With New Year's comes resolutions, and experts say a few simple tips can set a person up for success — no matter what they want to change.
The suggestions come from the University of Pennsylvania's "Behavior Change for Good," a first-of-its-kind collaborative study identifying what motivates people the most to develop regular workout habits.
"The methodology to me is also part of what's so neat about the work, because it shows a different way of doing science that might allow us to gain insights about human behavior change much faster and more efficiently than we ever have before," Dr. Katherine Milkman said.
The study partnered with 24 Hour Fitness and scientists all over the U.S. to test 54 different versions of a digital exercise motivational program at once.
Gym guests set a workout plan and were sent text reminders and other various motivations to work out. Some also got points that transferred into small cash rewards at Amazon — about 22 cents per visit to the gym.
Overall almost half of the interventions increased gym visits by 9% to 27%.
The top motivator was awarding extra points to a person for coming back to the gym the day after a missed workout. Milkman doesn't think an additional 9 cents at Amazon inspired the extra motivation.
"It's drawing your attention to the idea that you don't want to have a series of misses. OK, we're gonna all slip up and miss one of our planned gym visits here and there. It's probably inevitable. But don't let it accumulate," she said. "That turned out to be really impactful, which I think is fascinating, and it's something we can all internalize. Like, OK, sometimes I'm not going do the thing that I want to do, but don't let that ever happen twice. Never twice in a row."
Other top motivators to keep people coming back to the gym were:
- Social pressure — reminders of factual information about more Americans exercising
- Temptation bundling — when people did something fun while working out, like listen to an audiobook or watch a TV show
- Setting reminders to workout
- Not giving up after a setback, or not missing more than two days in a row
Milkman said there are other techniques to help keep resolutions in the new year.
"Meditating regularly, getting to bed at a reasonable hour, staying off your smartphone — you can use that strategy in all of those areas," she said.