Back in the 1700s, the British government paid sea captains to take criminals to Australia. About a third of the inmates on one particularly horrific voyage died. The rest arrived beaten, starved, and sick. This was a scandal back in England, so the government tried to fix it with all different kinds of rules. Force captains to bring a doctor along. Raise captains’ salaries and so on, but nothing worked.
Eventually, an economist suggested that instead of paying for each prisoner that walked onto the ship in England, the government should only pay for each one that walked off the ship in Australia. This suggestion was duly implemented and, immediately, the survival rate shot up to 99%. In this case, incentives really were a matter of life or death!
To motivate yourself, you’ll want to choose the right incentive to encourage you to keep going and complete your challenge. It’s striking how much of a difference an incentive can make, even when your goal is something you want to do anyway.
For example, one study (1) found that offering between $100 and $400 to smokers trying to quit made them 3 times more likely to reach that goal than smokers trying to quit without the financial incentive. Most smokers know that smoking is bad for their health, and it’s likely that the habit costs them far more than $400 over their lifetime. Yet offering that modest sum of money significantly increased their motivation to quit.
Another study (2) investigated the effects of incentives on weight loss. Participants set money aside each week (up to about $3 a day) and lost it if they didn’t meet their weight loss goals for that week. The researchers found that participants in the incentive group lost an average of 10 more pounds than subjects who didn’t have the incentive. Again, most people who are overweight know that they should lose fat, but even a small financial motivation appears to be enough to change their mindset from “I should do this” to “I am going to do this.”
So, when you join a challenge, think about entering a FitReward that will provide a real incentive for finishing. It could be a nice experience or just cold, hard cash. Try to choose something achievable and in line with the size of your challenge and, where possible, make sure it includes friends or family – they will definitely cheer you on then!
(1) A Randomised, Controlled Trial of Financial Incentives for Smoking Cessation
Kevin G. Volpp, M.D., Ph.D., Andrea B. Troxel, et al. N Engl J Med 2009; 360:699-709 February 12, 2009.
(2) Financial Incentives Lead to Short-Term Weight Loss
Volpp KG, John LK, Troxel AB, et al. Financial incentive–based approaches for weight loss: a randomised trial. JAMA 2008;300:2631–7.