A growing number of companies are discovering that paying people cash to exercise and lose weight yields big financial dividends in the long run. Working out just 1-2 times a week can lower an individual’s medical costs an average of 8%. If a person works out 2-3 times weekly, the savings rise to 28%; and if a person works out an average of 3 or more times each week, the savings rise to a whopping 44%, according to a recent article in USA Today. These potential savings are catching the attention of businesses. One major US company has set the goal of it’s employees losing 20 tons of weight during the it’s fiscal year, and is linking employees’ annual bonuses to the goal.
One of the greatest challenges of any health and exercise program is remaining committed when motivation wanes. There is ample research supporting the notion that people change in stages. When an individual gets to the Action stage, simple behavioral principles (such as having a clear behavioral goal and reward) are most effective. While it may irk some to pay cash to people for doing something that they should want to do because it is beneficial to them, the bottom line is that the external reward (money) is more effective than all the “shoulds,” “oughts” and other idealistic intrinsic (internal) motivation principles.
If you want to stay the course on your health routine during this upcoming holiday season, I encourage you use the same approach that the companies are finding successful: pay yourself to remain committed to your program. There are a number of variations of using an external reward to sustain commitment, but they all include these key elements:
Have a clear behavioral goal of what you will do rather than what you will not do, such as exercising 3 times each week, having small portion size, eating desert only on Sunday, etc.
Ante up. Make the reward real where you can see it at the beginning of the program. For example, get a crisp $100 bill, an envelope of cash or a written check at the commencement of your program. It makes a difference if you can actually see your reward rather than thinking of it as a draft from your bank account.
Follow the rules. Have a clear structure where you get the reward only by adhering to your commitment. No fudging allowed. If there is a risk that you might fall to temptation and give yourself the reward without adhering to the program, enlist the assistance of someone else to hold the stakes. Be certain that person commits to giving you the reward only when you have earned it. If there is a chance that you may fall short of your goal, clarify a contingency plan for the money, such as giving it to charity.
Remember, motivation is over-rated. Motivation changes like the weather. Commitment is the key for long-lasting change.
If you are struggling with self control, a little bite of something sweet may be just the thing to boost waning willpower. Researchers have been studying what actually goes on in the brain when a person is exercising “will power” or self-control. The part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex is responsible for will power and self-control, and different regions of the prefrontal cortex influence different aspects of will power. The left side gets things going and energizes your attention on the tasks and behaviors that are your goals, while your right side acts as the brakes and keeps you from falling victim to temptation.
It also turns out that will power requires a goodly amount of energy, primarily in the form of glucose. If your glucose levels are low, either due to not having enough “fuel” or the body simply not processing the glucose efficiently due to stress or lack of sleep, then your will power is more apt to run out of gas. Psychologist Roy Baumeister of Florida State University conducted studies where a small number of jelly beans or half a can of soda provided the brain with a boost in glucose to produce more self control.
Members of AA have long advocated the “HALT principle” when undertaking one of the greatest challenges of will power: abstinence from alcohol. HALT is a reminder to never get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. Modern brain imaging research validates the HALT principle. If you are hungry and struggling with will power, a bite of something sweet may provide the sugar boost that you need to sustain self control (just make certain is is only a bite!). Likewise, engaging in pleasurable activities that promote emotional and mental recovery, can help restore one’s will power “muscles” and strengthen them in the process.
These current findings also give insights as to why eating several small meals throughout the day is typically more effective than restrictive crash dieting. By eating throughout the day, a person is better able to maintain the glucose levels needed to fuel the parts of the brain that exercise self-control. That means making better choices as to both types of foods and portion sizes. By contrast, if a person restricts food for an extended period and experiences a drop in glucose, will power crashes and the probability of binge eating skyrockets.
To learn more about recent findings on the neurological basis of will power, check out this article from the Boston Globe: click here.
So now about that chocolate… The researchers used a small number of jelly beans to boost glucose levels. Personally, if I’m going for an energy boost, chocolate is my “fuel” of choice. The challenge is to stop with just a bite. If you eat it slowly (and good chocolate should always be savored slowly), the added glucose can help you say “enough.” Sounds like a “win-win situation” to me.
So what have you found that helps your will power?
While the experience of anger in youth sport is not new (the Rutgers Youth Sport Research Council has an excellent article on-line documenting adult violence at youth sporting events occurring 25 years ago), there are factors that make the matter more volatile today. One of the major concerns is when parents begin seeing their child’s sport participation as an “investment.” Rather than encouraging a child to play for fun and to learn life skills such as teamwork, leadership and discipline, sport participation is viewed as a way to get a scholarship or a big paycheck as a professional athlete. Too often this can lead to thinking in terms of “ownership” of the athlete and wanting to protect the investment, rather than pride in your child.
It is natural for a parent to want his or her child to play well and perform at their peak ability; however there are times that this goes overboard. Over-emphasis on winning and “being a good investment” easily leads to burnout of many talented young athletes. One of the antidotes of burnout is to make certain that the young athlete has an identity beyond sport. The challenge is to broaden the yardstick by which success is measured. If the sole yardstick is “winning,” “showcasing talent” or “scholarship offers,” a parent may be short-changing their child. If the yardstick is broadened to include relationships with others, relationship with self (understanding oneself and one’s emotions), and relationship with a higher power (e.g., God, not a Division I coach), then a parent can make decisions (and behave) in a manner that prepares the youth for true success in life. Has a parent really been successful if he or she has a child that earns a scholarship, but is miserable, has no friends, and doesn’t have a clue how to sustain relationships?
“Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill.” These words from the Tao Te Ching were written by Lao-tzu 2500 years ago, yet ring ever true today. With people attempting to push new limits and do more with less, sustaining performance requires finding some “margin” to keep things from spilling over. Dr. Richard Swenson’s “free three” is a great place to start: music, nature and laughter. Here’s a challenge for the week: experiment with at least one of the three free every day this week and observe the impact. I welcome hearing how your experiment goes.
If you’d like to read more about “margin,” check this out: click here.
Every team has one at times, and the University of Texas is struggling with unexpected losses this season. Kevin Robbins recently interviewed Dr. Eddie O’Connor, Dr. Charlie Brown and others for insights on how to cope with a losing streak. Click here for the article.
Looking for a last minute holiday gift? Perhaps you would like a good book or movie to read during the holiday that will stimulate your mental game, or you simply want more information on how to help your young athlete get the most our of his or her sport. Kirsten Allen, a lead Senior III Swim Coach at SwimMAC of the Carolinas has helped me compile a list of books and movies that can help you with developing your mental game and making the most of your sport experience. Click here for the list and enjoy! I welcome your feedback and recommendations for additions to the list.