So it’s cold outside and you’d really rather stay in bed than go out for a run. Where do you get the motivation? Fortunately, economists and psychologists have been studying how to crack the code of what compels us to repeatedly do something we don’t always want to do. Here are some of their best strategies.
1. Give Yourself a Real Reward
Sure, some people might be motivated by vague goals such as “better health” or “to lose weight”.” But if that’s not doing it for you, try making the benefits of working out more tangible, such as by treating yourself to a smoothie or an episode of your favorite TV show afterwards.
This is described as a “habit loop” which involves a cue to trigger the behavior (setting out your running shoes next to your bag), the routine (making it through your run) and then the reward. An extrinsic reward is so powerful because your brain can latch on to it and make the link that the behavior is worthwhile. This increases the odds the routine becomes a habit.
Over time, the motivation becomes intrinsic, as the brain begins to associate sweat and pain with the surge of endorphins. Once you’ve trained your brain to recognize that the workout itself is the reward, you won’t even the treat.
2. Sign a Commitment Contract
We can make promises to ourselves all day long, but research shows we’re more likely to follow through with pledges when we make them in front of friends. You can up the ante even more by signing a contract agreeing to pay a pal $20 every time you skip an exercise session. It’s a simple notion of changing the cost.
3. Rethink Positive Thinking
Devotees of positive thinking have long promoted visualizing the benefits of a behavior as a motivational strategy. For example, when deciding whether to get out of bed to go running in the morning, it helps to imagine how the sun will feel on your face as you run down the street. Or how delighted you’ll be when you see your new muscles developing.
But such feel-good fantasies are only effective when accompanied by more realistic problem-solving methods. After identifying your wish and visualizing the outcome, you have to identify what’s holding you back. Feel too tired to go to the gym after work? After you imagine the obstacle, you can figure out what you can do to overcome it and make a plan. For example, you can switch to morning or lunchtime workouts or go straight to the gym instead of stopping at home first.
4. Get Paid
Still struggling? It may be time to turn to cold, hard cash. (Because, hey, money talks!) Research looking at monetary incentives and exercise found that people who were paid $100 to go to the gym doubled their attendance rate.
Don’t have a generous benefactor? Check out the app Pact, in which a community of users will literally pay you to stick to your schedule. If you miss your session, you authorize the app to charge your credit card or PayPal account. When you reach your goal, you get paid out of a common pool funded by yourself and other pact-breakers.