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I employed a self-control program that aimed to improve my tendency to engage in exercise/physical activity. I was the subject, a 19 year old west-african female, slightly above average weight, below average height and severely lacking in physical fitness. This was done through the use of one application on an iPhone 8+ and usage of an Apple Watch. The application used positive reinforcement to encourage individuals to exercise through the promise of monetary gain. In the baseline period of seven days, the results showed that I engaged in little to no physical activity. The next seven days implementing the intervention program showed a large increase in the amount of times I engaged in physical activity and also showed higher heart rates than in the baseline period.
The program’s apparent success was not without limitations and minor failures that prevented the modified behaviour from being instilled.
Regular physical activity is an important backer to good overall health,advocating healthy weight and reducing any chance of contracting chronic disease (Karoly, Ruehlman, Okun, Lutz, Newton, & Fairholme 2005). However, the number of people becoming obese in western countries is at an all time high, causing concern for overall healthy living and life expectancy. A daily routine excluding any physical activity can have grave short term and long term consequences on one’s health. We all know the long term benefits of continuous exercise and physical activity: As well as weight loss, exercise is affiliated with reduced depressive symptoms and a diminished risk for heart disease (Strong WB, Malina RM, Blimkie CJ, Daniels SR, Dishman RK, Gutin B, Hergenroeder AC, Must A, Nixon PA, Pivarnik JM, Rowland T, Trost S, Trudeau F 2005). Modifying this behaviour and increasing my tendency to exercise without prompts would allow for a healthier me and more importantly to me, a large upswing in subjective well-being.
One main reason individuals, especially teenagers avoid any form of physical activity or exercise is our supreme desire to evade any incidence of discomfort. This concept comes about as people often express that they don’t engage in exercise due to lack of time but continue on to contradict themselves by saying how much they intend and aspire to become healthier and feel as though exercise is the way to achieve it. We reside in a society wrapped up in comfort, where we adjust temperatures indoors to our preference, snuggle in warm clothing and wear thick-soled shoes to protect our feet from harm. Our everyday lives are a little too comfortable to adjust to the instant minor discomfort that exercise causes. Theories of human behaviour have long depicted the reality that immediate experience often outweighs future rewards. That is, it’s hard for us to do something uncomfortable regardless of its positive consequences in the future. While we are aware of all the benefits of regular exercise, the temptation of sitting on the couch and watching TV instead of going for a short jog or walk is just too colossal. The prompt reinforcement that occurs when one does decide to exercise often extinguishes any zeal the individual had to continue towards their goal.
The fact that rewards for this particular behaviour do not immediately appear and require time and continuous effort is what seems to hinder individuals from pursuing their fitness goals. Due to this, programs aimed at increasing the behaviour in question need to conveniently surpass these negative reverberations. Skinner (1953) theorised that a behaviour such as this, exercising, needs to be followed by immediate positive reinforcement in order for it to be repeated. Hence, I formulated a self-control program that would encourage regular exercise using an iPhone application, offering positive reinforcement. I chose the use of positive reinforcement after having previously attempted other strategies, such as punishment (starving), and attempting to motivate myself by signing a contingency contract, however, none of them having worked in the long run. The app, Sweatcoin, rewards individuals with digital currency in exchange for being physical active and this currency can be used to make online purchases or redeemed for real money. I often have bills that need paying which usually leaves me with no money to make personal purchases, and this fact made sure that I would participate in physical activity at a higher frequency for monetary gain. MethodsThe subject of this intervention program was me, a 19 year old West-African female, lacking consistency in healthy living and exercise. To increase tendency to exercise, a smartphone application was utilised and a contingency contract drawn up. The first week was used as a baseline period, in which the behaviour in question was measured to determine whether it was an issue of self control or not and to establish a practical goal for the following week. The number of steps taken was measured using the same smartphone app as well as an apple watch to maximise accuracy of results. The baseline revealed a low number of steps averaging around 692 steps per day. Thus an appropriate goal of 1500 per day was set, doubling the amount of steps daily. If this goal was met each day, the app would reward me with $1. 50, which seems like a small amount but it goes a long way in terms of motivation and consistency.
However, it also proved to be effective in the long term as the more I gained from the app, the more it motivated me to strive for more steps so I could make more “free” money. Therefore I was able to surpass the short term consequences of exercising, such as sweating, increased heart rate and tiredness and discomfort by overshadowing them with the positive consequences of me exercising. Thinking about the money being made really acted as reinforcer and ensured the intended behaviour was not only performed to reach the intended goal but excel beyond it. As a result of this consistency in exercise, the typical symptoms of discomfort, over-time, decreased and I became accustomed to them. Evidently, the results of this study demonstrate what was originally theorised, that positive reinforcement makes it more likely that an action will be repeated. However, there is a limitation to this study. That being that the solely relying on the app to motivate you to become more physically active only works for awhile, it needs to be accompanied by your own ambition for the task (Saunders, C. 2016).
In conclusion, the methods of positive reinforcement have proved to be incredibly prosperous in increasing and modifying behaviour linked with one’s tendency to exercise. However, it’s important to note that the reinforcer of monetary gain may not be desirable for every other person. Hence, in replicating this program, one must modify certain aspects of the experiment to better accommodate them.
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