Thinking about the last time they exercised helped encourage people to exercise again, even if the last time wasn’t much fun, a new study finds.
The research from the University of New Hampshire asked some participants to think back to a positive memory of exercise, while others recalled a negative memory (Biondolillo et al., 2014).
They found that those who thought about a positive exercise memory were more likely to exercise in the future.
This was in comparison to a control condition in which participants were given no instruction about recalling a memory.
Even people who recalled a negative memory about exercise were more motivated to exercise in the future than those in the control condition.
These results held even after the researchers took into account people’s exercise satisfaction, prior levels of motivation and prior levels of exercise.
The authors explain:
“Students responded only to a single request to describe a personal motivational memory, and this request was embedded in a broader survey.
They were not asked to use the memory in their daily lives as motivation to increase their exercise activities.” (Biondolillo et al., 2014).
“Without explicit direction or encouragement, our sample of college students, amidst the innumerable distractions afforded by life at a large, public university, increased their reported exercise activities from their habitual levels.
These results provide the first experimental evidence that autobiographical memory activation can be an effective tool in motivating individuals to adopt healthier lifestyles.”
Given the modest nature of the memory intervention, these results are surprising.
Imagine what might be possible with a little more mental effort…
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: marcovdz