ReadWriteBody is an ongoing series where ReadWrite covers networked fitness and the quantified self.
You’re probably going to flunk out on your New Year’s resolutions.
So why make them?
Instead, do what I did along the way to losing 83 pounds: Stop making decisions.
Make Fitness The Default
I typically exercise five or more times a week. This may sound like a lot to some people, but I found that going to five times a week made a subtle psychological shift in my head. It set exercising daily as the default. Resting one or two days a week was the exception.
When something is the default, you don’t have to decide to do something. You just do it.
There’s a scientific reason for minimizing the decisions you have to make. It’s called decision fatigue, and it’s a documented phenomenon where our ability to make good decisions wears down over the course of the day. Apple cofounder Steve Jobs had this figured out: He wore the same jeans and Issey Miyake sweater every day, so he could spend his decision-making powers on what shape the iPhone should take instead.
The usual way we go about sticking to a resolution: First, we decide on a goal. Then, every day, we wake up and decide whether we’re going to stick to that goal. Over time, this becomes mentally exhausting.
So set up your life so that you don’t have to make a series of good decisions. If you plan ahead, you’ve already made up your mind.
Use Apps As A Safety Belt
How do you manage this? The best tool is already close at hand: Use your smartphone.
A basic calendar app is your best friend here. If you’ve resolved to exercise, block out time in your schedule. Figure out when you need to wake up, how long it takes to go from home to gym to work, and plot it all out. Then you’ll never need to decide if you have time to exercise.
What are you going to do at the gym? More decisions to make. Here’s how to avoid them: Use a workout tracker like GymGoal to set up a schedule in advance, or if you’re the more spontaneous type, use a workout generator.
Then set up prompts and reminders. Pact, the app formerly known as GymPact, charges you if you miss a workout and pays you if you stick to your schedule. Lift is another good way to remind yourself of what you had planned, if you prefer the psychic rewards of checking things off lists.
Most people use MyFitnessPal, a nutrition-tracking app, to log food as they eat it. But a cleverer way to take advantage of MyFitnessPal is to plan your meals in advance, to make sure they meet your targets. MyFitnessPal’s extensive food database does the calculations for you. Again, this lets you avoid deciding what to eat, since you’ve set it all up for the day.
When you head to the store, use a shopping list. Remember The Milk is a classic app for this job. If it’s not on the list, you don’t buy it—no willpower necessary. Grocery aisles and checkout lines are designed for impulse buys, though. If the store is just too tempting, then use a delivery service to bring just what you ordered to your door. (Big grocery chains like Safeway do home delivery, and Amazon and Google as well as startups like Instacart and Postmates have gotten into the delivery business, too.)
Get Some Help—And Change Your Mind
Push notifications only go so far in motivating you. Sometimes you need help from a friend. I’ve written about the trend towards coaching as a feature in fitness apps. Services like Fitocracy and Social Workout let you join group challenges. Or you can just turn to social networks for encouragement from your friends.
The key in signing up for group challenges or coaching is setting expectations, for yourself and your friends or supporters.
I’ve written before about the idea of “integrated regulation,” where you stick to a behavior because it fits with your self-image. If you think of yourself as a runner, you’ll go running. If you think of yourself as someone who eats healthy foods, you’ll do that.
If you don’t create this system of integrated regulation, where your actions reflect your self-image, you’re left with the hard work of constantly making decisions—decisions that may not mesh with how you perceive yourself.
Here, too, I think your smartphone can help. Take selfies when you exercise: That reinforces the idea that you’re a person who exercises. (Believe it or not, there‘s an Instagram for exercise, called FitSnap, that lets you add workout stats to your photos.)
Whatever you do, don’t try to make a bunch of decisions on your way to fitness. Just make one decision—that fitness is not something you’re going to debate with yourself. It’s just who you are.