I’ve always been a competitive personality. I have the tendency to push myself, and so it is information about my progress or lack of it that will get me to push myself in the right direction. Therefore, I have found myself at the mercy of small devices that hook directly into that drive to push myself forward. I call these cruel little devices taskmasters.
The first device that allows me to be cruel to myself is the simple bicycle computer. Just knowing how fast I’m going, how far I’ve gone, and my average speed allows me to compare how I’m doing to previous rides. That comparison is a motivator that pushes me past a sensible pace more often than I care to admit. Keep in mind that this is a simple device. There are ways to indulge the obsession for ride information even more. Consider the GPS computer. It will show how much climbing you’ve done, get maps and turn by turn directions that warn you that you have a turn coming up, and even download that ride data into the Strava website so that you can compete with the results of other riders. I admit that there is a utility to having such a device. I know people who particularly like the help staying on course. However, knowing simple information makes my current computer a taskmaster, and I fear what a more sophisticated device with more sophisticated data will do to me. I’m obsessive enough as it is. I have a love/hate relationship with my bike computer. You can’t have a good day every time out on the road. That computer isn’t the reason I enjoy a ride, but it will tell me a lot about having a bad ride. It applies a subtile pressure.
The second device is far more common. It has been the bane of many people and it is the bringer of both good and bad news in many households worldwide. This taskmaster is the simple bathroom scale. I have avoided owning one for a very long time. I’ve finally submitted to the simple need to work out differently and drop weight. So far, so good. Week 1, 2 pounds down. I can’t expect to get only progress, or have that progress be steady from week to week, but it has already had an effect. Even when it tells me good news, I’ve already learned how it applies pressure. If only I didn’t need that pressure!
I’ve come to accept taskmasters as part of my life. They aren’t always bad things – by nature they only display information, and that in itself is innocent. What makes something a taskmaster is my relationship to it. These things remind me that I have to push myself. They connect to some primal instinct in me. They taunt me, they shame me, they smirk at me, and occasionally, they reward me. Despite their drawbacks, these things are useful. Never lovable, but useful. I think everyone needs a taskmaster or two. I have often thought that the world has a severe scarcity of drill sergeants to push us along. Instead, we appoint taskmasters.