The Proven Way to Fitness (and Performance) Resolutions for Business Pros and Other Workaholics

Forget Resolutions. Get a SystemTo put it bluntly, goals are for losers…use systems as opposed to goals” – Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert and author of “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big”. Thinking of a New Year’s Resolution? It turns out only 8% successfully achieve their goals.

Energy and resilience are two of three essential features to career or work success according to Harvard Business Review. With energy in mind, I joined Strava last July, the virtual community of running and cycling athletes (I am a recreational runner). Nothing happened.

But everything changed when I signed up for Strava’s December challenge, 10 + 33 Miles. Strava challenged me to run 33 miles during the last 10 days of December to burn off my Christmas calories. Whoa, suddenly my motivation was on behavioural steroids. I increased my running output by a whopping 300% from the previous December. I ran through 6” inches of snow, ice roads, and bone chilling record breaking temperature, a cold (which ironically lasted only 3 days) and high winds. Out of 12,554 participants, I ended up 5314 on the leaderboard. Who cares. I finished.

Why did I outperform under Strava? Strava is similar to RunKeeper or Garmin Connect. To find out, I reverse engineered my motivations and discovered the highly addictive Strava system at work.

What makes a great system to for transformative excellence: 7 factors

1. Join an Exclusive Tribe

The need to belong is one heck of a powerful motivator. According to Matthew Syed, author of Bounce, Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham and the Science of Success, “The need to belong, to associate, is among the most import human motives”.  The same psychology is at work with Strava. I am not an athlete but I sure want to hang out with this secret orange running / cycling society. Besides, I want the orange Strava “Proving It” tee-shirt.

2. Get a Deadline

The secret sauce of this 10 + 33 challenge was the deadline. I had to run 33 miles in 10 days. I could see the deadline from my running shoes. Daniel Ariely is a well known behavioural psychologist, an expert on habits and the author of Predictably Irrational, writes “Committing to a deadline is a powerful motivator because it puts your reputation on the line”.

 3. Commit Publically 

Daniel Ariely’ s writes: “Suppose that, rather than invoking the Ten Commandments, we got into the habit of signing our name to some secular statement – similar to a professional oath- that would remind us of our commitment to honesty. Would that make a difference?” The answer is a resounding, yes. When you make a public promise to do something and you tell your friends, colleagues and family, the odds of completing the task is “amazing”. When you sign up for a Strava Challenge as opposed to just signing up for Strava, you are invited to tell your friends. Do it. It works.

 4. Choose Simple Cues

Strava makes it so easy to track your runs. It also makes it simple to upload and compare with others. Download the app on your smartphone, sign up, press start and run outside. That’s it. The user experience is smooth and without distractions. According to web design experts, Conversion XL an app or product will quickly be adopted if it has the following features:

  • useful
  • usable
  • desirable
  • findable
  • credible
  • valuable

5. Find Flow 

Every endeavour pursued with passion produces a successful outcome regardless of the result” – Nick Bollettieri – famous tennis instructor (quote from the Bounce book). Moreover, “world class performance comes by striving for a target just out of reach, but with a vivid awareness of how the gap might be breached”.  But more importantly, learn the science behind “flow”. Flow is the concept popularized by University of Chicago’s psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly. Csikszentmihaly found happiness arises when skill and challenge intersect. “Physical activity, especially involving a challenge, is the surest way to release a combination of dopamine and cortisol in the brain. Running is one such challenge, and the growth in its popularity attests to the satisfaction that people realize from it.” – Satisfaction, The Science of Finding True Fulfillment by Gregaroy Berns, M.D..

6. Get Social

This is where Flow and Exclusive Tribe meet. The leaderboard effect. With RunKeeper, I have to go out and invite my “real” friends to join me on RunKeeper. I don’t like asking anything of my Facebook or Twitter friends. With Strava, I get to compete against the world without asking anyone to become a friend. I run in blizzard land Northern Ontario and have no chance of ever catching up with Brutus in South Africa. But hey, this hyper active leaderboard has over 15,000 participants. I can’t to win but surely I can squeeze in the top 30%.

7. Reward Yourself

Visualize the reward. For example, if I complete the 100 KM Challenge this month, I get an exclusive invitation (reward) to buy a tee-shirt. Yes, I understand you are perplexed but the reward is an exclusive orange tee-shirt. According to Heidi Grant Halvorson, social psychologist and author of Nine Things Successful People Do Differently, there are two (2) types of motivational personalities: Promotion-focused and prevention-focused people. Learning where you are on this spectrum will serve you right in ensuring you have the proper reward system. If you are promotion-focused, you work quickly, you are an optimist and you seek positive feedback. If you are prevention-focused, you tend to be accurate, work slowly, stressed out by deadlines and are uncomfortable with praise.  The key is to find your type of reward in accordance with your motivational personality.

The one missing key ingredient

Habit. Goals are useless because they are not in themselves, transformational. If your system includes “purposeful practice”, you are on a path of excellence, according to Bounce’s Matthew Syed. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, asserts the right human psychology is grounded in 2 basic rules: “First, find a simple and obvious cue. Second, clearly define the rewards”….”Particularly strong habits…produce addiction-like reactions so that wanting evolves into obsessive craving that can force our brains into autopilot”. For example, don’t run because you want to lose weight, run because you want to sleep well at night and have boundless energy in the morning.

In summary, I showed you an example of how systems (such as Strava) are a much better predictor of transformative performance than simple goals or resolutions. Still need a framework to nail your system down? Download Scott Adams’ How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” and the Strava app (iTunes) or here for Google Play on your phone. A better resolution might be, “get a good habit”. But don’t go Strava crazy. Like this post, please share with your friends.