Behavior Change for Health and Fitness
The experts on behavior change and habit formation are not medical professionals. They’re not gym owners or fitness gurus. It’s not even life coaches (sorry guys). If that were the case, the world would be a completely different place. When you went to the doctor and he said, “You probably need to eat less fast food,” you actually would. When your trainer said, “I need you to drink more water,” you actually would. Unfortunately, most of the health community has little idea what behavior change looks like.
The real experts are consumer-goods companies.
Think Coca-Cola, Nestle, Proctor and Gamble, etc. These are the big players whose success is linked directly to the fact that you use their products and keep coming back for more; till the day you die. Now, before you get too far off into the weeds on whether or not you think big business is the devil, let’s reel it in and stay on task – if we were half as good at changing behavior as these guys are, obesity would be a thing of the past. We’d all have abs, bicep veins, and limitless energy.
So, what’s the secret?
Operant conditioning is a type of learning that occurs as a result of the consequences of a behavior. It was first described by psychologist B. F. Skinner and is based on the idea that behavior is shaped by the consequences, negative or positive, that follow it. There are three types of consequences in operant conditioning: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, and punishment.
Positive Reinforcement: A behavior is strengthened by the addition of a desirable outcome. For example, a consumer may be offered a discount on their next purchase after making a purchase, encouraging them to repeat the behavior.
Negative Reinforcement: A behavior is strengthened by the removal of an unpleasant consequence. For example, a consumer may be offered a more comfortable shopping experience if they sign up for a loyalty program, encouraging them to repeat the behavior.
Punishment: A behavior is weakened by an unpleasant consequence. For example, a consumer may be charged a fee for returning a product, discouraging them from repeating the behavior.
Consumer goods companies use operant conditioning by offering rewards or making their products convenient to use, reinforcing desired behaviors, and using punishment to discourage undesirable behaviors. This helps to create habits and drive repeat purchases.
The same strategies can be applied to fitness.
Before going further, I want to clarify: we are NOT advocating for punishment, self-harm, or destructive forms of negative reinforcement. These tactics can lead to addictions, health disorders, and drastically unhealthy outcomes.
We are saying that you can love health and fitness.
Creating habits is a matter of compounding immediate rewards and repeating them until it is easier to continue than it is to stop.
Exercise inherently carries very few immediate rewards. You’re getting tired, getting sweaty, getting sore, doing things that are unfamiliar or uncomfortable, and you feel like everyone is judging you. Sounds miserable, right? If that was all there was to exercise, none of us would do it.
Unfortunately, nearly all the positive factors take time to gain. Weight loss, increased strength and energy, improvements in mood and sleep quality, improved health metrics… and the list goes on. In short, if you want to feel and look better, it takes time. Like, weeks or months long. That’s part of why our programs are six-months long. (It takes time!) But if the above (miserable) scenario is your experience, getting to six-months of consistent effort is incredibly difficult. You hate every minute, bail within a month, and never get to reap the rewards of your effort. And honestly, given the miserable experience that it can be, that’s understandable.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Creating habits is a matter of compounding immediate rewards, remember?
Let’s shift the scenario. What if you went to the gym and knew exactly what you were doing? What if you met up with your friend/workout buddy, hit a personal record, and looked good doing it? What if you got to wear your most comfortable clothes, sip on something sweet, and go home feeling accomplished? It would be a completely different experience. Rather than going home beat-up, you’d go home fired-up to come back the next day. Fired-up to do it again. Rather than taking any excuse to get out of the workout, you’d be daydreaming at work about your next session.
The recipe for success is simple – do everything in your power to give yourself immediate rewards. You’ll enjoy the experience, stick with it, and ultimately reap the long-term benefits.
Want to look and feel better? Make exercise more enjoyable than candy. This is exactly what we do with Jackal Strength clients. It’s the fastest way to create long-term habits.
Remember Coca-Cola, Nestle, and Proctor and Gamble. When you enjoy exercise more than a cold Coke, crave it more than a little dark chocolate, and use it more consistently than body wash or toothpaste, that’s when you’ll know you’ve made it!
Our mission is to help you become a better version of yourself. You are the hero of your story, we're simply there to provide the tools for you to win your battles.