Just A Little Bit: Why Big Goals Demotivate And Incremental Changes Mobilize

Just A Little Bit: Why Big Goals Demotivate And Incremental Changes Mobilize

I’ve been a loyal user of the Nike Fuelband for a few years. Like many other users, I found it motivational and useful because it helped me make better decisions and look at fitness as a lifestyle, not as a one-shot deal. If I needed to earn just a few more points to make a goal, I’d go and take a walk instead of getting a ride or taking public transportation.

It helped me develop healthy habits, and in doing so became a habit itself. I was hooked! I’d upload and track my metrics very carefully daily, and always knew how many points I had at any given time. With its notion of a “streak,” they had successfully gamified momentum. It was this momentum, and my unwillingness to break it, that kept me maniacally checking my points and taking action to reach my points goal. I was engaged enough to tweet about the frustration I felt when I’d lose massive points due to time zone changes on my computer — and when I did so, the awesome social media team at Nike replenished my lost points.

Loss Of Motivation
Then one day a few months ago, Nike must’ve changed its algorithm, because all of a sudden I was getting about half the points for the same activity. My streak was broken, and the momentum evaporated faster than air from a hot air balloon. I reduced my goal pretty significantly, and still couldn’t reach it on most days. I believe that maintaining momentum is oftentimes more important than the achievement itself, so I was willing to reduce my daily goal, so that I could maintain my streak. I would meet Nike halfway, I decided. But even after reducing my goal significantly, I could never again reach a streak. The activity that used to get 4000 points now got me somewhere between 1000 and 2000. For example, last night, I walked 3 miles (which took about an hour at a leisurely pace), but that only netted me a few hundred points. I was willing to reduce my goal, but reducing it again would’ve made me feel like a failure, which made it no longer worth it as a motivator. The Nike Fuelband lost its purpose in my life as a motivator and a momentum builder.

Now, I can no longer can tell you how many points I have or how many points I need on any given day. I go for days without looking at it, and sometimes it takes days to discover that it ran out of battery. I’ve started to take it off when it clashes with my outfit / other jewelry. I’ve stopped advocating for it publicly and privately, and it’s not very likely that I’ll buy another Fuelband when this one breaks.


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