Can I PreSuade You to Exercise?

No, that’s not a typo. In 2016 Robert Cialdini, the man who literally wrote the book on persuasion, followed it up with Presuasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade.

“What does that have to do with living healthier?” you ask. Well, that depends on whether you are already living healthier, or you want to live healthier but are struggling.

If you’re already living the healthy lifestyle; eating right, getting proper sleep, exercising, destressing, etc., well, it’s a great book and if you read it, and apply the principles Cialdini lays out in the book, you will find lots of ways to improve your life, including your diet and exercise.

If you’re just starting out, and struggling with it, well, it’s a great book and you can apply the principles to help you succeed. You see, Cialdini’s basic discovery was that the conditions in which you do a task help determine the results of that task.

For example, when he was revising his writing, he noticed that some of it was very formal and scholarly, written as if for other scholars (he’s a psychology professor at Arizona State). At the same time, some of it was more down to earth, as if written for mass consumption. As I recall, it was all for the same book, so why the difference in tone?

Turns out, when working at the University, in the scholarly environs, surrounded by colleagues and research material, he subconsciously wrote for the scholar. On the other hand, when working from home, in the neighbourhood, he wrote for the common man.

Diving deeper into the research, he discovered that if you set up your working environment with your goal in mind, you have much greater success in achieving that goal.

So, let’s dig deeper.

I got very busy this summer, and wrote basically nothing for 6 weeks. At first I was simply too busy, but then I got into the downward spiral. I wasn’t writing, so I got down on myself, so I got upset and gave myself writer’s block.

Eventually the worst of the business passed, but I had developed the habit of finding something else to do in my writing time. Hmm, habits again. Anyway, every day for over a week, I told myself, “Today, I’ll get something written,” and every day writing time came and went with nothing done.

So I changed my environment. Since I can write and publish from anywhere there’s an internet connection, I keep my thoughts on a USB key in my pocket. When I’m in the habit of writing, as long as I have a computer, I can plug in, pull something up, polish it a bit and post, but…I wasn’t doing it. Oh, I had the USB in my pocket, and in my pocket it stayed.

What did I do? I loaded up my laptop and took it with me. When writing time came, I’d already invested the energy to bring the fool thing along, in doing so I’d already made one small step toward getting something written. Out it came, and I wrote I Ran So Far Away. No, not the song, that was Flock of Seagulls, I wrote a post about running and since then I’ve written every day.

I don’t take my laptop everywhere, but I always get something written, because I presuaded myself, the first couple of days, by taking my computer with me. One small step flipped the script from trying to talk myself into writing, to having to talk myself out of writing.

So, what does this have to do with living healthier? Well, what have I been banging on about lately? Habits. I mentioned the habit of writing. When I’m writing daily, I’m writing daily. It’s habitual. But when I’m not, I’m not. That’s also habitual.

As I develop this habit of telling you stories every day, I slip, I fail, I lose the habit, because it’s a new habit. I don’t fall out of the habit of exercise, because it’s a very old habit. So, again, what does that have to do with a healthy lifestyle?

Like I said about habits, start small and pick something easy. What’s easier and more likely to stick;

  1. Completely changing your diet, or
  2. Replacing that breakfast doughnut with a hard boiled egg?

So, how to presuade yourself to go to the gym, rather than go sit on the couch? Don’t decide tomorrow after work if you have the energy to exercise. Decide tonight that tomorrow after work you’re going to the gym.

Then, after you’ve decided, put your workout gear in your gym bag, and put it beside your shoes. Then, tomorrow when you go to work, you’ve only got to pick up the bag and take it with you. Much like with my computer and me, once you’ve made the small effort to take your gear with you, you’re already invested in your workout.

Now, instead of talking yourself into exercise, you have set up the conditions so that you have to talk yourself out of exercise. The setup of your environment has created a greater chance of success.

So, I ask you again, can I presuade you to exercise? Well, no, I can’t. But you can.

And read Presuasion, it’s a really good book.