Case Study

Making Exercise Meaningful through Rituals

Problem

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 look forward to exercising rather than dread it?

Research

We teamed up with the Fabulous, a science-based app that helps individuals build healthy rituals into life. We hypothesized that rituals would help increase the frequency and enjoyment of exercise. We tested different rituals on Fabulous users: one group was randomly assigned to the choice condition (where they could choose one of four rituals), while users in the other group (the no-choice condition) were randomly assigned one of these same four rituals (a mindfulness ritual, stretching ritual, counting ritual, or designing their own ritual). Each ritual began with users reminding themselves why it is personally important to exercise. They would say out loud: “I’m getting fit. I’m getting healthy. I’m getting happy.” Next, participants completed additional steps specific to their chosen or assigned ritual. After exercising, participants rated how happy they felt and reported once a week how often they performed the ritual, how often they exercised, how much they enjoyed the ritual, and how much they enjoyed the exercise.

Results

Across all rituals, participants reported on average that the ritual made them exercise more on their own volition. 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. Moreover, when users were given the choice of which ritual they wanted to add to their routine, they enjoyed exercising more (regardless of the ritual chosen). They also reported a greater desire to perform the ritual, had higher exercise frequency, enjoyed the ritual more, and were more likely to exercise.

Why it matters

Anyone can build a ritual into their exercise routine. Doing so could help boost both enjoyment and adherence. But don’t just use the same rituals we tested! Personalizing rituals is as important as incorporating the ritual into your regular routine. So, the next time that you want to motivate yourself to go for a run or lift weights, begin by designing your own ritual.