Getting ourselves to do stuff we don’t want to do seems to be the main hurdle to achieving any goal, but especially when it comes to diet and exercise. But one man found an ingenious — and slightly insane — way to motivate himself to hit the gym.
Nir Eyal had a problem: He was paying money for a gym membership he rarely used. Relate, much? But instead of feeling guilty every time he saw the monthly charge on his credit card, he decided to use his training as a behavioral design psychologist to come up with an unconventional solution. He lit his money on fire.
Yep, Eyal taped a $100 bill (go big or go home!) to his calendar for every day he had scheduled a workout. If he completed his exercises, then he got to keep his money. But if he skipped the gym? He had to watch his hard-earned money go up in smoke — literally. He calls it his “burn or burn technique,” as in feel the burn at the gym or feel the pain in your wallet.
And make no mistake, it’s supposed to hurt. A lot. You can’t lessen the pain by giving the money to charity or spending it on someone else, because then you’re still getting a little reward for your “bad” behavior.
“As radical as ‘burn or burn’ sounds, there’s good science to support why it’s so effective,” Eyal writes. “For one, it’s no surprise we hate losing money. Social scientists tell us humans feel the psychological pain of loss twice as powerfully as the satisfaction of a gain — a phenomenon known as loss aversion. [In addition] we are present-biased, meaning we fail to properly value benefits we won’t realize for some time. These psychological tendencies conspire to keep us from doing the things we know we should.”
Fighting these natural human impulses takes something that will make a big impact, he adds. Something like the totally insane move of burning Benjamins. “I too struggled with starting ‘burn or burn’ because I knew it meant I’d have to actually do the uncomfortable work,” he said. “Then, I finally realized how ridiculous this line of thinking was. Why would I resist a technique that virtually guaranteed I would accomplish my goal? If I wasn’t ready to commit, then I should forget the goal altogether. But if I really wanted it, I should gladly put money on the line to make sure I’d do the heavy lifting.”
He doesn’t recommend his technique to everyone. It could be problematic for people who can’t afford to lose money, and it might create an unhealthy relationship with exercise. But if you’re looking for a radical way to motivate yourself, it might be worth thinking about.
And don’t worry too much — Eyal says he’s been doing his plan for six months and hasn’t had to burn a single bill yet.