The Science of Self-Monitoring

Jan 01, 2005

Did you know that over two centuries ago, Benjamin Franklin used detailed grids to measure his progress toward the 13 goals he had set for himself? He believed this logging process deepened his self-understanding and enhanced his efforts to modify his behavior.

Today, many accomplished people use the same technique in their efforts to achieve more and perform better. Re-search confirms that recording aspects of behavior and progress toward goals—a process psychologists call self-monitoring—enhances success in making a variety of life changes. When combined with goal setting and other behavioral-change techniques, self-monitoring is a simple but powerful tool.

How can you use self-monitoring tech-niques to accomplish your exercise and healthy-living goals? Use these tips below from Stephen J. Kraus, PhD, a success scientist and author of Psychological Foun-dations of Success: A Harvard-Trained Scientist Separates the Science of Success From Self-Help Snake Oil (Next Level Science 2003).

Why Self-Monitoring Works

Self-monitoring helps you avoid the “all-or-nothing” thinking that can often lead to the “snow-ball effect” (suffering a minor setback, considering yourself a “failure” and letting that small lapse snowball into a major relapse and a total collapse). Furthermore, self-monitoring tends to counteract people’s natural tendency to overlook pro-gress, as when dieters focus on times they broke their diets, while minimizing all their successes.

Self-monitoring also facilitates “course corrections.” For example, if you record progress toward eating and exercise goals, you may learn that you are suffering from “weekend snowballs”—making solid progress during the week, but letting minor slips snowball into periods of inactivity and overeating on weekends. Armed with this knowledge, you can then make “course corrections”: On weekends, you can redouble your efforts to exercise and perhaps decide to cook healthy meals at home rather than eat out.

Tips for Success

You will be more motivated and comply better with an exercise regimen if you begin by tracking progress on controllable behaviors, such as workout length and intensity, rather than physiological “outcome measures,” such as changes in weight, blood pressure, body fat or medication needs. You can’t wake up in the morning and say, “I will lose weight today.” But you can say, “I will go to the gym today” or “I will eat vegetables four times today.”

Another way to make self-monitoring successful is to use a spreadsheet to create visually compelling charts and graphs of your data. Put the data in front of you in a comprehensible, inspiring format. Most people find steadily increasing lines that reflect improved strength and conditioning or minutes exercised far more motivating and understandable than rows of numbers.

Motivation to Improve

When you are performing well, self-monitoring gives you the small, satisfying reward of re-cording progress and giving yourself a “good grade.” When you are struggling, giving yourself a “bad grade” is a gentle but thought-provoking reminder that encourages you to evaluate alternative strategies. If you do give yourself a “bad grade,” however, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, develop a strategy to help meet your goal. For example, if you skip your workout one day because of obligations at work or home, you can develop a strategy that will help you stick to the regime. That strategy might be waking up an hour earlier in the morning to do the exercise or writing the workout in your appointment book and honoring it as you would a business meeting.

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 2, Issue 1

© 2005 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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