A few months ago, I decided it was time to start working out regularly. Actually, this wasn’t the first time I’d set this goal.
Several times during the last few years I’ve noticed myself slipping into a particularly sedentary lifestyle, based mostly around staring at my computer screen. I’m someone who spent most of his high school years playing multiple sports regularly. By regularly, I mean almost every day I would exercise in some form for at least an hour, if not longer.
As I said before, I’ve made the decision to get back to regular exercise several times. I even bought a medicine ball, a cheap set of adjustable weights, and made my own kettlebell, but I’ve never been able to motivate myself to work out for more than a few days in a row.
Well, I’m proud to say, I’ve been working out regularly for the past 3 months, usually 3-5 times per week. I’ve used two main motivational techniques:
First, I knew I needed to develop a regular workout habit, and in order to make it stick, I was going to have to force myself create a routine that I wouldn’t quit on after a few days. With this goal in mind, I searched the internet for relatively fast workout that would throughly kick my ass. What I found was the 7 minute workout, a short circuit training routine that hits all the major muscle groups in quick succession and left me in a sweaty puddle in just over 7 minutes.
In order to make sure I stuck with the plan, I signed up with Stickk.com. Stickk allows you to appoint a judge to monitor your progress towards an objective. You set the goal, type in your credit card information, and set up a donation to a charity or anti-charity of your choice. If your appointed judge doesn’t verify that you’ve completed your goal within the timeframe, the money is gone. To keep myself honest I appointed Helen as my judge, and set up two consecutive weekly donations of $500 to the anti-charity of my choice: The National Rifle Association. My self-defined challenge was to work out every single day, and with $1,000 to the NRA on the line, there was no way I was skipping a day!
Shortly after completing my stickk.com challenge, I worked at a gathering for self-directed learners called Trailblazer, where I had the opportunity to attend a workshop on gamification. Gamification is when one uses game mechanics to motivate themselves or others to behave in desirable ways, and is widely used as a marketing tool. For example, NFL.com distributes digital ‘coins’ to anyone who reads articles or watches videos on the site. Users are encouraged to accumulate large amounts of coins, which can be traded in for rewards like keychains, hats or discounts at the online store. The workshop leader challenged us to come up with a gamification system for one aspect of our lives, and I immediately knew what I would choose.
I had noticed that with the stickk.com challenge, that while losing money was a powerful motivator, it didn’t make me want to go above an beyond. By the end of two weeks, doing a single run through the 7 minute workout didn’t feel as challenging, but I had no reason to push myself beyond the minimum requirement. I created a new system that gave me points for pushing myself beyond the initial 7 minutes. For every extra 30 seconds, I would accumulate points which I could eventually trade in for one of my favorite treats: a peanut-butter chocolate mousse topped vegan brownie!
This has worked wonderfully, and I now have a regular fitness habit, no regular rewards required. One final important aspect of gamification is having long-term achievements to strive for. My first long-term goal was to weigh 150 pounds, after hovering around 140 pounds (plus or minus 5) since about age 18. I’ve achieved that, and I’m looking for a new long-term goal. I’m also currently training for the Philadelphia marathon (I ran my first half-marathon during session 2 of Not Back to School Camp!), so more weight gain is somewhat counter intuitive. Any ideas?