A Measure of Motivation

Without feedback from precise measurement, invention is doomed to be rare and erratic” - William Rosen

In honor of missing yet another workout, I’ll go one step further and say that without feedback from precise measurement, your fitness regime is doomed to be rare and erratic.

Either you show up to the gym, or you don’t. 

It’s really that simple.

There will be a lot of huffing, puffing, rationalizing, post-rationalizing, motivational posters, buying of expensive apparel and creative excuses.

In other words, non-doing.


Learning from Success

On a good day, motivation is in high supply, and I have no problem doing.

• I signup for a class, usually the day of. The class schedule rarely changes, but occasionally the class fills up, so I like to put my name down beforehand.

• I showup to the gym and sign in’ to the class. The coaches really make sure everyone who attends class is signed in’ because it helps them track attendance.

So what does this tell me? What do I learn from this behavior?

  1. I’m more likely to complete a class if I signup for it beforehand. Registering my interest in the class initiates a cascade of conscious and subconscious actions and thoughts that lead me to the gym. Or so I think. For example, I’m probably less likely to book something over the gym, since its now visible in my calendar. Robert Cialdiani’s idea of ’consistency may also play a part. He posits that people like to be consistent with things they’ve previously said or done. Anyway, it’s slightly correlated with completing a class and it captures intent’ well enough.’

2. Once I sign in, I’m highly likely to complete a class. I’m not going to turn around and go home. And by the time you’ve warmed up, you’re not even thinking about leaving. You can see in the chart below that I steamroll through the last 3 actions. Since I can only sign in when I’m physically at the gym, it’s a hard-to-fake measure of motivation.


A good measure of motivation is the conversion rate from sign-up (intent) to sign-in (action). I’m calling this the motivation score.

If you sign-in 10 times from 100 sign-ups, you’re at motivation M=0.1. If you sign-in 5 times from 8 sign-ups, you’re at motivation M=0.6

Learning from habit

Personally, I know when I’m in a highly motivated habit loop, because I really need to do the activity. If I go to the gym every Monday evening for 10 weeks in a row, I’m going to feel a negative physical feeling if I’m unable to make it.

A friend related a story which explains how extreme this feedback loop can get. She was training for a marathon, and she couldn’t stop thinking about running. She snuck out of a work party, just to keep her running habit going. She raced back to her apartment, ran 5 miles, and returned to the party filled with endorphins. Loop complete.

Habits are often touted as the key to motivation. I’ll go one step further and say a habit is an expression of high motivation. With a good habit, you are demonstrating that you are not doomed to rare and erratic’ behavior. It’s regular and consistent. It’s habitual.

Learning from learning

If we’re not learning from what works and what doesn’t, we’re stuck making the same mistakes, rationalizing why you didn’t go to class (“I’m just so busy this week”), and generally being a lazy sack of shit.

Habits emerge naturally when you’ve comfortably figured out all the other messy factors.

Looking at some very simple data, like a motivation score, is one way to learn what gets you in the right zone. 

The same thinking even applies for learning itself. In the graph below, tackling new challenges that are out of your skill-set, creates anxiety, and is a disincentive for learning.

If you don’t take a step back and really define what too hard” or too easy” means for you, it will be hard to get in a good routine and learn stuff.


Ask anyone who’s ever quantified themselves and they’ll tell you that at a high level, there’s nothing they learnt that common sense didn’t already tell them.

They slept better when they didn’t drink alcohol, or they were in a better mood when they moved around, rather than sitting in a chair all day. 

But at a more personal level, closer to the metal, I’d bet they discovered 100′s of interconnected insights that helped them modify and adapt their behavior. 

This is hard work. It’s about understanding/visualizing/verbalizing these obstacles (real or psychological) that get in the way of your workout. 

For fitness, the hard work isn’t in the gym.

November 16, 2017