I had a terrific personal training session today. It was terrific mostly because my personal trainer — the very talented Tracy — uses some behavioural decision science principles to make it enjoyable and engaging.
Normally speaking I turn up, reluctant to do personal training, in a desperate attempt to keep fit and healthy. I couldn’t say I enjoy it. But Tracy clearly understands how to apply decision science principles to her work. Below is an article that Tracy herself wrote. It explains how she set the activity up. Essentially she asked me to choose a card – any card – from a pack with the faces hidden. And then depending on what card and the suit I chose, I had to do certain exercises a given number of times.
Mix up your home workout with this magic playing card trick
Diamonds : Press Ups
Hearts : Star Jumps
Clubs : Striding (alternate) lunges
Spades : Squats
Joker : 30 second plank
Number of reps : number on card (ace is 1 rep, to 10 reps)
Picture cards : 12 reps
See if you can get through the whole pack!
Optional: employ a child as your magic assistance. Fee free to share the magic.
An original workout from Personal Trainer Tracy Griffen of Griffen Fitness.
As we walked through the session I realise she was applying some really useful behavioural science principles to engage me more in the session.
The overall session was presented as a game, something fun but with rules that were simple and clear. The idea of the randomness and the fact that I could complain about getting yet another round of squats (spades) or press ups (diamonds) to do made it fun and enjoyable. She also gave really good feedback and reinforcement, so every time I choose a card with a high number she was sympathetic, but then at the end she’d congratulate me for how well I had done the exercise. This fast and focused feedback is the same kind that makes candy crush so addictive.
Every time I got to choose a card to decide the exercise which, in a way, made me feel like I was sort of in charge of the exercise. I know that really the result was random, but the fact that I was selecting a card rather than her telling me what exercise to do and how many times to do it gave me a real feeling of agency that I enjoyed. We know from decision science that the more people feel they are in control of a process the more likely they are to be engaged in it. I felt I was guiding my own efforts.
The very clever Tracy suggested I try her card selection exercise for 20 minutes and see how many cards I got through. After these 20 minutes we could, if I chose, go back to ‘normal’ here’s-what-I-want-you-to-do exercise. At the end of 20 minutes I was more or less 2/3 of the way through the pack. Tracy asked what I wanted to do and I felt that weird inclination to complete the entire pack. Again, this was slightly meaningless, except from a behaviour science point we like the idea of completion especially if we are significantly into the process. And finishing the pack gave me that psychologically satisfying feeling of completion.
I’m looking forward to the talented Tracy blending more behavioural science into my fitness.