Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wii Fit - Motivational Mechanics

Recently my fiancee and I got a new Wii Fit. We'd been looking for one for a few weeks and we finally saw them on sale. For the past three days I have been on an exciting fitness journey with my Wii Fit, and I have come to share my experiences with you, the reader.

The genius of the Wii Fit is that it does essentially everything in its power to make you want to get fit. I would be lying if I said that I am in tip-top shape. The fact of the matter is that I have only ever been thin while I was a heavy smoker, and I have never really gotten into regular excercise when it wasn't a part of a medically mandated physical therapy plan.

The reason that physical therapy worked for me was because I had 1) serious back issues that prevented me from being productive 2) a damn good physical therapist 3)enough free time to set aside half an hour a day to exercising.

Twice a week I would go to the therapists office, he would walk me through my exercises to make sure I was doing them right, and he would check in on the progress I made. When I had been working he would approve, when I slacked he would know about it. After a while I noticed the progress I was making myself. After that not only did I do my exersices, I actually pushed myself. About a month after I stopped therapy, I stopped doing my exercises.

The Wii fit provides the same kind of structure that my therapist did. For one, it gives me a small scale pat-on-the-back reward message every day that I do it, and reinforces more if I practice every day. This is just enough to make me think about how to fit the Wii fit into my daily schedule, or at least has been enough to do so for the past few days.

Next, it provides a look at progress over time. I can see where I started weight wise (I'm not telling), and "Wii Fit Age"-wise (40) . While my weight has not dramatically decreased over the past three days, I have noticed a significant drop in my Wii Fit Age (to 27) and, you know what? This is enough to make me want to keep playing.

Thirdly, it actually monitors my progress in each of the exercises I'm doing. Now, I'm not going to fool myself into thinking that a balance board is going to tell me whether I'm doing an exercise exactly right or not, but between the balance feedback and the model of the person doing the exercises on screen I no longer have the crippling "I can't be doing this right" feeling that I get when trying to do exercises on my own.

The last thing I want to talk about is the co-motivation it uses. Every time you see your score on a particular exercise, you see it in a full leaderboard of everyone who uses the wii fit. If my fiancee does better than me in an activity this gives me a powerful motivation to do a little better. It also periodically asks us to notice how the other one is doing, encouraging co-motivation outside of the game as well.

As my studies have shown me, motivation is the biggest component to education and behavior change. You want someone to do something, you have to make sure they want to do it. So far, Wii fit is doing a great job of really making me want to spend a little time every day exercising.

At the moment I don't have any real criticisms of Wii Fit. Yes, it requires exercise but I signed on for that. Yes, it's more of a tool than a game but, you know what, it's a really neat tool for motivating exercise at a fraction of the cost of a personal trainer. What I would love to see is an in-gym version of this kind of program with the same constant support, schedule flexibility, and convenience factor.

We'll see how I feel about it in a couple weeks.

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