What your sore muscles say about your behaviour

Runner by Nakashi

Running long distances has made my legs strong in the directions that count for running. That is, they’re great at moving forward and back, up and down.

However, if I try to flex or stretch my legs laterally, there is little give – and what movement there is, hurts. A lot.

Ask me to sit crossed legged and I’ll wince like you sat me on a hot grill.

Everything has a cost

This is the price of choosing running. The slow accretion of bruising and scar tissue from hours upon hours of relentless hammering on the pavements of London.

It’s a physical version of the social damage I might have done if I were a model train enthusiast.

I’ve trained my legs to endure punishment in a particular way and they’ve grown strong in that direction. But the cost of that is that they are now stiff and inflexible when used in any other way.

It’s not just physical

What’s true for our body is also true for our behaviour.

Our behaviour is often as singular as my running. We’re consistent in how we act. We’re relentless in our commitment to our habits. We build strength in ourselves, but it’s in a single direction.

Making my legs strong in one direction has made them weak in others. Similarly, by behaving consistently one way, it’s harder for us to flex in other situations. Our muscles are tight, and stretching them in new ways feels unnatural and painful.

We’re not the ones who notice

We’re aware of this inflexibility in the physical realm of our own bodies, but it’s other people who are aware of it when it comes to our behaviour.

It’s those around us who notice our pride, our desire for control, our meanness with resource.

It’s others who can see where our training has made us strong, and where is has made us painful and inflexible.

Unsurprisingly, it’s others who can start to free us from this inflexibility. It’s they who can point out where our behavioural muscles are stiff and painful when we’re too daft to notice.

We still have to dedicate the time and an attention to stretching our tight muscles out, but just being aware of them is a good start.

When motivation fails

clear sky behind a row of houses

It’s only 1° outside and I’m struggling with the motivation to run to work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m running to work, there are no two ways about it, but I don’t want to – and I’d like to understand why.

The sky is clear and blue, even at this time of the morning, but for some reason, today, the temperature seems like a good excuse not to run.

Suddenly that solitary 1° is a barrier, not an opportunity. It should be a challenge, a call to action, an invitation to go forth and conquer – but today it just seems like the world’s best reason to catch the train.

Herein lies the challenge of motivation.

Today, forces and circumstances which would normally propel me forward, feel like they’re holding me back.

Nothing externally has changed. I don’t look any different, sound any different or (probably) smell any different from the days in which the 1° would be the best reason to run – but I certainly feel different.

Somethings are just going to be impenetrable to us in any given moment – Why is this happening? Why is that person being difficult? Why don’t I want to run? – and while there is value in picking apart the causes, especially in the long term, the question for the moment is “what are you going to do?”

You can wish that the situation were otherwise, but it’s not. So what are you going to do?

Sometimes, how we feel about a situation will have changed, but the objective realities of the situation have not. The best course of action when we felt good about it, is still the best course of action, even now when we feel rubbish.

The challenge here is to understand when it’s in our best interests to ignore our short term feelings and pursue the long term action, and when it’s not.

One answer here might be to quickly ask “why?” until we hit on the likely cause of our change of feeling. We can then more objectively evaluate if it’s a valid reason or not.

I don’t want to run to work.


It’s too cold.

Why is that a problem?

It’s uncomfortable, and I would rather be warm right now.


Right, you’re going running.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Many thanks to Meriel Rosenkranz for pointing me in the direction of “why?” which Charles Duhigg writes about in his new book.

French ghosts

Eiffel up

Today I’m in Paris for work.

Instead of using my early morning time to write, I used it to go for a run around the Eiffel Tower. I hope you understand 😉

Oddly enough, I had expected the tower to be brimming with Police or security guards in the wake of what’s been happening in Paris and Brussels. That’s certainly the knee jerk response we’d expect in the UK.

But at 05.45 in the morning, you know who was at the Eiffel Tower? Nobody. Not a soul.

Not a single cleaner, not a single security guard, not a single police.

I walked right underneath it, took a photo from the bottom, straight up the middle and nobody said anything.

It was a wonderful feeling.

It felt like Paris just didn’t want to contribute to the bullshit and said “You know what, it’s a big building, it will be ok on it’s own.”

I really dug that.

Ice, Lycra & Nike Plus – Getting Engagement Right

Outside my window, it’s dark, wet and so cold that the rain is freezing on the glass, but as soon as I finish writing this I’m going to go running in it. Not because it’s healthy or fun, but because Nike understands how I feel about exercise and knows how to get me out of the house in a pair of tights at 11 p.m. in sub-zero temperatures. Not bad for a company of people I’ve never met who flog trainers from an ivory tower 5000 miles away.

Let me back up.

Running is a lonely activity and it can be really hard to get motivated to head outside when the alternative is a bottle of wine and an episode of “Homeland” on the sofa with my wife.

But Nike knows that somewhere deep inside, some of us would love to be the guy who runs through the ice to conquer the cold. And it knows that if we were that guy, we’d buy more shoes.

So what does Nike do? It helps us become that guy.

How do you convince someone to turn their back on a loved one, and a centrally heated home, to risk hypothermia on the icy streets of London? You give them a little pain.

Pain, brought about as a consequence of not doing something, is an effective factor in motivating you to change your behavior. It works in two ways:

  1. Pain is an effective feedback mechanism, giving you an immediate indication that there’s something you need to pay attention to.
  2. Experiencing pain has a punitive effect, which discourages you from the behavior that caused it in the first place.

Unfortunately, for most of the fun things in life, we don’t have the immediate feedback loop to keep us on track with little doses of pain and encouragement.

Perform better with games

Adding a “game” dimension to the experience can help us perform better at favorite activities, by providing a framework that gives immediate feedback about how we’re tracking against our goals, and a sense of motivation (encouragement or pain) to help us go the extra distance. What’s the catch? People must want to play.

But “getting people to want to play” is where brands come unstuck. One of the reasons brand efforts at gamification and engagement often suck is that these efforts are driven by brand requirements  (e.g. selling shoes), not consumer requirements (i.e. feeling motivated to exercise).

People share photos, or score points because, on a deeper level, it affirms who they want to be and socialized gamification allows people to create curated projections and to share them with our world. The affirmation that comes from creating those projections and the Internet accepting and validating them is a powerful, motivating force.

The Nike+ gamification system demonstrates a deep understanding of how exercise and fitness are important but difficult parts of people’s lives. Nike knows people want to exercise, but the motivation required to get out there, coupled with the lack of recognition it presents, are huge hurdles. To address this, they have created a framework for gamifying fitness by applying instant feedback, a set of rules, milestones, motivation and voluntary engagement to this problematic human endeavor. And boy does it work.

Goals and tools

By assisting people to achieve fitness goals and providing a social toolset for tracking and sharing these achievements, Nike is an active, engaged partner helping people create sharable self-projections. Nike helps their customers become who they want to be.

Of course, Nike is doing this because it wants you to buy more shoes, thermal tops and skintight, fluorescent running tights, but it knows you’re only likely to engage in such lunacy if you can be bothered to step out into a blizzard dressed like a cut-price superhero when most people are sensibly tucked up on the sofa with a vino and Damien Lewis.

By gamifying actions that encourage an outcome favorable to both the consumer and the brand, Nike is helping customers self-actualize, which has the effect of making them better customers. It ends with selling more shoes but it starts by addressing a human desire to be better, and to feel that it’s a worthy and achievable goal.

Now excuse me while I slip into something more high-vis and run through the cold toward a new pair of sneakers.