Walk – Sleep – Walk again: Positive Psychology and the Quantified Self

Those of you that visit Mappalicious on a regular basis know that I´ve started tracking certain behaviors of mine a while ago (see: Are you short on Willpower and Self-Regulation? These Apps can help You). But until now, it was more or less about keeping a journal and a (sophisticated) to-do list.

FitBitFlexNow, I´m taking things a step further: At the beginning of the year, I decided to lose some weight. I´ve already lost about 18 pounds – but if things go my way, I will get rid of an additional 15 to 20 or so. Part of that has to do with controlling my diet – but I´m not going to talk about that here.

The other part is about burning enough calories per day, and regularly getting a sufficient amount of sleep. Both tend to be problematic issues when you´ve got a management job, a family, and several part-time “jobs” (e.g., blogging). Doesn´t sound like Positive Psychology at first glance, but I think physiological well-being plays a big role in psychological well-being – so it definitly belongs on the menu.

To support me on my misson, I´ve bought the FitBit Flex a couple of days ago.* It´s a wristband that is – among other things – able to track your steps and your sleep pattern. It´s connects to a smartphone app via Bluetooth and is really easy to use. It comes in different colors, it´s waterproof and also pretty shock-resitant, so you can wear it pretty much all the time. One of my goals is to walk at least 10,000 steps each day. The Flex tracks your progress and (upon request…) gives feedback via five tiny LEDs – each LED amounts to roughly 20% goal fulfillment.

The first thing I found out: a regular day at the office (screenshot right; including walking to get on the bus and train etc., running around at the office) is far from enough to reach that goal. When I came home in the evening, there were still at least 4,000 steps missing. I compensated that by walking around in our living room reading on the Kindle but that drove my wife nuts – so I guess I have to find another way to get moving over the day. On the other hand, going for a one-hour walk almost nails it for the day (screenshot left).

FitBit Walk

You can also have a closer look at your progress over the day. Below, you´ll find the details from the regular office day. Basically, what you see is me getting to work in the morning, going to the canteen for lunch, getting a coffee at the cafeteria in the afternoon, and getting home in the evening. Finally, the outburst around 10 p.m. is the abovementioned reading vs. walking spree.


Now what about the sleeping part? Via klicking on that little display for about two seconds, the Flex can be switched to sleep tracking mode after going to bed. Once again, it bascially measures your movements, which does not 100% exactly mirror your sleeping pattern – but it´s a good estimate nevertheless. A graph will show you when you´ve been asleep, awake (e.g., running around) or restless (moving a lot while lying down). Below, you can see my sleep pattern from last night and the one before:


The first night, Little Guru slept  – well… – like a baby (should). The second night, he deciced to be a fully-grown pain in the ass – resulting in having to get up a couple of times during the night. To give it a positive twist: Isn´t it nice to recognize those micro-moments of love in a simple diagram? 🙂


* Other options would have been the Nike Fuel or Jawbone Up, but after reading some reviews on Amazon and consulting with some friends, I went for the FitBit Flex…

Somaesthetics: On the Role of Physical Exercise and “neck-down” Interventions in Positive Psychology

The MAPP program is a fulltime program – but combines onsite classes with long-distance learning periods. Part of the distance learning comprises a lot of reading (Who would have thought of that…) and writing essays about a wide array of positive psychology topics. I´ve decided to post some of those essays here on Mappalicious. Surely, they´re not the be-all and end-all of academic writing. But then again, it would also be a pity to bury them in the depths of my laptop…

Jump Jump

Sir Winston Churchill, British prime minister during World War II, is often cited with the quote “First of all: No sports.”* At the same time, it is well-known that he experienced recurring bouts of severe depression all through his life. Churchill is publicly perceived as one of the greatest political leaders of the 20th century – but he may have erred severely pertaining to the issue of physical activity. I will argue that building people´s self-efficacy and perception of agency should be a goal of all positive interventions, and that “neck-down” interventions, such as regular physical activity, are an easily accessible instrument to build up these resources.

In his review article that covers 30 years of research on goal-setting, Locke (1996) points out the importance of conscious goal-setting for motivational processes. To support this notion, he elaborates on different conditions and processes that foster the relationship between goals, motivation, and performance. For instance, he states that goal difficulty, goal clarity, and commitment to one´s goals are enablers of high performance across a wide array of tasks. In addition, he explicates how frequent goal-directed feedback and beliefs about the attainability of one´s objectives are beneficial to high levels of achievement. Ideally, these beliefs can initiate an upward spiral: Self-efficacy is conducive to attaining goals, which in turn builds up more self-efficacy, which in turn helps to attain more difficult goals in the future. Furthermore, Locke argues that the process of effective goal-setting can be taught and learned – which is important because reaching goals, especially difficult ones, is beneficial to build and sustain personal satisfaction with life.

Somewhat similar to Locke´s findings, hope theory (Lopez, Snyder, Magyar-Moe, Edwards, Pedrotti, Janowski, et al., 2004) stresses the human capacity for setting goals, envisioning approaches that enable us to reach those goals, and thus for summoning the necessary motivation to follow through. Hope is delineated as the expectancy that a change for the better is possible, thereby being a meta-resource for all kinds of change processes. Without hope, they would probably be no impulse to act at all. People can be hopeful about goals in general, broad aspects of life, and also very specific goals. The authors posit – again somewhat similar to goal-setting theory – that hope can initiate an upward spiral: Initial hope increases the probability for early progress which than acts as a resource for building further hope.

As expressed in the first paragraph, there is considerable support for the idea that physical activity such as regular jogging or working out at a gym can be a way to build up self-efficacy and optimism. Most interestingly, this increase in self-efficacy may not be confined to that specific domain of activity. There is some evidence that there may be a (positive) spillover effect to other areas of life. In this spirit, Richard Shusterman (2006) makes the case for a new research agenda called Somaesthetics. He claims that the branch of sciences labeled as “the Humanities” has neglected the role of the body over the last 2,500 years. Arguing that the body is the “tool” for each and every human performance, Shusterman posits that coming to a better understanding of the interplay between the body and human cognition and emotion could improve our understanding of (positive) developmental processes in general. In his flow of arguments, Shusterman suggests the body is a major source of agency and autonomy since physical movement is the perfect embodiment of exerting free will. Later in his article, he also elaborates on how performers of any every kind can profit from an enhanced bodily awareness since it will help them to practice (and subsequently, perform) more stress-free and therefore, longer. Yet, in his opinion, a fully functioning body is not just a means to an end, but can be an end in itself – since feeling healthy and fully-functional brings about a pleasure of its own kind.

Much in the same vein, Mutrie and Faulkner (2004) state that the body plays an essential role in human cognition and emotion. They summarize their article by stating there is convincing evidence that supports the link between physical activity and well-being, first by preventing mental health problems, second by functioning as a direct treatment of mental disorders, and third by improving the quality of life of people with mental health problems as well as the non-clinical population. Similar to Shusterman (2006), Mutrie and Faulkner believe this to be a result of the specific way physical activity is capable of strengthening self-efficacy and perceived autonomy, the feeling of being in control, and optimism. They conclude by saying that, in their opinion, regular physical exercise embodies the principles of positive psychology to a great extent and should therefore complement the extant canon of positive interventions.

To summarize: Building up self-efficacy, a feeling of agency, and optimism, is an underlying principle of positive interventions. “Neck-down” interventions can be instrumental in building up these general resources. To a varying extent, physical activity is accessible to (almost) every person on this planet, can be initiated at will, and comes at virtually no cost (in the case of jogging etc.). Yet, it is not only a means to end – but rather a pathway to well-being itself.


  • Locke, E. A. (1996). Motivation through conscious goal-setting. Applied and Preventive Psychology, 5(2), 117-124.
  • Lopez, S. J., Snyder, C. R., Magyar-Moe, J. L., Edwards, L., Pedrotti, J. T. Janowski, K., et al. (2004). Strategies for accentuating hope. In P. A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive Psychology in Practice (pp. 388-404). Hoboken: Wiley.
  • Mutrie, N., & Faulkner, G. (2004). Physical activity: Positive psychology in motion. In P. A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive Psychology in Practice (pp. 146-164). Hoboken: Wiley.
  • Shusterman, R. (2006).Thinking through the body, educating for the humanities: A plea for somaesthetics. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 40(1), 1-21.
*However, there is considerable evidence that this may be a misquotation.