How to hack your way to better exercise motivation

Pilates class warm up

Searching for exercise motivation can often feel like a fruitless task. Whether it’s finding the time or just searching for inspiration, maintaining a fitness regime can feel like a full-time job. But what if there was a way to hack your own motivations to help get you on track? Recent studies in behavioral economics suggest it might not be as far-fetched as it seems.


Dr. Heather Royer is a full professor of economics at the University of California at Santa Barbara whose work has been featured in The New York Times. An avid open-water swimmer with an English Channel crossing under her belt, the intersection of economics and health was always of interest to her, “I became interested in health and thought it was an understudied area within economics” she explains.

The science of motivation and decision-making can be complex but what interested Dr. Royer was the role economics could play in those outcomes. Incentivization was always a concept that had fascinated Dr. Royer, particularly as it pertains to influencing behaviors, “I just thought that health behaviors are potentially easily manipulatable by incentives. Incentives double your likelihood of exercising.” Armed with the understanding that people are responsive to incentives, Dr. Royer set out to answer the questions and hypotheses she had about health habits and motivation.

The Exercise Motivation Problem

Forming new habits can be a tricky business and exercising and working out is certainly no different. As time becomes an ever more precious commodity, the opportunity cost of sacrificing some of it to work out often overwhelms even our best intentions. Dr. Royer and her team wanted to devise an experiment that could determine if paying people to work out could be an effective solution to this problem. 

“My ultimate goal is trying to determine if we can improve health outcomes by improving health behaviors,” Dr. Royer explains, “and it just seemed like maybe incentives were a natural way to do that”. What Dr. Royer and her team developed was a 2-year study conducted at a Fortune-500 company that incentivized employees to visit the in-office gym. For the first month, a randomly selected group of employees were given a $10 incentive each time they visited the gym.

The results? Individuals who were incentivized to visit in their first month ended up visiting the gym more often in the ensuing months. Of course, utilizing incentives to encourage behaviors is certainly nothing new. Think of lease agreements that offer your first month free or a new cell phone plan that pays for your iPhone when you sign up. The novel concept that Dr. Royer and her team helped prove was that those same incentives can be applied to health behaviors as well.

The Paceline Motivation Hack

The concept of incentivizing the pursuit of good health is nothing new for us at Paceline. What’s so exciting about our work with Dr. Royer is the scientific evidence that supports these claims. We’ve long said “you should get paid to be healthy” and now with Dr. Royer’s research, we’re able to prove that it works. 

What makes Paceline even more unique is our ability to offer varied incentives or rewards. One issue that cropped up during Dr. Royer’s research was the concept of “incentive fatigue”. Essentially, after a certain period of time, the same incentive over and over begins to lose its luster. “The same incentive, week over week, may be viewed as monotonous,” according to Dr. Royer, “so, changes to incentives may help to keep up motivation”. It’s one of the reasons we work so hard to find all of the incredible brands we partner with – the better the rewards we can offer, the better chance you have to stick to your health and wellness goals.

There’s also a scientific basis for hitting your streaks on a weekly basis. Dr. Royer points out, “when it comes to exercise, I think the week is a natural time interval – for many, exercise is not a daily activity so daily incentives seem less natural”. By offering Pacers the chance to unlock rewards every week, we’re able to amplify the motivation factor. The more streaks you hit, the more opportunities you have to get access to exclusive offers from the brands you love. 

The work that Dr. Royer and her team have conducted is an incredible way for us to validate what we’ve believed all along – when we incentivize the pursuit of good health, we can change the face of preventive care for society. It’s what keeps us working so hard to provide Pacers with the most rewarding experience we can. We’ll be working with Dr. Royer in the future to not just explore more of the science behind changing health behaviors, but also how we can provide the best user experience to help you achieve your health and wellness goals. Until then, you keep hitting your streaks and we’ll keep making it worth your while.

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