Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
21 Mar

12 Tools That Can Help You Achieve Your Health and Fitness Goals

nowlaterLast month, I wrote a couple articles on akrasia, or the phenomenon of acting against one’s own better judgment. First, I introduced the concept and described a bit of research surrounding it. Then, I discussed 8 reasons a Primal eater might suffer from food-related akrasia, including cravings, nutritional deficiencies, and mismatched Paleolithic genes trying to navigate a modern food environment.

Today, I’m restarting the discussion with a list of novel tools and techniques to help in the fight against fitness-and-health-related akrasia. As I mentioned in the first post, akrasia is universal, transcending culture and age and dietary persuasion. Whether we like it or not, we don’t always do what we know we should – myself included – so this post is for all of us.

Here are twelve online tools that will give you that little nudge you need to stay on track and do what’s best for yourself:

Aherk

Aherk is a goal-oriented self-blackmailing service. To use it, you set a goal – anything from basic productivity stuff like “finish your paper” to more health-oriented goals like “stay Primal on St. Paddy’s day” – with a deadline, then upload an embarrassing, potentially compromising photo of yourself to the Aherk servers. After the deadline, your Facebook friends will vote to decide whether you’ve accomplished your goal. If the vote goes against you, the picture will be published for all your friends to see (and laugh at). Though it’s still in beta, Aherk seems promising. I like the unique blackmail angle (though people already seem willing to post compromising photos to their Facebook accounts), but I wonder how effective it will really be.

StickK

With StickK, users interested in accomplishing a goal formally make a commitment to reach that goal by a certain date and put some of their own money on the line to be forfeited if the commitment is not fulfilled. You set the goal, lay out the stakes of your commitment (how much money, if any, will you put on the line, and where will the money go if you fail?), choose a “referee” to track your progress, keep you honest and report your progress to StickK, and choose other StickK users as supporters to cheer you on. Choose a goal template or create your own from scratch. Goals can be ongoing commitments requiring constant check-ins, or one-time things where you either succeed or fail.

Beeminder

Beeminder is like “StickK.com for data nerds.” You can use it to track anything with a numerical value, so it’s ideal for fitness-related pursuits. With Beeminder, you can track your maximum amount of pushups/pullups/burpees, grams of dietary polyunsaturated fat intake, days gone without a “cheat” meal, or days in which you walked at least one mile. It’s completely up to you, because Beeminder is highly adaptable to your situation and your goals. Based on your final goal, Beeminder will give you weekly goals – estimates of where you should be at certain dates in order to reach your ultimate goal – and plot your data points on constantly-updated graphs, complete with a “yellow-brick road” that, if followed, will get you to your goal. If you stray from the yellow-brick road, however, you will be forced to pony up real cash to keep things rolling. Provided you hit your goals, the money is yours, but if you don’t, the money is lost.

GymPact

For GymPact, users make a Pact – a commitment to go to the gym X number of days per week (minimum once per week). Then, when you go to the gym (or pool, or martial arts studio, or yoga center, etc.), you check in using your iPhone which allows the GymPact team to verify that you have worked out. Any gym (other than home or office gyms) is eligible. You lose $5 for missed workouts (to be paid out in part to other users who have fulfilled their Pacts) and get cash rewards for fulfilling your Pact. Most commitment tools that involve real money motivate users only with the threat of losing their money. With GymPact, you stand to both lose money and earn money. I think this sounds pretty cool. You’re not going to get rich off this ($0.50-$0.75 per workout, on average), but you will make a little scratch in addition to garnering the awesome benefits of maintaining a regular workout schedule.

Health Rally

Most of these tools thus far have employed the threat of losing money as motivation. Health Rally takes a slightly different tack: they use the promise of tangible rewards, as well as the support of your peers along the way, to promote successful attainment of set goals. To begin, you set a goal with an end date, then choose the reward that would motivate you to complete the goal. Your friends and family join your Health Rally network, chime in with supportive comments, and can even offer monetary rewards to motivate. Users can start Health Rallies for themselves or for friends and family – kind of a positive intervention of sorts.

Lose It or Lose It

This service allows users to set 10-week weight loss goals that must be attained on pain of lost money. You choose a goal weight, put up your money (minimum $100), consent to weekly weigh-ins (verified by taking photos of your feet on the scale) at set times, and have “accountability friends” (friends who track your progress and receive emails from the Lose It or Lose It team to ensure you’re following through). If you miss a weigh-in, you lose 5% of your pledged money. If you miss a weight target for the week, you lose 5%. I like the verified weigh-ins most of all. A lot of these tools can be cheated (although you’d just be cheating yourself in the long run), but photo verification makes cheating Lose It or Lose It (and yourself) much harder.

21habit

We all have bad habits. We all regularly do things we know we shouldn’t be doing at all, let alone all the time. Conversely, we all have good habits that we’d like to work into our daily schedule. Potentially habitual behaviors that we aspire to make habits. 21habit acknowledges this and asks you to choose a habit that you’d either like to stop doing or start doing. After putting up $21, you have 21 days to instill (or banish) the habit, and every day you have to log your progress. You forfeit $1 for every missed day and get $1 back for every successful day. Forfeited money goes to charity. Daily progress checks (with immediate positive or negative feedback) should keep you moving toward (and hopefully not away from) your goal.

Succeed or Else!

Next time you want to accomplish something, but you’re a little worried about actually following through and accomplishing it, check out Succeed or Else. You submit your goal and desired date of accomplishment to the team, who reviews your case and responds with two things: a projected fine (the amount of money you’ll have to pay if you don’t complete it) and how you can prove to the team that you actually completed your goal. If you agree to the terms, you send them the money, which they hold until the deadline. If you’re able to prove to them that you completed the goal, you get your money back, plus the accomplishment of hitting your goal.

Fatbet

Fatbet is pretty simple. Make a Fatbet by setting a fat loss goal and placing a wager that you will reach the goal. Convince other people you know to make Fatbets and place wagers, too. If you lose your Fatbet, you must pony up the wager, whether it’s money, donations to charity, personal favors, or buying dinner for the winners. By drawing on mankind’s innate drive to win bets and defeat opponents, Fatbet can help keep you making the right choices on your path to losing weight. This seems like a good choice. It doesn’t necessarily involve money, if that’s not your thing, but it should be effective because everyone likes winning.

Fitocracy

Fitocracy is gaming that doesn’t involve Cheeto-stained fingers, pyramids made out of Mountain Dew cans, and couches with butt imprints. It’s a social game that combines elements of Facebook with elements of roleplaying games. You post workout updates, choosing from hundreds of different exercises, and get points depending on weights lifted and exercises performed. Harder exercises get you more points; reverse dumbbell Swiss ball curls won’t get you as many points as deadlifts. Get enough points and you level up (for all to see). You can even create challenges (like “Max burpees in five minutes”) and invite participants. While I don’t use it, several of my workers do, and they report that it’s highly motivational. Of course, these were already pretty active people, but still: Fitocracy has blown up, claiming over 230,000 active users as of January 2012. That’s a lot of people exercising on a regular basis.

The Jerry Seinfeld

Detailed here, Seinfeld’s method of staying productive while avoiding day-crippling bad decisions is decidedly low-tech and is normally used for getting work done or doing chores, rather than reaching health and fitness goals. But that’s okay. It’s easily modified. You set a few goals (like “lift heavy things” or “eat no grains”), set daily minimums for each goal, devise boundaries and strategies for each goal, print out a calendar for each goal, and procure a big red pen. Every time you hit the daily minimum for a given goal, make a big red “X” on the day of the given goal’s calendar. If you miss a daily minimum, you don’t get an X. Strive to get an X on each day of each calendar. Chain them together. Don’t break the chain! I like this one. First, I’m a Seinfeld fan, so I might be biased. Two, it’s simple and it requires the user to interact with real-world objects: pen and paper. On the computer, it’s easy to minimize a window, switch to a different browser, ignore email updates, or just never visit the website that logs your unfulfilled commitments, but a calendar on the wall or your desk stares you in the face. It’s right there in your line of vision, and if you want to avoid it you have to physically remove it. I suppose you could use an online motivational calendar like Streaks, but I wonder if the effect would be the same.

Online Alarm Clock

I like this one a lot. A few of the girls in the office have been using something similar. They’ll set the alarm to go off every thirty minutes or so, and use it as motivation to get up and do a set of pushups, pullups, and/or squats, just to keep active throughout the day. If you sit a lot at work (or even if you’re a standup workstation superstar), using a basic alarm clock to keep moving every hour (at least) should keep some of the negative health effects of sitting at bay. You know you shouldn’t be sitting for that long, and the clock is free, so you really have no excuse.

Not everyone needs a dedicated online tool to keep on the straight and narrow, but I’d wager that very few of us are completely rational actors who make nothing but logical decisions each and every day. Even something as simple as the alarm clock method or the Seinfeld method could be useful. The only way to really know is to try it out yourself.

Have you used any of these tools to beat health-related akrasia? I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences. Can you recommend any of your personal favorites that aren’t on this list? I’m sure readers would love to know more. Thanks for reading!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. This is great…I’m totally gonna use the ‘succeed or else’ tool.

    Sarah wrote on March 21st, 2012
  2. Been using the alarm clock on a 20-minute loop all day today, and it’s great – I get up, stretch, squat, do some lunges down the hallway, whatever. Now I just need some heavy file boxes or water-cooler jugs to put up on a shelf, take back down, and I’ll be set.

    Erok wrote on March 21st, 2012
  3. I made myself a program that really makes you take the breaks. It’s similar to these Online Alarm clocks with never ending looping. The difference is that it overlays your screen with a motivating picture (defaults to Pavel with a kettlebell) and a timer.

    It’s called Slouch Interceptor, it’s free and you can get it from here: http://bit.ly/slouch-interceptor

    Mikko wrote on March 21st, 2012
  4. I’m fining the Cron O meter awesome at keeping my food consumption on track & in the right ratios.

    Odille Esmonde-Morgan wrote on March 21st, 2012
    • Me too. They also have a free ipad app that I use.

      Eating in orlando wrote on March 21st, 2012
  5. I use the Online Alarm Clock method… I have a 25lb kettle bell next to my chair, side lifts, arm curls, squats, triceps lift, swings and some times add burpe’s. Music in the back ground helps when working a desk job. The music reminds me to mentally change gears and get up and move.

    tsarinana wrote on March 21st, 2012
  6. I’ve been using healthmonth.com for the past couple of months. You can set 3 goals for yourself (more if you are willing to pay $5). The goals can be anything from “Go to the gym X times per week” to “Go to bed by 10pm X nights a week” There are a lot of health/fitness/lifestyle goal suggestions on the site, but you can customize your own. You start out the month with 10 life points. For each rule you break you lose a life point. You try to end the month with at least 1 life point, but ideally you would have almost all your life points. You check in on all 3 of your goals each day. If you don’t go to the site each day, then when you visit, it will go back and ask you about the previous days. It’s been a good way to try to work new habits in,

    Berry wrote on March 21st, 2012
  7. On that note…Does anyone have a spare fitocracy invite? I’ve been on the waiting list forever!!

    Erin wrote on March 21st, 2012
  8. There is a game called “Zombies, Run!” I can’t try it, but it looks like you play part of the game by running, and it sounds story-driven.

    My problem with Fitocracy is that there is no beginner mode. It’s like they expect the obese just to go drown in their own fat or something.

    Losing money because you didn’t check in would piss me off more than accomplish anything. Are there any excuses for power or internet losses?

    I am on Spark, but they keep insisting their system is perfect every time I point out how difficult it is.

    Kelekona wrote on March 21st, 2012
  9. Hi Mark, This won’t be a comment on your list – which is excellent by the way, but a little bit of consciousness raising. In the section on the “alarm clock” you say, “A few of the girls in the office have been using something similar.”

    I want to take you to task. Women deserve to be called women. They are not girls even if they call themselves that. We need to respect them. To call them girls is actually demeaning. I’m sure you had no intention of putting the women in your office down, because it’s such a common way to talk about women. But you can model better language, especially now that women are so much under attack in America from Republicans who think that they know more than women themselves about women’s bodies and are working to take away their right to determine how they will live in their own bodies.

    I have a feeling that the women in your office are intelligent, busy people who help the business run efficiently. Please show them the respect they deserve.

    Cheers
    Nigel,

    Nigel Pottle wrote on March 21st, 2012
    • Mr Sisson, (It’s just too familiar and disrespectful to call a person of 60 by their first name.)
      Thanks for the list. Have you run across any with synonyms for words that offend the word nazi’s?

      Tom Scott wrote on March 22nd, 2012
    • Nigel, I appreciated both of your comments. Mark is doing so much great work here for the minions, and is such an intelligent and thoughtful man (boy?), that it is obvious he was thinking of them as family, in a charming and non-demeaning way. BUT, the word used for a grown woman is CLEARLY in our culture equivalent to calling a man of color, for example, a “boy.” While it might be done in jest or in person with someone you know as a sort of in joke, it is just NOT done in writing, by a thoughtful blogger. So Mark, head’s up for future writing.

      Elizabeth wrote on April 10th, 2012
  10. Something my coworkers and I did was we each put $10 in a pot and weighed in. After 10 weeks, we weighed in again and whoever lost the most weight won the pot. If I had lost another pound I would’ve won that $60!

    kim wrote on March 22nd, 2012
  11. Hi all,

    I use What’s App. A cellphone app which allows free messages/pics between smartphones.
    I have a group of 7 people (family and friends around the world) who contribute short messages and pics eg. B: coffee, egg, salmon Ex: 25 pups/20 kbell swings.
    We’re finding it a great motivation and constant reminder. Working well so far as its making health social.
    Cheers! M

    Musaed wrote on March 22nd, 2012
  12. I wish I could find some external motivation that sticks in order to create a new habit! I tried the money thing, but that failed since I ran out of money. I tried the alarm thing but I got too ‘busy’ and started ignoring the alarm. My only external motivation seems to be visiting MDA and other like-minded sites to read the articles and comments so I don’t feel alone! Knowing that there’s an entire community out there with the same lifestyle beliefs as me definitely helps me when I’m under pressure to eat badly (or when I’m recovering from eating badly) and be lazy.

    This isn’t mushy waa-waa, I really do appreciate the fact that I’m not alone!

    PS. The ‘girls’ thing is moot. This isn’t 1972. Context isn’t just related to food consumption.

    Caleigh wrote on March 22nd, 2012
  13. I’ve been using Earndit.com, which ties in with my Bodymedia, runkeeper, everytrail, and foursquare accounts, as well as garmin, nike+, and fitbit. Rewards vary but are just about all fitness related, like 15% off at vitacost, or $50 towards an $80 railriders purchase.

    John wrote on March 22nd, 2012
  14. Excellent list! I just started reading this at midnight Australian time. I’m going to be losing some sleep checking out all these awesome resources. Thanks Mark for making me miss out on some shut eye :)

    Alex "Gym Rebel" Siddy wrote on March 22nd, 2012
  15. Use your grocery list as a tool to stay disciplined.

    You’ve heard the best way to stop eating “junk food” is simply not to by it, right? So to avoid temptation, we a) create a weekly menu plan b) write a shopping list for that menu c) only buy what’s on the list. Shop with a purpose, no wandering around and making impulse purchases.

    Team Brewer wrote on March 22nd, 2012
  16. I love this post! I though I had heard it all!

    Tiffany Youngren wrote on March 22nd, 2012
  17. Make health, fitness and your primal life or whatever you want a *habit*.. http://habitualist.com

    And for tacking and sharing (socializing) your WODs use http://wodstack.com

    Thanks, there are many tools, but if keep it simple (e.g paper and pencil) it’s better sometimes.

    Just do the first step!

    Cheers.

    Caio wrote on March 22nd, 2012
  18. hi, can anyone get me an invite to fitogracy?…thanks in advance and grok on!

    m0l wrote on March 22nd, 2012
  19. I’m an over the road truck driver with my husband. We eat one meal a day out in restaurants. I try so hard to eat primal but sometimes not sure how certain foods are prepared. Usually I have bacon, eggs, a steak, salad and sometimes veggies if they are fresh. I crave sugar at times and try to overcome that with greek yogurt and unfiltered honey. any other suggestions will be appreciated because I’m not dropping any weight and I really need to shed 40lbs. I love eating this way especially when I’m home because I cook from the cookbooks,,,,,

    Emilee wrote on March 23rd, 2012
  20. Mark, be the totally evolved man…they are women in the office, not girls, unless you call the men in the office boys. In that case you are all set. I kinda peg you for a boy that works with all girls, though:)

    Kim wrote on March 24th, 2012
    • ;-)

      Elizabeth wrote on April 10th, 2012
    • I’m stunned by these tools. I was expecting ways to flow into more joy, balance, creativity, fun, and self-nurture in order to be motivated, rather than a list of more ways to beat oneself into submission. Ah well. I guess the American way of life is founded on the Puritans, after all. To each their own.

      Elizabeth wrote on April 11th, 2012
  21. These all sound really cool, but the only one that actually inspired me is the low-tech Seinfeld-type one. For whatever reason, writing stuff down and checking it off keeps me on task way more consistently than the fun phone apps or tricky stuff does. I have had a huge problem being totally unorganized for a long time. I think I will try this: I have three spiral notebooks, and I’ll work on three big goals simultaneously. I’ll have one very short list of daily goals, and a second, longer list of goals in each notebook, that will add up to accomplish a big goal. My categories would be Fitness, Financial Goals and House Stuff. I’ll spend about 2 to 2 1/2 hours total (1 hour is exercising which I already do almost every day now). I will check off the stuff that I achieve each day in each book. I bet I’ll actually like doing it, because for me, it will be satisfying seeing those check marks! I may just keep adding to my longer goal lists so I never run out of goals, or maybe I’ll feel like I can get to a point where I feel like I can add another notebook like “Travel Goals” (got to accomplish some financial goals first).

    I’m EXCITED!! (.. what a dork I is…)

    Kariberry wrote on July 11th, 2012
  22. On the last point in the article, as a physical reminder to get up from my desk and do some exercise regularly, every time I go to the bathroom I do some form of exercise! It sounds silly and of course it only works because we have one toilet in one room (it would be a bit more difficult in cubicles), but that way I am at least getting in some exercise X numbers of times each work day.

    Teague1612 wrote on March 20th, 2013

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