Swimsuit season is back. And that’s prompting many Americans to pick up abandoned New Year’s resolutions to cut calories or up their time at the gym. But to be successful, scientists say, you need to focus on short-term rewards.
People who included immediate rewards in their pursuit of a long-term goal, such as losing weight or getting in shape, were more likely to stick with the diet or exercise program than those who didn’t, according to a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research.
In one activity, the study found that study participants who chose what they considered to be enjoyable weight-lifting exercises performed more sets and repetitions than those who selected exercises that were more useful for their health goals. Another part of the study found that participants who ate carrots for their taste, rather than for their health, consumed more of them.
But this method only goes so far. The immediate reward—in this case, taste—must produce an enjoyable experience. For instance, participants who ate apples for the taste consumed more than those who ate for health reasons. But participants who ate spinach for the taste ate less of it than those who focused on the leafy vegetable’s nutritional benefits.
The study’s findings also found people stayed with an activity when outside rewards were added. For example, students who tackled an assignment while listening to music, eating healthy snacks and using colored pencils completed more problems than those who didn’t have any of those outside activities.
So how does this study help you lose enough weight (or tone up enough) to feel good in your itty bitty bikini?
First, choose an activity that you like rather than the one that is the most efficient in obtaining your goal, such as Zumba classes versus fitness boot camp. Next, focus on the immediate and enjoyable aspects of your activity—think about how yummy berries are as a dessert. Last, include other immediate outside rewards, such as listening to music during exercising, to help you reach your ultimate goal.