Dear, Fabulous Traveler.
Willpower is overrated.
If you were to enter a military camp where screaming superiors constantly put intense pressure on you, you would easily find yourself submitting to the routine of a cold morning shower, making your bed and daily physical training. .
This would naturally transform you, but it would all be a result of the environment, not your willpower.
You don't have to motivate yourself to stick to this routine. Your transformation is the by-product of a specific context that requires and enforces it. Yet somehow, in the long-run, the changes in your behavior maintain themselves.
Do you remember Rule 7 of Sphere that we sent in the foundation letter?
Behavior Change Requires Environmental Change
When you start a new habit like exercising, you need willpower to get to the gym that first morning.
However, willpower is not sustainable as a source for maintaining habits. You can’t expect yourself to make a colossal effort through willpower every day.
Willpower is the pulse. The igniting spark. But environmental change is what makes the habit permanent. The goal is to change your environment so that maintaining the habit requires the least amount of willpower possible.
Someone has already cracked the behavior change challenge
I was having a discussion with Dan Ariely, advisor to Fabulous and prominent behavior economist from Duke University when he said something that really resonated with me:
“Someone already mastered behavior change hundreds of years ago: it’s called religion.”
Give this some thought, Fabulous Traveler. Almost all religions have a Sunday service, where you refresh your mind and reconnect with your spirituality. Research has proven that people are more willing to take risks and try new things on Sundays. This is why we think of Sundays as fresh-start days.
Many religious people place symbols or objects around their house that remind them of their commitment to their religion. Some people even create a shrine in their home: an intimate place where they can connect with their spirituality and pray.
These traditions have stood the test of time because they are built on strong foundations related to human behavior change.
From religion to science
Two recent studies have confirmed what we've guessed from observing religion: physical objects in your environment serve as an effective trigger for your habits, healthy or not. When a smoker sees a cigarette, it triggers a desire to smoke. What if we use this to enforce healthy habits instead?
Physical objects: The golden coin study
The first research conducted on this subject was by the Center for Advanced Hindsight, the behavior economics lab where Fabulous is being developed. The experiment was looking to encourage individuals with low incomes to increase the amount of money they save.
In the control group, participants received weekly reminders via text messages about the importance of saving. In the experimental group, participants were each given numbered gold coins, one for each week of the trial. Their job was to put one coin into a jar every week they successfully put some money into a savings account.
People in this coin group saved the highest amount: twice as much as those in the control group! The golden coins acted as physical reminders. The study showed us that, while written reminders are a great way to get you to start your habit, physical reminders in your surroundings are even more effective.
The elephant statue
Where should you put your physical reminder for best results?
To answer this question, we look to a study conducted at Harvard University. Participants were asked to complete an hour-long computer task. During the task they learned that in addition to receiving compensation for participating, $1 would be donated to a food bank.
To ensure that the donation would be made, they would have to pick up a paper clip when they collected their payment.
Some students were told that an elephant statue would be sitting on the counter where they collected their payment, as a reminder to pick up a paperclip; others were simply thanked for their participation.
Almost all participants that received the elephant statues as a cue ended up grabbing a paper clip, compared to only half of those who didn’t receive a cue. This simple cue, and its proper placement, almost doubled follow-through.
Just like the elephant, your reminders should be timely and positioned in the exact location where you will accomplish your habit.
So what are we going to do this week, Fabulous Traveler?
We’re going to give you an Elephant.
Based on our two insights concerning behavior change, let’s see how we can create an environment that will push you to build the exercise habit.
Picture this, Fabulous Traveler: you’ve just returned home in the evening when your Fabulous alarm tells you that it’s time to exercise!
You dismiss the alarm. You enter your room and you see a poster of one of your favorite athletes: it could be Usain Bolt, Muhammad Ali or Rafael Nadal. The poster acts as a reminder for you to start your exercise session.
You're feeling pretty tired so you decide to check some emails first.
When you open your laptop, you see a motivational illustration as your wallpaper, further nudging you to exercise. This is the quote you read on it:
Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction.
- William James
As you read this, you decide to use the internet to find a local fitness group instead of reading emails like you'd planned. You find and join a Facebook running group. Just seeing other people’s posts encourages you to join future runs with the group.
You’d like to start exercising now, but you’re just not feeling it. You close your laptop and lie down on your couch.
Your eyes stumble upon your Running Diary, left on your desk from yesterday. You started using it a few days ago, recording how you felt each day after exercising and making note of your next running goal. Seeing your notebook floods you with the memories of your last run and how great it felt!
This last nudge motivates you to get started.
Now’s when things get exciting! You open Spotify and start looking for new workout songs. Exercising should be a pleasure, and that’s why you spend some time making a playlist with new music.
Let exercise be an opportunity for wonder and discovery.
As you scan the room, your running shoes catch your eye because you took good care to put them in a prominent place. You’re even thinking of putting them on a pedestal. You’re also glad that you bought the colorful flashy ones. This makes them jump out at you and you’re less likely to miss them.
Your running shoes are in your exercise shrine. Despite having a small room, you decided to dedicate one corner to your exercise gear. You even decided to invest in a set of dumbbells for strength training.
Finally, you see your Exercise Totem! This totem is a small physical trinket that you associate with exercise and your new Sphere ritual. The totem holds great meaning for you and provides a sense of accomplishment. Maybe it's the prized set of boxing gloves you used in college, or the medal from your very first race.
Now you start your Sphere Ritual: it takes less than a minute and it really gets you ready to move!
Say: "I’m going to have fun exercising today!" while you look at your Exercise Totem, Focus on this for ten seconds.
Start your favorite workout song. Choose one that motivates you to start moving.
Put on your running shoes while being mindful about every movement. Don't do this absentmindedly.
Now you’re ready to roll!
Fabulous Traveler, do you realize how great it is to have an environment that’s constantly motivating you to exercise?
Now is the time to put this into practice.
This Week’s Plan
For this week, we have a One-Time Action and a Goal.
Your one-time action
Create an environment that encourages you to exercise.
Look around your room: how could you design the environment in such a way that it contains multiple nudges to start exercising?
Let your creativity flow. Release the interior designer within you!
Tap here and share your own ideas with Fabulous. We will assemble a report with the best ideas and send them back to all Fabs who shared.
Here are some of our ideas from this letter to get you started:
Hang a poster of your favorite athlete
Start a Running Diary
Join a local Running Club or Team
Create your own Exercise Shrine
Find a meaningful physical object and make it your Exercise Totem
For now, we will continue to exercise 3 times a week. Tap below to accept this new challenge.
If you chose running as your preferred exercise, use the Make me Fabulous activity for Week 3. Your voice coach will ask you to count your strides as it helps you get your rhythm to an optimal 80 strides per minute.
See you on the road, Fabulous Traveler!
P.S.: Take a look at this Nike Ad. You’ve probably seen it before, but it’s always a great motivator.P.P.S.: Speaking of motivation, here are some songs to try during your next workout. They’re not the ones you’d generally find at the gym. Make sure you’re always having fun while exercising!