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The reward factor

Cara Edge | The Quill (Brandon University) | Sports | February 9th, 2009



Using psychology to motivate gym time

BRANDON (CUP) — Motivation starts to fall as temperatures drop and the desire to stay in bed outweighs the desire to hit the gym.

It's only natural, and everyone seems to be inclined in the same way this time of year.

However, skipping a few days turns into a few weeks, and by the time bathing-suit season rolls around, that new year's resolution is but a distant memory.

In order to help combat this slow slide into laziness, we take a page out of the behavioural conditioning practices of B. F. Skinner. Not to be confused with Pavlov's classical conditioning, which would cause us to exercise only when a reward was presented; operant conditioning will allow us to associate our physical activity habits with certain consequences.

In other words, we can work out a system of rewards and punishments. While ideally, we wouldn't have to quantify this principle, being that we will be rewarded with better health and muscle tone if we exercise, or we will be hindered in our progress and be subject to guilt if we don't, often we need outside motivation to get us going.

When specifically tailored to your individual needs, reward systems can be an easy way to add that little bit of motivation to get moving. Desired items can include the purchase of clothing or media, or it can also include such luxuries as a night off of studying, or a long-needed bubble bath.

If you're finding that the rewards are just not getting you off your butt and up on your feet, implementing a punishment system can work as well. Skip the gym three days out of five or more? No TV for a week, no junk food for a month, or no new pair of shoes — whatever works for you.

A few words to the wise, though: Food should be avoided as a reward. While it's probably the first thing that came to mind, dredged into our brains from the days of getting candy for going pee-pee in the potty, it encourages improper eating habits, and is, quite frankly, counter-productive.

Rewards should be something you look forward to, and punishments should be big inconveniences. After all, it has to be a source of motivation.

Finally, don't expect a reward every time you go. While that may be what is needed to get through a particularly cold stretch, try to work your way into having larger goals to accomplish that will take longer to achieve, such as going to the gym as scheduled for a month, or working up to being able to run continuously for 20 minutes.

This will not only be easier on your bank account, and ensure that you're making it out to the gym regularly, but it will also ensure you're also making progress.
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