Case Studies

Making Exercise Meaningful

Most people would be better off if they would exercise more, yet so few manage to do so. How can we encourage people to exercise more and help them savor exercise, rather than dread it?

Hypothesis: We hypothesized that rituals would help increase frequency and enjoyment of exercise, that a ritual involving mindfulness would be the most effective, and that the ability to choose one’s own ritual would lead to positive outcomes.

Experiment: We teamed up with The Fabulous to test different rituals on a subset of their users. The users were randomly assigned to the choice condition (where they chose one of 4 rituals) or the no choice condition (where they were assigned a random ritual). All rituals began with the following two steps 1) Remind yourself why it is important to you, personally, to exercise and 2) Say this to yourself out loud: “I’m getting fit. I’m getting healthy. I’m getting happy.” Next, participants completed additional steps specific to their ritual. The four rituals were: a quick mindful ritual, stretching, a counting exercise, and designing their own ritual. After exercising, participants rated how happy they felt and once a week reported how often they actually performed the ritual, how often they exercised, how much they enjoyed the ritual, and how much they enjoyed the exercise.





Results: We found that across all rituals, participants reported on average that the ritual both made them exercise more, and made them want to exercise more. Users preferred the condition where they designed their own ritual in virtually every respect. This included self-reported good feelings, ritual and exercise frequency, ritual and exercise enjoyment, and the desire to use the ritual for the next workout. When users were given the choice of which ritual they wanted to add to their exercise routine, no matter which ritual they chose, they enjoyed exercising more. They also reported a greater desire to perform the ritual, had higher exercise frequency, enjoyed the ritual more, and were more likely to exercise.

Application: Anyone can build a ritual into their exercise routine, and doing so should help boost both your enjoyment and adherence. But don’t just use the same routines we tested in the study! It may be the case that personalizing rituals is as important is incorporating the ritual into your regular routine.  So, the next time that you want to motivate yourself to go for a run or pick up the weights, try making up your own ritual that you perform every time you begin.