Price of Pain: The Push-Up Project Part 2

Price of Pain: The Push-Up Project Part 2

It was Aristotle who said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

If the average time it takes to form a habit is 66 days, then Team Matchup is more than halfway to its team goal in forming a fitness habit. After 9 weeks into implementing our behavior change experiment with The Push-Up Project, we are noticing some incremental changes in our actions.

At first, most of our team members were hardly triggered (i.e. entering the door) to do their assigned push-up or squat. The identified cue wasn’t enough to remind us to take action. This went on for 3 weeks with team members hitting a success rate of 30-50%.

A 2010 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that using willpower to create a healthy new habit via repetition was only part of the overall equation, and that there are numerous other factors at play that help make form and keep good habits — such as the use of cues and the repetition of the behavior.

The Carrot or the Stick?

Clearly, one’s willpower is not enough to build a new habit. Through practice, we also immediately found that the use of a trigger and repetition wasn’t enough either. In order to make the action so automatic that you don’t have to think about it anymore, and even to get to the point that it feels wrong when you don’t do it, called for us to add another variable into the mix.

We had to make a decision to add an incentive or punishment that would support leading us to the action. Which would it be, the carrot or the stick?

Unanimously, we went with a penalty in the form of a burpee. Insert collective moan. Right, that’s exactly how we felt too.

If a team member sat at their chair before completing a push-up or squat, that meant we collected a penalty (add a burpee to your push-up or squat) that we marked on the tally board in red marker. We continue to use a system where we mark all the completed tasks in green along with the addition of the red penalties, which we note on the very right in last week’s sum total.

tallyboard2

Team Reactions

Luckily, for the majority of the team, the action of avoiding this new punishment resulted in members putting more effort to take the action when triggered. There was evidently a split on the way in which team members perceived the penalty:

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Burpee penalty is the worst! And I will do everything in my power to avoid burpees, especially after the first few.” – Kuu

“I don’t really care that the penalty is a burpee, and honestly, I don’t think they’re that tough. I just hate seeing the red penalty marks I’ve collected.” – Greg

I don’t mind burpees, but can’t stand doing them with jeans on and a sweater. This was my driving motivation to not forget to get it in. I really struggle with this exercise in that I am the type of person that would rather habitually just come in the morning and knock out 15 pushups as a buffer for the entire day.” – Anthony

Regardless how the team felt about the penalty, everyone’s perception of the act (or effect of the consequence) still produced a change in behavior and adherence to the action when triggered. What triggered the action, however, was not just the act of walking in the office door, as the project would have suggested. Instead, the connection of associated triggers, such as 1. looking at the tally board before sitting, 2. watching another team member do the action upon entering the room, and/or 3. having a team member remind you with a verbal or physical reaction — ultimately helped to reinforce the intended behavior.

There were changes that we noticed week to week as well. Getting back into the rhythm of the habit at the beginning of each week showed to be quite challenging. After “taking a break” from the habit over the weekend, team members typically found themselves incurring more penalties on Mondays and Tuesdays, attempting to settle back into the routine again.

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The same situation would occur for team members who found themselves working remotely after a day or two and then coming back into the office. These temporary interruptions from the habit broke the routine that was developed, necessitating extra effort to jump back into the team’s habitual pattern.

Slow and Steady Progress

For one team member, the practice not only became a habit after week 3, but influenced other areas of his life. “My behavior change has also extended outside of the office. Recently, I’ve implemented a similar technique to writing 750 words every day. So far it’s working. I’ve written more this month consistently than I have in the past,” says Andy.

No one on the team has successfully formed the habit yet, so we’re still a ways from reaching our goal. We are, however, seeing the impact that group support has on establishing an environment of behavioral norms while helping build one another’s intrinsic motivation to stick to the project.

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