Like many middle aged Americans, I’m heavier than I’d like to be. Over the last year and a half, I’ve managed to get my caloric intake under control and significantly balanced my nutrition using My Fitness Pal. It’s handy, I’m more than halfway to my goal weight/ size. But this app has never motivated me to exercise, sometimes I’ve even been frustrated by it’s lack of options in Activities That Cause Me To Break A Sweat on the occasions where I think about logging activities instead of just food & weigh ins. No, I don’t use Premium, I’m capable of mentally tuning out the ads and nothing Premium advertises is anything I want. I tried several other exercise based apps, some were better than others, but again, none inspired me to put on my sneakers and go. Sure they told me how far I’d gone, whoop de do, so does the odometer on my car. I have friends who post to FaceBook with these kinds of apps and I don’t care, it does nothing for me. They sent me emails with pictures of skinny people running with lengthy lectures on Knee Health for Runners! I’m NOT a runner, never will be. The genetics I was given mean issues with my feet where running is just flat not an option, too much impact and I’m hobbling around for days. I don’t do jumpy things either. I’ll walk, I’ll climb, I’ll crunch, I’ll pedal and row and lift, but not jump and not run. I have access to a wonderful gym, with trainers, only a 15 minute drive from my home, but the motivation to go is sorely lacking. The inherent flaw in most fitness apps is they are written by and for people who already possess the internal motivation to exercise. If one lacks motivation to start, the app is completely useless. Same goes for diet plans, the vast majority of humans have the internal motivation to eat, but we don’t all have the motivation to moderate our eating or balance our nutritional intake.
Enter Pokemon Go…
I’m a dork enough to admit I used to watch the Pokemon cartoon quite a bit, as an adult. (we didn’t have cable, so sue me…) I never played the card based game, it required a social circle also interested in that, which I lacked, and I’m just not that competitive. Scrabble is more my speed. At first I had no interest in this latest phone based game, I’m well past playing Pokemon games, right? But then some of my mom friends got roped into playing by their children. One, lets call her Celeste, is pretty heavy, like probably tipping the scales at double what her doctor would like to see her weighing in at. She has more than two children. She, because she’s a Fun Mom, loaded the app to play along with her kids and they went Pokemon hunting. And she had fun. She didn’t just see her kids having fun and was happy, she herself enjoyed it. She had no idea what she was doing other than running around with her kids and collecting random cartoony things and spending time with her children but she was out walking for two solid hours. When she told me about it she said her feet hurt, but she didn’t even mention it in terms of exercise, she was aware she had done so, but was preoccupied with the game enough that the exercise just went along with it. Pokemon got this very overweight woman out the door where every single app, diet program, fad soup and more failed. And she has tried them all, I’ve heard at length over our yarn and coffee just how perfect this next program was going to be for her and all the excuses as to why the last one failed. It boils down to just one thing: they weren’t fun.
Pokemon Go, is fun. Just the “what funny thing will surprise me today?” has gotten me into my sneakers and out the door three days in a row. I’ll be in my parents neighborhood this evening and just the idea of “oooh! I wonder what I’ll find near them?” makes me plan ahead to wearing sneakers even though I already walked my own block this morning. I don’t care about teams, or competing, or any of the other really Pokemon specific aspects of this, just knowing there is a surprise out there waiting for me is all I need, because I am a curious soul and want to go find it.
So, fitness app makers take note: none of you are creating motivation to exercise because you see exercise as fun. Those of us who don’t exercise because it’s not fun, it never was fun, get zero motivation from you. We wore glasses so didn’t play football as kids. We had big boobs by sixth grade so all running and jumping things were embarrassing, difficult, and painful. We were uncoordinated awkward kids who were picked last with groans because we offered nothing to the team. We don’t follow sports because that kind of competition never interested us. We need external motivation. We need simple activities with something other than the exercise itself to motivate and even reward us.
Silly prizes, pop up ‘friends’ or landmarks or almost anything not related to the fact that exercise is getting you that virtual thing. Maybe random cheers and applause? If Map My Run cheered for me at every mile, I’d probably still be using it. Surprise landmarks with random interesting facts “hey! you just walked the length of the Champs Elysees! (insert random facts about Paris)”. I’d not only enjoy using that, it would motivate me to go to find out what I’d discover today. I might even pay to use it (if it was under $5). Apps could inspire exploration or distance or even upgrade from walking to running or even adding things like push ups, sit ups & more. It could ding and say “hey! do ten push ups right now for five coins!” or whatever, I’d brainstorming here. I have zero talent in things electronic, so I freely give my ideas, because I’d love someone to make that. For now, I’ll keep hunting Pokemon despite the server issues and not caring about teams, because I’m having fun finding things. I’m having FUN! And getting exercise at the same time.