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Guest Blog: Fitbit: Virtual Badges Influence Real Behavior

We at Fitbit love when we find unique, thoughtful blog posts about our products. The below is one such blog about the power of Fitbit badges, originally posted on Louis Gray’s personal blog. Louis Gray is a Google employee, technology blogger, and dad. We came across his blog by accident, but loved it so much that we wanted to share it with everyone. You can read more of Louis Gray’s blog at

I am not going on a diet – and I have no interest in going to the gym, even if Google makes it incredibly easy to eat healthy on campus, and gym membership is free with equipment abundant. It’s just not me. But despite this clear disinterest in my making any kind of physical life change, I have been wearing a Fitbit the last week, obsessively counting my steps, climbing the stairs and tracking how many miles I make on foot. I’ve even been wearing the lightweight tracker at night to see how long and how well I sleep – working to optimize that as well.

So why would I resort to such silliness? It’s the stinkin’ badges – helped along by casual competition with friends, and now, despite my best attempts to not make any actual alterations to how I behave, I am sure I am doing things that are actually better for me, in the same way that Foursquare recommendations have pushed me to new venues and trying new things, based on badges and recommendations from friends.

Yesterday's Fitbit activity shows average walking, and lots of climbing.

Yesterday’s Fitbit activity shows average walking, and lots of climbing.

The Fitbit itself is not entirely new – having debuted in late 2008, and so far, I’ve been uninterested. I recognize that my mostly sedentary activity of holding down a desk, and chasing after my kids being my main form of exercise would not be particularly interesting. Even now, while I managed 10,000+ steps and 50 flights of stairs yesterday, I still managed to scarf down a great bacon and cheddar sandwich for lunch, so weight loss is not the target.
After scads of occasional tweets and other status updates from acquaintances updating me on the minutiae of their daily fitness activity, it took a simple email of a friend’s weekly dashboard last week to recognize this was a device I needed. In minutes, I’d not only purchased the $99 Fitbit Ultra tracker, but also pre-ordered the Wifi-capable Aria scale for another $129. It was the stats, and the idea of competition, that made me knew I had to get it.
A day's activity, showing spikes of walking across campus and at home.

A day’s activity, showing spikes of walking across campus and at home.

Like a true geek, I’m understandably curious about the Fitbit’s accuracy. Does it count 5 steps as a flight of stairs? What about 10? What about small steps, big steps? Do I get credit for manually shaking the tracker or running in place? But despite my moments of tinkering, I’ve found the tracker’s daily reports to be especially accurate. I can spot when I walked to and from my car, to and from lunch, and even when I went from building to building for meetings. I can see when I chased my kids around the backyard, and by looking at the sleep tracker, get a good idea for when they started yowling in the morning, begging to get up.
A night's sleep - 95% efficient, I am told, despite Diet Coke addiction.

A night’s sleep – 95% efficient, I am told, despite Diet Coke addiction.

Gaining one’s first badges, such as 5,000 or 10,000 steps, or 10 flights of stairs traversed, is pretty straight forward. But I wanted more. When I got home and put the kids to bed, I was at a mere 14 flights of stairs, so I literally, alone in a quiet house, went up and down my 15 stairs at home 11 times, to get to 25 flights. It must have been quite the sight. That got me a 25 flights badge, and later, when I interrupted each chore with 5 more flights, I finally made it to 50 flights of stairs, which earned me a new badge, not to mention a little bit of sweat and some tightness in my calves, which said the exercise might actually have been working. Tricked again!
A badge for 50 flights is one thing. What about 100 flights?

A badge for 50 flights is one thing. What about 100 flights?

Had it not been for the allure of the 50 floors badge, there’s no question I wouldn’t have been hiking up and down in my house in some solitary unfulfilling challenge. Had it not been for the intrigue of comparing my daily steps accumulated against my friends, and seeing if I could walk more steps than the previous day, or sleep more efficiently one night versus the previous night, I wouldn’t be thinking about it at all. Once the scale arrives and threatens to send my weight to my own internal profile, I wonder if it too is going to impact how I eat, measure and commit to something that resembles good behavior.
As for the Fitbit itself, I can’t complain at all. It’s very light, inconspicuous, and the software is practically invisible. Just connect to the computer, hit sync, and it’s good to go. I’m now addicted to these stats, like any blogger chasing page views, or your favorite fantasy football fan whose future hangs on every rushing yard. The badges are driving the behavior. So if you have a Fitbit and want to challenge my stats, invite me by email. Let’s do this.
This blog was reposted with permission and all content remains the property of

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17 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I love my Fitbit, and take it with my anywhere. I also am a freak for the badges! Is there someplace to view a list of all the possible badges so I know what badges I can work towards?

  • Hi there.

    Great post. Got me thinking whether these little badges matter! Well, on the good days they really do seem pointless and silly, but on the bad days, when energy and motivation are running low, they can be important and useful. I use them on these bad days to claw my way out of the hole. I say to myself “If I just do … , and plug away at it, I’ll be able to get to that lowest badge.” Gradually self-esteem, satisfaction and motivation return.


  • I would love to see content pushed to you as a suggestion like friends in my area that are in the same activity level as i (for example similar weight or weight goals) that we might connect with one another or workout together etc…

    Love the bit so far.


  • A confirmed not dieter, no exerciser, my doctor scared the daylights out of my recently and his nutrionist told me about the FitBit tracker. Desperate I ordered one and began walking daily. I loved it. I looked forward to the download every night. And then, one day the unthinkable happened. I didn’t put it on as I had to run a load of stuff up the hill in my golf cart and I didn’t want to get credit for stairs I hadn’t climbed, or hills I didn’t walk. Now, I live on a horse ranch so you would think I would get plenty of exercise but somehow I lost my Tracker. I was distraught and retraced my steps for hours, then days. My son said he thought he saw “something” in the dirt but he couldn’t remember exactly where. Finally, after three weeks, I ordered a new one. I bought the plum one this time although I felt a little disloyal to the blue one who even knew my name!!! The replacement arrived and it was a couple of days before I “got it right” with the computer. I’ve been wearing it for several days and today, talking with my son who was standing outside his tack room the unbelievable happened: he looked down in the dirt and picked up old blue!!! It has been over a month, it has rained at least three times and there it was, in the dirt and still had a charge. I was so happy to see my old friend, and happier when I could read my name. Now, how to I return the program to the old tracker????? I thought of the old Timex ads “takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’. Dang, am I happy to have it back.

  • I had no idea that there were additional badges besides the ones listed on the dashboard! I think I may be joining you in climbing 2 extra flights of stairs for every one chore! Just the other day I went up 21 flights of stairs and thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if they had a badge for 25 flights? I’d race up and down the stairs 4 times just to get to that badge!” Now you have me obsessed with finding out more about the FitBit badges!

  • I am really impressed with Fitbit’s functionality and its ease of download. And then there are the scales that monitors your BF% – amazing! I am wondering though whether there are any plans to include a heart rate monitor into the package?

  • I drive a taxi for a living. 12 hour shift, sitting in a car, not much exercise. I live in a high rise apartment, 7th floor. Instead of taking the elevator, I take the stairs. I’ve also watched my numbers on my fitbit, saw I was close to 50 floors, climbed another couple flights to hit the 50 flights mark.
    I also bought the aria scale. I got my wife her fitbit and we’ve both been going to walks together, hitting the treadmills. These “geek toys” have gotten both my wife & I off our butts and moving. She’s lost 8 pounds in 2 weeks, I’ve lost 8 in 3 weeks all due to these devices. The whole reason I hit the treadmill or walk every day is so I can hit those goals daily. The fitbit really keeps us motivated.

  • The badges motivate me somewhat, but I like that I can set personal goals. If I don’t have my personal goal of 8,00 steps and 30 flights of stairs by 10 pm, I become very busy walking around the kitchen table and up and down the stairs until I get my goals done.

    I am planning to up my goals little by little until I can reach 50 flights of stairs daily (you all have inspired me) and 15,000 steps a day.

    I think I might order one of the scales, too.

  • I’ve had a Fitbit for two days and enjoying getting all the information. I am very happy with it and doing my own comparing and testing out the feedback. My house has five half flights and I wanted to test out what counts as a flight of stairs. It seems I have to do a full flight of stairs consecutively to get credit for one flight. I went up and down a half flight three times in a row fast and found I got 0 credit and this morning I came up from the basement (7 stairs), stopped to shut the door, turn off the light (all of three seconds) turned and immediately came up another half flight to the kitchen and sadly got 0 floors credit on my Fitbit again. Other than this, I am very satisfied with the Fitbit and the website.

  • The badges have certainly changed my behavior. I check my stats at around 10PM and look to see whether there are any reachable badges. I take a walk in the moonlight, hit the treadmill, or “do laps” on the stairs to reach some badge.

    Seeing the numbers really makes you think about what you are doing at every moment. I find myself cheerfully walking across the room or to the other side of the house to get something, where a few months ago I would have made a mental note to get it when I next had to get up for something else. The same with eating: if I keep track of the things I eat I consider WHETHER to eat them. I’m not (yet) looking for badges for weight-loss, but I expect that some will come naturally, and when they do, I will probably pursue more of them.

  • I’d like to know what all the badges are as well. I love the badges from Foursquare so it’d be fun if they were like that…. Like you logged that you swam 5 miles! That’d be fun. Where is the list of badges?? I’d love that.

  • Solebury School is a small non-profit independent school. We now have 29 employees wearing the fitbit. We buy them for our employees that want to participate in our Wellness Program and as word spreads we are still buying them. We formed a group “Solebury School” so far with 12 members. Badges are an incentive in this program. They just keep you wanting more. We find this program to be very beneficial to health and wonderful for anyone needing some rehabilitation after an illness. You go as slow or as fast as you want and can see your progress right on your computer. I’m so hooked I downloaded it at home as well as in my office at school. This one is a keeper for us.

  • I just got my fitbit about 24 hours ago. I love this little gadget! I was so pleased to get a badge for 5,00 steps already. I’m usually irritated by having to go up and down the stairs to communicate with my husband but now that I know my stairs count for something, I don’t mind!

  • Onwards to 50,000 steps and 400 floors!

    I found myself at 61 floors and 28k steps tonight, the joys of a day playing Ingress, decided to go out and make the 75 floors and 30,000 steps badge before I sat down on the computer.

    Without the badges I definitely wouldn’t have gone out and ran through 17 floors minutes before midnight.

  • I love my Fitbit!!! I call it my Fitbit Buddy.

    How do I correct my weight when I have entered it wrong?
    Could someone please advise me on how to do this….

    The Fitbit Scale has not been purchase yet. The Doctors Scale is the one I am using now.

    Thank you for your time answering this for me.

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