What most people get wrong
An incoming call from a friend flashed on my phone. After I picked up and got past the regular ‘Hi, How are you?’ I asked him about how he’d spend his days, now that he was on holiday. In the course of conversation he hesitantly replied ‘’You know, I had started a 21 day home workout challenge about a week back, but with time I slowly drifted from being consistent, and now I’m on the verge of giving up.’’
He further added that he was recommended a ‘Hiit workout’ by a colleague to quickly lose fat and get fit. Little did he know that exercise isn’t a one size fits all activity. I thought to myself that a ‘Hiit workout’ is of no use as a daily goal to a beginner.
This wasn’t the first time I was made aware of a scenario related to exercise. It is a recurring phenomenon that has happened to the best of us. As a society, we’re almost spoon fed the principles of ‘instant gratification’, so much so we forget, a process is involved.
A theory to being successful
The experiment began by bringing each child into a private room, sitting them down in a chair, and placing a marshmallow on the table in front of them.
At this point, the researcher offered a deal to the child.
The researcher told the child that he was going to leave the room and that if the child did not eat the marshmallow while he was away, then they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. However, if the child decided to eat the first one before the researcher came back, then they would not get a second marshmallow.
So the choice was simple: one treat right now or two treats later.
The researcher left the room for 15 minutes.
As you can imagine, the footage of the children waiting alone in the room was rather entertaining. Some kids jumped up and ate the first marshmallow as soon as the researcher closed the door. Others wiggled and bounced and scooted in their chairs as they tried to restrain themselves, but eventually gave in to temptation a few minutes later. And finally, a few of the children did manage to wait the entire time.
This popular study became known as The Marshmallow Experiment, but it wasn't the treat that made it famous. The interesting part came years later. The research concluded that the children who were able to delay gratification were more successful in life.
How can we build motivation?
Daniel Pink, author of the book Drive, has listed ‘Autonomy’, ‘Mastery’ and ‘Purpose’ as three elements of the motivation formula.
Autonomy is the need to direct your own life and work. To be fully motivated, you must be able to control what you do, when you do it, and who you do it with. In my friend’s case, maybe the 21 day challenge wasn’t suited to his capabilities. Perhaps the recommended exercise was given by someone who didn’t take his strengths and weaknesses into consideration. No wonder he wasn’t consistent.
Henceforth, my friend ought to pick a ‘Goldilocks task’, one which is neither too difficult nor too easy. If a task is too easy you will get bored. Conversely, if a task is too hard you'll tend to get frustrated.
Mastery is the desire to improve. If you are motivated by mastery, you’ll likely see your potential as being unlimited, wherein learning and practice will be second nature. This is also the stage where you'll automatically be consistent with your home workout.
Purpose is what invokes the desire to do things in service of something larger than ourselves. Pink argues that people intrinsically want to do things that matter.
Researchers at the University at Colorado wanted to find a correlation between more physical activity and having purpose in life. They had 100 people fill in questionnaires regarding their health and levels of optimism.
As part of the study, over a three-day period, people had to wear an accelerometer, which is an instrument used to measure acceleration of a moving or vibrating body. The study, which is published in the Journal of Health Psychology, found that people who reported a stronger sense of purpose in their life were more physically active.
“Reminding yourself of what gives your life meaning and purpose, and connecting that to why you want to be physically active, could improve the chances that you stick with it,” says study author Stephanie A. Hooker of the University of Colorado Denver.
Ways to build consistency
1. Identity based habits
If you want to make home workout a daily goal, you first have to make it part of your identity. To change your behaviour you need to believe new things about yourself. Most importantly by identifying as someone who gives preference to exercise and fitness.
2. Try it with a partner
Everything is easier when it comes in twos. Try a home workout with a friend, a family member or a health coach. There are a plethora of digital applications that assist in exercise such as ‘My Fitness Pal’, ‘30 Day Fitness’, ‘Fitness Buddy’.
3. Schedule it
Most people complain about lack of time being the underlying reason for not being consistent with working out. Systematically planning your workouts will help you combat this issue and get the ball rolling. Keep a calendar of your workouts to stay focused. If you can’t accommodate a long workout, try splitting it into two sessions.
4. Do it with enjoyment
If you make it an enjoyable activity chances are you’ll reach ‘flow state’, which is described as a feeling where you become fully immersed in whatever you are doing. You achieve a sense of ecstasy, ruling out all your inhibitions, hunger, aches and fatigue.
5. Measure it
Jot down the progress you’ve made. Writing your accomplishments on a weekly or monthly basis will prove to be an additional boost. Try this simple task of noting outcome and behaviour.
A) Outcome - I can now do 20 push-ups in one set.
Behaviour - I schedule my workouts a week in advance.
B) Outcome - I can now run 5k on my treadmill.
Behaviour - I’m waking up at 7am twice a week.
Remember getting 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week is an important part of staying healthy. The next time you think of voluntarily being labelled inconsistent, just remember that you’ll be missing out on ‘endorphins’ which are the feel good hormones that we experience when we workout. This is what makes us feel like everything we want is well within our grasp. Consistency can also positively impact the serotonin levels in your brain which boosts mood and overall sense of well-being.