something Apple Watch currently lacks. And that is a major omission. The Activity app expects you to do the same amount of exercise every day, whereas most fitness experts would agree we benefit from taking a weekly day off.

If you are trying to keep a streak alive, it is all too tempting to skip the rest days you need just to reach your daily goals. To solve this, I would like to see Apple add the concept of skipped days, so you could plan to take regular rest periods without interrupting your streak.

Time to end the streak

The streak mentality that Apple Watch engenders can be a powerful motivator. And most of the time, that is a good thing. But sometimes it makes sense to let a streak come to an end. After all, there will be plenty of time for New Year’s resolutions in 2016. Until then, enjoy the holidays.