While economics may be a subject that few people would, or would want to, associate with the world of health, fitness and weight loss, the fact of the matter is that behavioural economists have long been fascinated by many of the elements inherent in these industries.
What are the best tools to get people to commit to an exercise plan or diet? Why do diets fail? What are the best incentive strategies to reach your goals?
These are topics that contemporary behavioural economists have studied extensively as they try to make sense of the human decision-making process.
READ MORE: How to boost your motivation.
One of the more popular concepts is commitment devices (aka self-binding). Commitment devices are broadly described as a tool used to incentivise yourself to make an otherwise empty promise more meaningful; a way to get your future ‘self’ to stick to something your current ‘self’ wants or needs.
The common inconsistency between the current ‘self’ and the future ‘self’ is often referred to as a projection bias, or dynamic or time inconsistency, by certain behavioural economists.
It is a concept closely linked with willpower and commitment to achieving a goal. The problem most of us face is failing to incentivize ourselves in any meaningful way, which is what we need to remain committed and see the process through to the end.
Mind the gap
Take, for instance, a goal like losing 20 kilos. Many people will make this commitment to themselves, or they might take it step further and write this goal down somewhere where they see it on a daily basis, or they might start exercising.
However, these are generally hollow, meaningless commitment devices as there is little or no repercussion if they fail. While this approach may work for some, most of us will fall prey to the human conditions of procrastination and a lack of willpower.
This is commonly known as the intention-behaviour gap, in behavioural economics lingo – the disconnect between knowing what you need to do and actually doing it.
So, how do behavioural economists suggest we go about narrowing this gap between what we want to achieve and what we actually achieve?
It’s all about the strength of the incentive, or the associated consequences. What we need is a commitment device that is meaningful and has serious implications should we fail to achieve our goal.
As an example, making a contract that commits you to forfeiting some money or giving away something valuable if you don’t follow through on your weight-loss plan is a more appropriate commitment device.
Having said that, commitment devices need to have two basic features to be successful:
- Acknowledge that a gap exists between your intentions and your behaviour.
- Choose your preferred commitment device voluntarily. Being forced into something is a sure-fire way to undermine your motivation and commitment to the process, and your ultimate success.
Earn virtual rewards
Other options include hiring an expensive personal trainer, which will offer a monetary incentive to not miss a session.
And the gamification of fitness through technology offers additional tools. Activity trackers, for instance, allow users to record their daily activity in relation to established targets, and they receive virtual badges or trophies for their achievements.
While this in itself offers its own form of motivation, integration with social media, and multi-user functions across devices and apps adds additional incentives, as users are able to compete against each other or receive praise and encouragement from their communities, which reinforces this behaviour.
So, if you lack the willpower to set and stick to goals for yourself in lockdown, then try these approaches for that extra incentive to commit.
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.