Motivational currency is the one tangible thing that will motivate you to reach your goal. It works because of its extrinsic rather than intrinsic value. When other incentives fail, motivational currency will keep you on target.
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Why Traditional Incentives Failed
Goal: Working out to achieve physical fitness
I live a sedentary lifestyle, but I want to be athletic and fit. Although I eat a nutritious diet most of the time, being slender doesn’t equate to being fit. My doctor verified this by telling me that I have terrible core muscle strength. The trouble is that none of the usual intrinsic incentives to become physically fit have motivated me to reach my goal.
Failed Incentive 1: Clothes that fit well
As a mother of four, I struggle to find clothes that flatter my figure thanks to the dreaded muffin top. While on a year-long restricted diet to discover food intolerances, my muffin top actually disappeared, but I became too skinny and had little endurance for activities with my family. When I added previously restricted foods back into my diet, the muffin top quickly returned. As much as I’d like my clothes to fit well, this incentive doesn’t propel me to workout.
Failed Incentive 2: Energy for family activities
My kids love to go hiking and play games in our backyard. Their dad is great at doing these activities with them, but I’m not. I want to have the energy to do these family activities, but this desire still doesn’t drive me to work out.
Failed Incentive 3: Better health
I have some health issues that may improve with stronger abdominal muscles. I know I should workout to see if this helps me feel better, but this incentive doesn’t motivate me to put in the effort.
Failed Incentive 4: Having the right exercise equipment
For Christmas in 2019 I asked for a more expensive gift than normal, a rowing machine that I had been eyeing for over a year. Since we had moved to a larger house, I knew that we finally had room for it. I had never used a rowing machine before, but I was convinced that this was the exercise equipment that would help me become physically fit.
I had some success using the rower during the first several months, but I was never disciplined to use it on a regular basis. After breaking my thumb and nose in June, I ignored the rower completely for several weeks and only made half-hearted attempts to use it in late summer. In September I purchased an exercise game for our Nintendo Switch and contemplated selling the seldom-used rower.
While awaiting the delivery of the game, I had an epiphany. I realized that this game would just be another failed attempt to get into shape because I had nothing that would truly motivate me to use it. No matter the method for getting into shape, I’m not motivated by the intrinsic benefits of physical fitness.
Finding My Motivational Currency
Rather than give in to failure, I developed a concept that I call motivational currency. Motivational currency is an unrelated, extrinsic incentive to reach one’s goals. Its motivating factor is so compelling that it works even when intrinsic incentives fail.
Successful Incentive: Earning my allowance
We live on a budget and maintain a debt-free lifestyle. Each month I receive an allowance that I can use toward items for myself or others that wouldn’t otherwise be covered by our budget. Losing my monthly allowance would be painful for me.
Thus, I made this proposal to my husband, and he immediately agreed. I no longer receive a set allowance each month. Instead, my allowance is based on the number of minutes I exercised on my rower during the previous month. Because I rely so heavily on my allowance each month, I’m now motivated to workout on a regular basis.
As I write this, I’m in my third month of using motivational currency to drive my workouts. There are days I row longer and farther because I’m trying to increase my allowance. I’m beginning to see the physical results too, but those results are slower than I expected.
Overcoming Setbacks with Motivational Currency
There have been some setbacks. The abdominal and left leg pain that I sometimes experience returned during the first week of November. I chose not to row that week due to the pain. I then injured my knee during a game of Hide and Go Seek with the kids and had to take another week off. Before using motivational currency, I might have quit working out altogether due to this long break in momentum. Instead, I’ve returned to rowing and am remaining disciplined to earn my allowance.
Finding Your Motivational Currency
Think about the things you do on a monthly or weekly basis that you could live without but enjoy having or doing. In my example, motivational currency is money, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be time spent in other endeavors like watching TV or playing video games. It could also be routine trips to a favorite coffee shop, restaurant, or beauty salon.
Guidelines for Motivational Currency
1. Take away something you already have.
Rather than adding a new reward as a motivator, consider taking away something you already have, and then earn back the right to that item. When you take away something you already have and rely on, the pain point of losing it is greater than losing something you’re not already accustomed to having.
2. Set a time period to earn back that motivator.
Because we budget a month ahead, it made the most sense to setup my motivational currency on a monthly system. The number of minutes I row in one month translates to my allowance for the following month. I can pace myself during the month to reach my goal and even overcome setbacks that occur.
Depending on your motivational currency, a weekly time frame may work well also. I would hesitate to do anything shorter than a week as any setbacks will be felt immediately and may cause your motivational currency to fail.
3. Find something that is easily measured.
Money in our budget and minutes on the rower are both easily tracked. This has made keeping up with “earning” and “payout” extremely easy. Try to find a motivational currency that is simple to measure and track so that you can stick with it.
One reason that motivational currency works so well for me is that the accountability is built in; my allowance grows the more that I row. Although my husband is ultimately my accountability partner, I only show him my time log once a month when we prepare our budget for the following month. Depending on your goal and motivational currency, you may need to establish accountability with someone.
Other Goals for Motivational Currency
Goals used with motivational currency aren’t limited to physical fitness. Here are some more ideas that could work well with motivational currency.
- Reading more books
- Spending more time in prayer
- Journaling on a regular basis
- Getting more sleep at night
- Reducing screen time
- Remembering to take vitamins
- Cleaning the house
- Creating and sticking to a budget
What would you add to this list?