Photography, Fitness And Avoiding Obsession

Since January 2018 I’ve used a fitness tracker to count my daily steps.

I’m not much interested in miles, calories, heart rate and so on, just the steps, so just bought a simple one – A Misfit Ray – that lives on my ankle with me barely realising it’s there.

In the early days I wanted to walk 10,000 steps a day, no matter what.

As you might have realised, I love habits and discipline.

Their outline structure helps me get through the day to day, which I can then build on and feel like I’m doing better in other areas of life.

My daily walking comes from three main areas –

  • General walking around the house and office.
  • Walking the children to school three days a week.
  • A lunchtime stroll.

If I did all of these, I was comfortably hitting 10k steps in a day.


What I found though was a rainy day meant the second and third source of steps didn’t happen.

I took the car to school and stayed in the office at lunchtime.

Which meant I might reach the evening having only done 6 or 7k, and to make 10k steps I needed more.

So I ended up walking up and down the stairs or running on the spot until I reached the target. Not much fun, plus it ate into the time I wanted to do other evening activities.

The healthy aim of walking 10k steps a day for my wellbeing was starting to become an obsession, based purely on a somewhat arbitrary number.

I love walking, but these indoor attempts to rack up extra steps just for the sake of that number was akin to going to a sterile gym and pounding out empty exercises, something I’ve never done and don’t plan to anytime soon.

So I decided that because some days the weather was awful, I likely wouldn’t make 10k steps. But the next day, or the day after that, I might walk 12 or 14 or 16k steps.

I started looking at a longer view, and aiming for enough steps per month to average out at least 10k a day.

Which I’ve done pretty much every month since.

Letting go of the obsession of the daily target – whilst keeping it as a more relaxed longer term aim – meant I was enjoy the tracking again.

When I got my e-bike last August, I was able to average more.

Whilst not steps, I figured that a pedal rotation counted at least as much, and riding to and from work most days adding exercise to time that previously was just spent sitting in a car.

There are still wet days when I might only do 5 or 6k. But most I hit 10k, and a fair few closer to 15k, so the average per month I’m happy with.

With photography a similar obsessive behaviour has reared its head multiple times in the past.

Buying a ridiculous amount of film cameras, lenses, and film, was the major one.

Again, a day comes when you realise you’re more obsessed about finding the next new camera, lens or film bargain, instead of just enjoying what you have. The fun has long gone and it becomes mindless behaviour.

This pattern saw a minor revival earlier this year, ironically when I’d decided to shoot just one camera per month.

I started hitting eBay again, looking for potential camera candidates for the next month, and the month after that, even though I already had at least half a year’s worth of cameras to use for the project.

Before I’d bought 50 cameras again, I noticed what was happening and nipped it in the bud.


Longer ago in my life, I could easily fall into these patterns with food – eating way too much then regretting it and feeling awful the next day.

I honestly think too many years of this has partly ruined my digestive system and made it far more sensitive to sugar and dairy today.

So what’s the answer to avoiding obsession?

How do we use the unquestionably powerful and beneficial aspects of focused obsession, without going over the edge into behaviours that start to harm us, and where we lose sight of our original aims and enjoyment?

I think for me a few approaches work.

To try to be more relaxed about the details (like 300k steps a month rather than 10k every single day).

To appreciate where I already am and what I already have.

And to try to increase awareness and notice when I do start to become locked in a pattern of behaviour that’s lost its original pleasure and purpose.

How about you? Do you have obsessive behaviour traits? How do you keep them in check?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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25 thoughts on “Photography, Fitness And Avoiding Obsession”

  1. I swing from obsessing over my steps, water consumption and clean eating to sitting on the couch for a solid day while I eat pancakes and Doritos. I would like to say that’s what we call balance but am pretty sure that’s not what it is! 😉 Nice post!

      1. Lol. I’m not quite as bad as described but that’s how it feels sometimes! Moderation has never really been my thing – I’m either in or out.

      2. Maybe you don’t need to moderate the amount, but the frequency. I agree, I don’t like doing anything half-arsed as we say. But that doesn’t mean we have to do it full on, all the time. Maybe alternating between a range of different ways, but doing each with full commitment is a good plan for all of us in life?

      3. That’s good advice but I really was exaggerating. I’m mostly full on tracking and pushing myself which seems to work best for me. Every six weeks or so I’ll crash and spend a day watching movies on the couch. I like to be out doing things so it’s sort of a rare treat to have an off day being lazy.

        I’m fortunate to live in an area with good bike paths and hiking trails so there’s a lot of variety to where I can be active and it truly never gets being.

  2. I was obsessed with getting a photo a day. Until I wasn’t. Then it became not too fun and I was just taking photos of my office to get my photo in. I understood (and understand) the importance of daily practice. But I decided it wasn’t fun. So I deleted most of my blog posts. Reworked the site and I’m going to look at getting one or two posts a week. I am to think about photography (and art, and design and architecture…everyday).

    It’s a journey. Let’s enjoy it.

    1. Oh yes I’ve been in a similar place with the photos. I recently wrote about the photowalks I used to try to squeeze in at lunch breaks and so on. I’d end up taking pictures I knew weren’t much good, just for the sake of taking a picture. As you say, you lose the fun element, and it just dilutes not only your own standard of photography, but your enthusiasm and hunger for it too.

      I think a photo a day can work as a project for some, but for me I prefer slightly less frequent sessions where I can really immerse myself in the experience.

      So are you going to be relaunching your blog with a new name? (I almost called my blog something like thirtyfivetwopointeight because when I was beginning I was obsessed with 35/2.8 compact film cameras. But because I knew that would likely evolve, I went with the less specific 35hunter name!)

      1. I’ve just deleted many of the posts from my blog. Not sure if I’ll change the name. I might go back to a photo a day posting, not sure the name is that important, so long as it relates to photography. I do take photos nearly everyday. I just don’t want to feel obligated to.

      2. Yes that what it comes down, your photography at a pace of your own choosing, not an arbitrary rate set my someone else.

        Posting a photo a day might be a good plan. I generally go on one larger photowalk a week, which usually yields at least seven “keepers”.

      3. When I was doing my photo a day posts, I often wrestled with which one of two or three to post for one day, while other days I didn’t have anything. I also like to look back at my photos from a year or two a go. Some have become gems with time. Obsessions and rules can have magical powers, but they are also so limiting.

      4. I have a post in draft about not all photoshoots being equal. Sometimes you might be out for an hour and get one or two shots you like, if that. Other times 10 minutes and 10 shots might yield five or six keepers.

        This is what I was talking about in the post above with my daily steps. Sometimes you get 5k, other days maybe 20k. As long as you have a certain consistency, I think it’s better to look at the average over a month say, than have to hit a target every single day.

        It’ll be interesting to see/hear how your blog posting evolves.

  3. I just tried to think if I have any obsessions and the only one that is problematic is my constant worry about my marriage. So, perhaps like you I need to look at it in a different way and just try to relax and enjoy it. Sorry, bit heavy for this time in the morning… 🤔

  4. You’ve used a key phrase for life in general for me. Works for absolutely everything.
    “To appreciate where I already am and what I already have.”
    This is central to life as a whole I believe, anything else causes stress!

    1. Yes, definitely. If we’re always looking at what we don’t have it’s a recipe for constant dissatisfaction.

      What frustrates me is that this is at the core of virtually all advertising today – you can’t possibly be happy unless you buy this car/shampoo/phone/vacuum cleaner whatever. Once you realise this and step back from it, it makes appreciating life so much easier!

  5. I think it is easy to get caught up in this with such things. For a while I was getting a little compulsive with my cycling, timing my commutes, riding 100 miles, etc. Then I had a good crash which my left knee still hasn’t quite recovered from, and I realized I was too old for such behavior. These days any ride is a good one, and no ride is too short.

    1. Love that philosophy Jon, that’s great – “any ride is a good one, and no ride is too short”.

      On my cycle to work I mostly take it at my own pace and let the traffic pass me. Sometimes I’ll get an urge to catch up or go quicker and perhaps do for a minute, then remember I’m riding as a pleasurable, deliberately slower activity and to avoid the traffic rat race!

  6. Nice study of the wicker chair (at least I think that’s what it might be), so spare yet so fine. And I really hear you about the sugar and dairy, it’s a pretty similar experience for me. I don’t necessarily feel deprived anymore because the past couple years I’ve discovered how much I love certain fruits and so that’s how I indulge my sweet tooth these days but it still gets me a little wistful when the boys come home from the bakery with their mother, carrying a box of cookies for the weekend. Because good lord, sometimes you just need a cookie……..

    1. Thanks, yes it’s a wicker chair I came across in a church and the light from the window was enough to illuminate the chair, then everything fell into sudden darkness at the edges. I love finding minimal shots like this.

      I eat quite a bit of fruit, mostly bananas and berries (strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants) as there supposedly the best for you. I used to eat an orange and kiwi a day, but realised these are two of the fruits with highest sugar content, and probably weren’t helping!

      I’m a sucker for dried fruit, like dates and apricots. But they need to be in moderation too.

      I’ll still have a cake or biscuit now and then and we bake at home fairly regularly with the children. I just need to be careful about overdoing it.

  7. Mr. James, this article hit closer to home than I would like to admit. Not so much with the photography aspect— however, I do have my own obsession that varies greatly from camera buying— but the aspects of physical fitness and eating. I to stick to a strict schedule and diet plan (or do so to the best of my ability). Nevertheless, I found myself just as you were— OBSESSED. I would have a plan, it would go array, and my day was gone. Throwing my meals off track and my workout timing wrong. This led to as you stated, overeating and unneeded stress that only added to the already present stress of everyday life as a college student and Marine. It is good to see other men struggle just as I do with this and know we are all together in this grind of “life”.

    1. Walker, thanks for your thoughts.

      I think that if we can get like this in one part of life, it can happen in others.

      I’ve had what I would called perhaps obsessive tendencies with camera, lenses and film, as well as food, trainers, dancing, relationships…

      I bought a fitness tracker about 18 months ago, and now I’m pretty relaxed about it, just using it to observe an overall average amount of steps and exercise. But for the first few months I had to do my daily target, every day, and would end up running on the spot in the kitchen last thing at night just to make up a few hundred steps and take me into my target.

      I think we just need to step back and see a bigger picture sometimes, see the good work we’re doing over a period of time, rather than expect to be on it all day every day.

      1. Agreed, my brother. Your steps per day were my calories and macro nutrients counted. I logged every calorie, carb, fat, and protein that went into my body, and as we all know with life that is nerve racking and nearly impossible to do. It caused much stress and led to a decline in my body composition and training. The dichotomy of letting go, to get a hold of is all too real.

      2. A phrase I’ve read a few times recently is “cognitive load”, essentially the amount our brains are having to process at any one time.

        One article suggested the average person has 10 or 20 or more times the cognitive load of someone of their parents’ generation, just because there are so many choices available to us today, so many advertising messages fired at us every minute of every day.

        Simplifying our lives and trying to minimise these kind of obsession traps go a long way to reducing that cognitive load, and essentially making us happier.

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