Coach’s Corner: Increase Your Activity with Behavioral Economics

wellness_coaching_amyBehavioral economics is a new and quickly growing field, particularly in the areas of wellness and exercise behavior. It is used to better understand how people allocate their time and why people do what they do.
Every day you get to decide if you want to spend time exercising or performing a reinforcing sedentary behavior. The trick to making the economics work for you is figuring out what makes the sedentary option appealing, and then how to apply it to an action behavior.

For example: a group of friends get together once a week for happy hour and to socialize. They found that what they enjoy most about these weekly meetings is the socialization, not the location. Instead of meeting at a restaurant, these women choose to meet at a local park for an hour of active socializing on the paths and trails. By understanding the factors that appeal to us in different activities, we can apply them to health promoting activities.

Our motivation plays a huge role in our exercise routine. Intrinsic motivation is the strongest motivator; this is performing an activity for the pure enjoyment of it. Extrinsic motivation is performing an activity as a means to an end, such as exercising in order to lose weight. Behavioral economics states that when our intensic motivation is at a low, external incentives can do the trick to jump starting your motivation. It also suggests that the influence of a default penalty may be the little push you need to get moving forward with your workout routine when the idea of heading to the gym that day is less than appealing.

There are many ways in which you can apply this principle of behavioral economics. One method is signing up for a race in support of a charity. Whether it is a half marathon, 10k, 5k, 1 mile fun run, it doesn’t matter! Knowing that while you are training you are also fund raising for a charity can be a strong motivator. Having the approaching event in the future can get some people up and going. For others it is fulfilling the commitment to your charity that will drive you forward when the couch is calling. In this situation, not only are you staying consistent but others benefit from your physical activity too— how cool is that!

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