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Byline: THIS MUCH I KNOW Lynne Barrett-Lee

SINCE I'm not generally one for New Year resolutions, I feel a little sheepish confessing that I've spent the first week of January with a hi-tech doohickey strapped to my wrist. No, not an iWatch, which piece of arm candy I've never hankered after. It's the fitness monitoring device I've had my eye on for a while now, on account of having been suckered into the kind of angst that's popular among the worried well, about the slothful nature of my Western world existence.

Not that I feel particularly slothful. Yes, my day job is sedentary and my commute just a flight of stairs, but I'm not so much fretting about becoming a complete lard-arse as sold on the idea that if I walk a daily 10,000 steps, something magical will happen and all manner of things shall be well and unicorns will once again walk the Earth.

And you know what? Despite the suckerquotient (I fully realise I'm just another member of yet another anxious herd) it really HAS been some kind of minor miracle.

It's pretty straightforward, too, as miracles so often are. You wear the doohickey and, via the usual array of dark mystic arts (plus some funky green flickering lightage and an array of cutesy, encouraging icons), you get all manner of important data about the status of your physical health. How many steps you've walked, obviously, your heart-rate, your distance travelled, the calories you've burned (assuming you don't travel with accompanying pastries), the number of flights of stairs you've climbed - climbing stairs is officially brilliant - and, when you go to bed, even the duration and quality of your sleep.

So far, so good - and yes, obviously, if you're not me, so "whatever". But what's really struck me is just what an efficient motivator all this measuring business is. It's a bit like having a personal Jiminy Cricket on your wrist. That, or a stern but muchrespected elderly aunt, under whose good auspices you very much want to be.

I want so badly to produce an impressive sleep graph that I properly go at it - mainlining peppermint tea, taking the batteries out of the TV remote and even eschewing my trusty Kindle and a chunk of distracting fiction in favour of stern, if silent, talkings-to and the deployment of a flock of irritable sheep.

I also speak in bullying tones to my resting heart-rate. Often. And if it fails to comply with my yogic ambitions, I adopt yoga positions and go "ommm" till it does.

And when it comes to the walking part, I am borderline obsessive. No, scrap that. I'm just obsessive. As in borderline deranged. That car in the outer reaches of an otherwise empty supermarket car park? That'll be me. That plan to walk the six miles home after a night out in Cardiff? Me as well. I also stair-climb my real stairs at home. For no reason. I even invent reasons, so I don't feel quite so silly. Such as the important redeployment of, say, a small cardigan. Anything and everything in the pursuit of a single goal - that all-important, life-affirming, arm-fizzing bleep which confirms that, whatever else I might once have been or ever may be, today I am a person who has done 10,000 steps.

And you know what REALLY strikes me? As in seriously. Over and above all the other ridiculousness. That since this kind of goal-setting seems to galvanize people, someone should invent a doohickey for measuring other stuff as well.

A doohickey that ingeniously looks outwards instead of inwards and, in so doing, addresses so much more than BMI, peak flow and dress size. That could have the same positive effect on both society and our mental health.

Smiling at strangers for instance, with special situation-specific bonus points. Trains and buses, say. When in England. In lengthy post office queues. "Well done! You have notched up 10,000 smiles today!" Performing unsolicited acts of kindness. Telling loved ones that we love them. Taking time to smell a rose in the thick of a busy weekday.

Just imagine if a doohickey on our wrists could measure all that for us. Could plot graphs of general niceness and mindfulness and fellowfeeling. Could condition us as efficiently as Pavlov did his doggies. I mean, wouldn't that be wonderful? And I reckon someone will invent one. You wait and see.

That and the unicorns, of course.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 9, 2016
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