Changing the Context for Exercise — My Treadmill Laptop Computer Stand

Filed under: Behavior,Exercise,Health — Steve Brown @ 1:29 pm January 31, 2010

Yesterday, I built a contraption that turned my already hideous treadmill into something even more aesthetically questionable: a home office. I am typing this blog post on my MacBook as I walk on the treadmill at 3.5 miles per hour.

Treadmill Laptop Computer Stand

Treadmill Laptop Computer Stand

Like millions of people around the world, this New Years I again resolved to exercise more. After a bunch of failed attempts in prior years, this year would be different. I decided to word my New Years Resolution a little differently as well:

Find a sustainable exercise pattern that works for me, together with the tools to support it.

Emphasis on sustainable, as in beyond the first quarter. I also said I would find a pattern that works for me by the end of the year. That way I don’t need to feel like a failure even if I have not found the right thing for me when summer rolls around. There still will be plenty of time to keep looking.

This year I also told a few friends about my goal, which implicitly makes me feel more accountable. Actually, I did that before, and no one really cares about someone else’s exercise goal. What’s new this year is that I wrote this blog post, shared it on Facebook and Twitter, and now the whole world can see my New Years Resolution, and my laptop treadmill contraption, if they happen to stumble across this site. More importantly, I changed the context for exercise.

The first principle of behavior change is that our behavior is highly context-dependent. Our behavior at the office is different than at home. Our behavior at home is different than at the ball game. Our behavior at the ball game is different depending on whether our team is winning or losing. When it comes to behavior, context is everything.

In my 2010 exercise experiment, I am changing the context of my morning email routine so that the default behavior, the path of least resistance, encourages something healthier.

By nature, we are lazy. And even if we don’t think we are, the laziness assumption is always a better strategy when designing new tools and processes. We seem to be obeying one of the most fundamental laws of physics, to find an equilibrium point that minimizes energy consumption.

For a lot of us, this laziness equilibrium point is on the couch with chips and drink in hand watching American Idol, which, this time of year is on TWO nights a week.

Since it looks and feels kind of stupid to stand on my treadmill and type on my laptop with the treadmill turned off, I turn on the treadmill and walk. Next thing you know, I have walked five miles, answered all of my emails, reviewed a new contract, checked in on Facebook, written a couple of tweets, and completed this blog post.

Maybe this year my resolution to exercise more is actually going to work! If I only can convince my wife that my new treadmill office contraption is as aesthetically pleasing as it feels…

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