Do you find exercise to be fun, boring, or miserable? If it’s one of the latter two, you’ve come to the right place.
The popular way to make exercise fun is through competition, such as sports. Sports are great, but not all people enjoy them or can physically play them. How can they make exercise more fun?
Make Exercise A Currency
Do you enjoy watching TV or playing video games? There is a huge amount of untapped power in these types of “lazy” leisure activities. Let me explain:
A certain part of me would love to play video games 24 hours a day. But playing video games doesn’t really advance my real life apart from improving my hand-eye coordination a little bit. I can, however, leverage my desire to play games in order to do things that actually do advance my personal growth (exercise).
Think about money: these are pieces of paper and metal that we assign a value to. If I hold up a 100 dollar bill and another piece of paper of the same size with a dolphin on it, a person will react much more strongly to the money, because they don’t see it as “just paper.”
They see it as a few nice meals, a day in Disney World (ok, maybe 1/3 of a day), a hotel stay, a fun night out, or nice clothes. They know that they can exchange money for the things they want. We can do the same thing with exercise and assign additional value to it by making its currency for fun activities.
Set Up Your Exercise Shop!
Most people dislike working, but they do it to get money, which in turn gets them the things they want (food, homes, cars, goods, services). Let’s use this proven model to get ourselves to exercise! Unlike work, though, this will have a tighter action-reward relationship, which is a big plus for making exercise into a habit. Here are some examples:
- 10 push-ups buys a 30-minute TV show (in some of my lazy TV show marathons, I’d have done over 100 push-ups!).
- 15 bodyweight squats buys a 20-minute work break.
- 5 minutes of dancing or running in place buys going out to eat.
It works just like buying a toothbrush at the store: you “pay” before you get the prize.
The idea is to combine something you already love to do with something you want to do more of. If you watch a lot of TV and would like to do more push-ups, your goal is simple: push-ups buy you guilt-free TV watching time.
Reward Association (Operant Conditioning) Will Change How You Think About Exercising
B.F. Skinner once said an operant behavior is “a behavior controlled by its consequences.”
With exercise, that’s an appealing thought, because we can manually set up ”rewarding consequences” after we exercise. A behavior controlled by its consequences simply means that the consequences of the behavior dictate how much or how little of the behavior we want to perform.
If you were given $500 every time you laughed, the world would suddenly become quite amusing. The goal is to make your brain think, “Every time I do 10 push-ups, I am rewarded immediately afterwards!” Exercise will become the thing that gets you what you want.
We don’t consciously think this way, because we know that doing push-ups and watching TV are separate activities and that we are allowed to do the latter “for free.” But our subconscious mind operates differently: it looks for the behaviors that precede rewards and attributes the rewards to the initiating behavior, which we’re making to be exercised. It’s a simple way to decrease your resistance to such an important, health-giving activity.
And there’s something about looking forward to a nice reward that makes exercise more bearable. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that “the burn” you feel will not last forever, or even for very long, and that you’re really earning your break this time.
I tried this one day and did 100 push-ups in order to play timed reward segments of a video game. It was easy and felt good on every level to know that I earned my playtime. I was motivated to “overearn” on several occasions and did extra.
Final Tip: Make It Feasible
There’s a term in the gaming world called “rage quitting.” Games are supposed to be fun, but there are times when the challenge is too great for a person’s skill level, that they throw their controller across the room or simply quit the game. It’s true in most areas of life that some challenge is good, but an overwhelming challenge makes us want to quit.
Your ”exercise cost” should seem reasonable given the payoff, so that you don’t “rage quit.” Don’t follow the ineffective trend of aiming for huge, willpower-draining goals. Smaller goals make you more likely to start (and finish), and because you’ll be able to dominate your targets, you’ll have more fun.
The best way to make exercise more fun—especially when you hate the feeling of exercise—is to directly associate it with things that are fun. Look at it as “earning” your rewards, and in time, you’ll win the jackpot: a fit and healthy body!
If you want the master class of making important behaviors easier, doable, and life-changing, take a look at my best-selling book, Mini Habits. It’s the highest-rated habit book amongst top sellers for a reason—it just plain works! It makes changing your life fun and guilt-free.
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