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Text and photos from ZCOOP Singapore | 19 July 2017
Whether it's to lose weight or train for a marathon, staying motivated to see your fitness goals through is tough. Thankfully, there's an age-old trick that can help, which uses rewards and punishments to influence behaviour.
Whether it's to lose weight or train for a marathon, staying motivated to see your fitness goals through is tough. Thankfully, there's an age-old trick that can help, which uses rewards and punishments to influence behaviour. This method is nicknamed the carrot and stick approach, so-called because of the analogy that in order to motivate a donkey to get moving, you've got to either urge it along with a carrot (reward) or strike it with a stick (punishment).

If you're having trouble staying on track of your fitness goals, then using the carrot and stick approach might help
Which works better?

If you think about it, this approach is pretty much applied everywhere, from school and the workplace to family and relationships, and it's why we actually do things a certain way. But which one is more effective, the carrot or the stick? And to what extent do they help when it comes to achieving your fitness goals? "Rewards generally have a more positive connotation to them, and probably give more purpose to what you're doing," says Tan Chee Chong, a personal trainer at Elevate Gym. "They focus on the benefits while punishments focus on the lack of them, which can make you feel less enthusiastic about your activity," says Chee Chong.

Different systems for different tasks

Various studies have had contrasting results  -  some found that rewards work better at inducing certain behaviours, while others found the opposite to be true. In a recent experiment, researchers at Harvard University discovered that most people function better in an environment of rewards. But another study at Washington University in St. Louis found that punishment had up to three times the impact compared to rewards.

Know what works for you

Using fitness apps like Pact could help you motivate yourself to achieve your fitness targets
So should you use the carrot or the stick to help you hit the gym or pound the pavement? You've just got to figure out which motivates you more. If even putting on your running shoes is a struggle, a reward approach may be right for you,
especially when you need some immediate payoff to get into a new habit. If you're easily threatened by loss, perhaps setting up a punishment system might be better for you.

Let apps help

You can even use technology to motivate you with an app like Pact, free on Google Play and Apple App Store, which rewards you with actual cash when you exercise, and punishes you when you don't by deducting money from your account to pay other active members. Whether you set up a system of reward or punishment, just remember that these are only means to an end.

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