Does Your Ego Help You Stay Fit?
I wrote before that vanity is a better motivator than moral pieties. As much as we like the idea of attaching our actions to causes, the allure of short-term benefits always wins. We’re wired to borrow against the future.
Yesterday a paper was released that studied how different sources of motivation affected people’s ability to stick to an exercise routine. Middle-aged women were put through an exercise-program for one year, and at the end researchers compared the reasons people tried to exercise in the quitters and non-quitters.
What did they find?
The people that dropped out of the program were more likely to have “self-actualization” motivations for exercising like long-term health, graceful aging, or sustained weight-loss.
The people that stuck with the program were more likely to exercise because it had an immediate impact on their daily lives. It was either fun, a chance to socialize, or gave them a jolt of happiness when they finished. They didn’t care so much about attaining some higher accomplishment.
There was a useful statement in the conclusion of the paper:
Our data suggest that superordinate exercise goals related to health and healthy aging are associated
with less exercise than those related to enhancing daily quality of life, despite being equally
valued. Individuals have been socialized to perceive and value exercise primarily as a vehicle to
promote health, prevent disease, and lose weight [18, 105]. While important, these types of
benefits might not make exercise compelling enough to successfully compete against other daily
responsibilities and priorities [43, 100]. Because immediate payoffs motivate behavior better
than distant goals [81, 82], a more effective “hook” for promoting higher participation levels
might be to rebrand exercise as a primary way individuals can enhance the quality of their daily
lives [90, 106]