Updated on 09.28.10

HealthMonth, Your Month

Trent Hamm

Recently, a good friend of mine convinced me to sign up for HealthMonth, a website that aims to turn the self-motivation needed to improve one’s health into a fun game (you can see my HealthMonth profile and goals). It works quite simply: you set certain goals for yourself throughout the month – “I will floss every day” or “I will drink eight glasses of water a day” or “I will walk at least three miles four times a week” – and are rewarded with points and other in-game bonuses.

It’s all just a “fun” veneer over a great concept: setting small micro-goals for yourself and achieving them. Each day that I participate, I have a small set of micro-goals to achieve.

In the game, the “reward” for achieving those micro-goals is points, fruit, and other game-related goodies. In the end, though, the real motivation and reward for achieving those micro-goals comes from inside the player – in this case, me. Unless I personally want to achieve these micro-goals, I won’t be achieving them.

So what’s the point of the “game” in the first place? To put it simply, it’s a self-motivation aid and record keeper. It harkens back to Jerry Seinfeld’s brilliant “chain” concept for self motivation that I wrote about a few years ago:

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.

He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

“Don’t break the chain.” He said again for emphasis.

As I stated later in the post:

Basically, once you start accomplishing a task every day, if you create an obvious visual reminder of that continued success, you’re going to want to keep going. Seinfeld applied this philosophy to writing comedic pieces, but you can directly apply it to anything in your life, from weight loss to reading to, well, personal finance!

HealthMonth, in the end, is simply an embodiment of this idea. Once you’re playing that game and earning rewards, you’re going to want to keep going.

The basic purpose of all of this is simply to establish a new routine in your life. If you successfully achieve a microgoal enough times in a row, it simply becomes a natural part of your life routine. If the chain is long enough, the chain becomes normal and your day feels awkward without it. I’ve certainly reached that point with my daily writing – if I don’t do it for a day, I miss it.

Of course, you really can achieve this same basic “chain” or “HealthMonth” idea at home, no matter what your goal is. Just identify a single microgoal that you want to achieve every day for the next month. Is it walking two miles? Is it eating four pieces of fresh fruit? Maybe it’s something directly money related, like spending fifteen minutes on a one-time project (like air-sealing your home) that increases your home’s energy efficiency.

Whatever it is, I challenge you to do it each day during the month of October.

It’s easy to track your progress, too. Just print yourself off a calendar for the next month. Hang it somewhere where you’ll see it multiple times each day. At the top of it, write your daily goal in big letters.

On the first, make an effort to achieve that micro-goal, then put a big fat X over the calendar square representing the first of the month. Repeat it on the second, and then on the third. You’ll have yourself a string of Xs – and a sense of accomplishing something. You won’t want to break that string of Xs, so you’ll keep doing it. See if you can fill up the whole month. Maybe you’ll print out a November calendar, too, and keep going with it.

Every month can be the month where you start changing a behavior. Just print out a calendar, start crossing off the dates, and soon you’ll have established a powerful, positive new routine in your life.

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  1. Joanna I. says:

    Best post in a while, Trent. This is startlingly simple but useful. It’s similar to an “injury free days” stat that’s used in many manufacturing type environments.

  2. Jackie says:

    That website looks like fun, but it costs $5/month, which is kind of a bummer.

  3. Patricia says:

    Good post! It’s really that simple — creating new habits and it can absolutely work with minding your money as well. We just have to work through those first few painful days/weeks/months when it’s more of a chore than fun. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel when the new habit becomes an integral part of your life and you feel strange not doing it. ps!

  4. Michelle says:

    You say that “In the end, though, the real motivation and reward for achieving those micro-goals comes from inside the player – in this case, me.” — but this isn’t necessarily the case for many people. If the internal motivation is already there and this game or any other way of tracking goals just helps you along, but if the internal motivation is not there, the game may help temporarily but the real reason you are not doing the things you need to do to take care of yourself will rear up and the game will fall by the wayside. Just because you are playing the game doesn’t necessarily mean there is a “real” reason you are doing it. Maybe you’re just playing the game because it’s fun.

  5. Alexandra says:

    I joined the website, as well as 750 words. I’m happy to begin the challenge :)

  6. kristine says:

    Caveat- you make a username, but it posts your goals with your full name instead. I instantly went back and changed my full name to something bogus. As I am not a blogger, with a public presence, I have no interest in having my personal health goals identified with my full name online. Also disappointed it cost 5 bucks/month- I feel that is overpriced. 1 or 2 bucks…maybe. So I will limit to 3.

    If this is beta- how many people opt for the free will effect how much they charge on a full launch. I encourage sticking to the free, so they lower the price. Great idea, but for 5 bucks/month- I want value added content.

  7. Steve in W MA says:

    It’s funny that you chose this topic to write about today. I have been doing something like this for the last two weeks. I decided I needed to enforce eating saladss and dark green leafy vegetables each day, so I make a goal to have one green smoothie (lettuce, collard greens/kale, and a banana and apple, blended up with water) every day for the next 6 months. And I made a chart in my expense notebook that tracks that goal. Every day I enter in the number of salads and green smoothies that I had that day.

    In truth, I haven’t made it on the salads but the green smoothies I have been very successful at (mostly because they are MUCH easier to make than a salad) and I am very happy with it because nutritionally it’s pretty much the same thing.

    Printing out a calendar and posting on the wall would be even higher profile than my current method of recording my results. I may try that. But at the least I’ll continue recording the way I have been.

    “Chain of success”–what an insightful idea from Jerry Seinfeld.

  8. Cheryl says:

    There is a free option, with a limited number of goals-three I think. Also, you can request sponsorship. Each person that signs up for one month is allowed to sponsor one person. Somewhere, they also mentioned that they are giving away lots of memberships during the beta testing. When I clicked through into the sponsorship area, there were only two requests (out of 118) that had not yet been sponsored.

  9. Availle says:

    A free online tool that essentially does the same is Joe’s Goals: http://www.joesgoals.com

    You can add your own goals, with positive (exercise) or negative (eat out) score, and keep track of them. There’s also a sort of diary function if you want to note down what exact exercise you did or so. There’s also a premium version of it you have to pay for, but I’m not sure what it does, as I’m quite happy with the free one.

    I have been using Joe’s Goals for about 3 years now, with varying success. In the end it still boils down that YOU have to do the task, nobody can take care of that for you… ;-)

  10. Alain says:

    For $5 the website seems well worth it.

  11. dinna says:

    what a great idea!!…..sometimes all we need is a little direction and once we see our success we are driven to keep at it.
    My husband and I are beginning to track all our bills on a chart and as we make a payment them we mark it.. Every day we will hopefully be watching the balances drop little by little….no more charging….and hopefully your right…it will become a habit….
    no shopping for anything excep necessities and paying with cash only….ready, set, go!!

  12. Jenzer says:

    SparkPeople has a similar goal-tracking mechanism and points system, and it’s free. You just have to deal with the advertising that keeps the site free.

  13. Julie says:

    If you have an iPhone.or iPod Touch, there is a wonderful app called “Streaks” that does this–let’s you make Xs on little monthly calendars, one for each goal you set up. It has been life-changing for me. My favorite iPhone app by far. And only $1.99 to download from iTunes Store. Check it out.

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