A couple of weeks ago I bought a Fitbit. I know. I’m not exactly an early adopter.

But I sit in front of a computer screen a lot, and of course I know that sitting is killing me.  I was feeling unfit and low on energy. I had gained a little weight. I had no idea how many steps a day I normally did. Enter the Fitbit.

Now my Fitbit Dashboard tells me each day how many steps I’ve taken, how many miles I’ve walked, how many minutes I’ve been active, how many calories I’ve burned, how many hours I've slept, and how many times I've been restless during the night.  It’s more data on my activity than I’ve ever had.

Two weeks later I’m out of my chair and walking more and more. I have to do my 10,000 steps or I won’t get the satisfaction of the little “Hooray!” icon that floats across the screen when I log into the dashboard. I’ve lost 1.2 kilos. I feel much better already.

What is it about the Fitbit and my response to it that can bring about this change?  

The data is important. I didn’t know how many steps I was doing and now I do. It focuses my attention on something that can be measured. Without it I’m just guessing.

The accountability is important. The Fitbit dashboard has become my personal fitness coach, telling me when I’ve met my goals and when I haven’t.

But the most important thing is the story I tell myself about what the data means.  

More than 10,000 steps a day and I am the kind of person who takes responsibility for my health. I am likely to look good, feel good, enjoy my life, and contribute my best for many, many years to come.  I like that story.

Fewer than 10,000 steps a day and I am a pathetic couch potato on the road to cardiac disease, obesity, and a short, unpleasant life surrounded by medical equipment. I’ve seen what that story looks like, and I don’t like it. 

What motivates me most is the choice I make every day between those two stories. Without the story, 10,000 steps is just a number.

The data we present needs to have a story around it to help the audience connect with it.  What story are you telling about your data?