The experiment was simple enough. A computer screen contained a square on the left-hand side and a circle on the right. All you had to do was drag the circle into the square by using a mouse. When you did, a new circle appeared. The aim of the game was to drag as many circles into the square as you could within 5 minutes. What made it better, was that 2 of the three groups in the study were offered money. How many circles would you drag around for cash? The results, are not what you’d expect.
The three groups in the experiment were offered either $5, 50c, or nothing. The 5 dollar group dragged 159 circles, while the 50 cents group dragged 101. So far so predictable. What’s odd then, is that the group who were offered nothing dragged 168. The difference was motivation. If I like you, I’ll go to great lengths for you because I want to be helpful. If someone I don’t know offers me $5 to play a shit computer game, however, I’m going to be less keen.
If you’ve planned to start a diet next week, only to find yourself eating pain au raisins on Monday like a world shortage has been announced, you understand this feeling. Wanting something isn’t enough; it has to mean something more. If dieting to finally drop a dress size or reveal your hidden abs feels like work, it’s likely not going to happen. You need more than motivation, you need a way to stick to your diet. Here are three ways to make your diet bombproof.
1# Have A Plan
Motivation isn’t much good without a plan of action. I mean, I’m pretty motivated to climb a mountain, but deciding one day that it might be a great idea to ascend the Alps in my converse and a t-shirt doesn’t sound like a winner on paper. Having an actual plan is more important than you might think.
- In a study by Milne et al, researchers took 248 would be exercisers and split them into 3 groups; a control group, a motivational group, and an implementation group.
- The control group were asked to keep track of how many times they exercised over the next two weeks.
- The motivational group were asked the same thing but were also given material to read to motivate them to exercise more.
- The implementation group were asked to track their exercise and were given the same motivational reading material, but they were also asked to come up with a plan for when and where they’d exercise in the next two weeks.
- 38% of the control group and 35% of the motivational groups exercised at least once a week.
- 91% of the group who were asked to plan when and where they’d exercised managed at least one session a week.
The take-home message with this is clear: motivation doesn’t mean shit if you haven’t got a plan in place. I’m not talking about having a strict meal plan all packaged away in Tupperware at the start of the week, just an idea of what is happening. So, if you’re going out with friends for a pizza on Thursday, know what you’re going to order at the start of the week, and make sure you drop Calories on the other days to make the average number work. Small plans like this make dieting much harder to get wrong.
2# Make It A Game
Starting a diet, despite the sorry truth that you now have to eat less, can be exciting. At first, weight drops off easily, and weight loss seems like a piece of cake (even if you have to eat far less of the stuff to make it work). Further down the line, as hunger bites and slip-ups start to happen, it’s a different story. At this point, motivation might still be high, it’s accountability that is lacking. You need to find a way to keep on track, and teasing out the competitor in you is the way to go.
Get yourself an old school calendar and a nice big red marker pen. You’re going to mark an X at the end of every day if you nail it. Now, it’s up to you how hard on yourself you should be. I don’t want you to be so critical that you never put an X up because you’ve been 2 Calories over your targets, or so slack that you forget about the half tub of Ben and Jerry’s you ate after dinner. Be reasonable, and the calendar game will work better.
At the end of the week, if there are more blanks than X’s, you know you need to get your shit together.
To gamify the process further, compete against a friend. Competing against a friend over the amount of weight you both lose is dumb. No one body is the same and you should never expect to lose the same amount as someone else. Competing on how many red X’s you get by the end of the week, however, is a much better idea. If you can stay honest, which is harder than you think on a diet, the calendar game against a friend is a great way to increase accountability.
3# Reward Yourself
As we’ve seen, a cash incentive doesn’t always make you work harder. Not when it’s $5 anyway, but where larger figures are concerned, it’s a different story.
- In studies where cash incentives are used to help with weight loss, larger sums are associated with better results.
- When money is lost if you don’t reach your weight goal, a so-called negative incentive, the threat of greater losses means better results.
Giving yourself a reward if you nail your diet works, it just needs to be meaningful enough. “Paying” yourself some measly amount if you lose 10kg isn’t going to keep you accountable, it needs to be something that matters. A reward needs to be something you wouldn’t normally get.
- Make the reward at the end of your diet something meaningful to you. It needs to be something that will sting if you don’t “win” it.
- You need to be honest. A reward isn’t a reward if you’ll buy it anyway.
Giving yourself money doesn’t seem like a decent strategy, but buying yourself something you wouldn’t normally fork out for and would really love is a great way to keep your diet on track.
Even if you’re hugely motivated to change your body, it’s likely not enough to help you lose fat long term. By planning, making a game of it to keep you accountable, and finding a way to reward yourself if you go the distance, you can bombproof your diet so that reaching your goals is just a matter of time.
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