Lately, I’ve been pondering the problem of how to get an individual to find success in fitness and to sustain that in the long term. It’s pretty much all I think about these days. No doubt, this is what much of the fitness industry is meant to do. But I must say, most of us are doing a pretty crappy job of it.
When I look around, I mostly see tools, utilities, and attempts at building “better mousetraps.” GPS / accelerometer activity trackers, wireless weight scales, modern workout video delivery, digitized personal training, etc, serve clear needs. But I wonder if we’re not missing the point and ignoring the majority of the population who are nowhere near needing any of these tools. The out of shape mom in Minnesota doesn’t need any of these things. She’s the one thinking “I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, but I want to change. Help.” With most of the provided solutions today, she’s more likely to join Weight Watchers than download a health & fitness app. Is Weight Watchers really the best we can do for her today? I sure hope not.
The conventional wisdom inside tech circles today, the zeitgeist, if you will, is that technology will save us from being overweight, unhealthy, and unmotivated. I hold a somewhat contrarian belief:
The killer feature in fitness isn’t technology. It’s soul.— Brian Wang (@brianmwang) March 30, 2012
I’ve always been skeptical that a “smart” device or app would be the solution to the fitness problem. While I do believe technology can certainly aid us in the quest for better health, to think it is sufficient belies a serious ignorance of what it takes to make fitness a reality for most people. We like to think that as technology advances and automation increases, the amount of effort needed to achieve a particular goal will reach 0. But fitness is fundamentally different.
I posit that succeeding at fitness in the long term requires a fundamental shift in the way the individual thinks. At Fitocracy, we call this “re-wiring the brain.” And this doesn’t happen through technology, but rather, through shared human experience. Let me explain.
When I look back at how my cofounder, Richard, and I started really succeeding in our fitness journeys 10 years ago, it wasn’t due to a device we could rely on or a 12-week workout program we lifted from a magazine. Rather, we can both trace it back to when we started spending time on decidedly lo-fi fitness forums like Bodybuilding.com. Inside those forums we found a group of people who were all there for the same reason: to improve themselves. We were drawn in by the stories these strangers, who would later become familiar faces, were telling day by day. Suddenly, we had found our tribe.
We lived vicariously through the struggles, failures, successes, and lessons that were being posted. The roadmap was right there in front of us, being written by other people. Eventually, Richard and I adopted a new language, new concepts, new rituals. We started to put these lessons into practice. And as the community provided encouragement and advice in response to our posts, there developed a positive feedback loop that resulted in consistent behavior change and reinforcement. Most importantly, as we participated more in this tribe, our identities were transformed.
Once this transformation occurs, everything else follows. Your world is viewed through a different set of lenses. The relationships you have with food, exercise, and sleep change completely. You might choose to spend time with different people. Fitness has become a part of you. It’s not just something you do. It is something you are. It’s no longer painful. It’s something you cherish and are eager to share with others. Above all else, achieving a higher level of fitness is entirely possible and controllable. The empowerment that comes from that is immeasurable.
We are seeing these transformation moments every single day at Fitocracy. Each new user is met with an incredible community of people that are sharing their journeys and providing guidance for those who need it most. Each human story and experience creates a ripple effect that touches everyone else in the network, moving them to do the same, resulting in the ultimate feedback loop of success. That’s what I meant when I said “the killer feature in fitness isn’t technology. It’s soul.”