Over the past decade and a half Americans have become acutely aware of the obesity epidemic. It’s been labeled America’s number one health threat by the US Center for Disease Control, a national security threat by the Pentagon, and according to the Association of Actuaries obesity costs our nation over $270 BILLION DOLLARS ANNUALLY!
Billions of dollars have been poured into marketing campaigns, interventions, and research projects in an effort to find a solution. As the result establishment experts have discovered that, in order to beat obesity kids must eat better and exercise more. Amazing isn’t it? What they’ve failed to discover though is any way to systematically self motivate and inspire kids to actually eat better and exercise more.
Ironically, the key to turning the tide on childhood obesity is locked in a vault labeled SELF MOTIVATION. In other words, Mom and Dad can want it. Teachers can want it. Friends can want it as well. But, if the child does not want to eat better and exercise more, no amount of encouragement, positive reinforcement, and operant condition will get the job done. As they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.
The Big Question Becomes…
In this light the big question becomes, how can we systematically cultivate self motivation? How can we help kids to actively choose to eat better and exercise more (i.e. choose what’s in their own best interest) over eating poorly and exercising less (which undermines their own best interest)?
Frequent Returns on Investment
In my own experience as a teacher and a coach, I’ve learned that kids are a lot like adults when it comes to motivation. That is to say, if kids are going to invest their time and energy into doing anything, they expect a return on their investment (ROI) of time and energy. They need a good reason to do what you want them to do. And, the more FREQUENT that ROI, the MORE MOTIVATED kids are to invest their time and energy over and over again.
For example in Operation Pull Your Own Weight we help kids learn to physically pull their own weight (do conventional pull ups), because for those who can do EVEN ONE PULL UP, the odds of being obese are the same as being hit by lightening. For all practical purposes, if you can do even one pull up (more is always better), you’re NOT OBESE!*
We use height adjustable pull up straps along with a technique called leg assisted pull ups (jumping and pulling at the same time) in order to help kids learn to pull their own weight and simultaneously arm themselves against obesity for life. In doing so, we drop the straps low enough that each participant can do at least 8 leg assisted pull ups. That is to say everyone finds a place where they can start successfully in front of their peers.
Kids work out twice a week on non-consecutive days, and do as many leg assisted pull ups as they can do – presuming at least 8 reps. From that point on THE STRAPS ARE RAISED ONE INCH EVERY OTHER WEEK (very small but consistent increments of progress) over the school year, which results in less and less leg assistance. By the end of the nine month school year the straps will have been raised 18 inches – a point at which most kids have run out of leg assistance and can perform pull ups conventionally.
Frequent ROI’s Motivate Kids
The point that needs to be stressed here is that under these conditions kids experience tangible progress (more repetitions or raised straps) almost every time they touch the straps all school year long. In other words they receive POSITIVE RETURNS ON THEIR INVESTMENTS of time and energy almost every time they workout. It doesn’t have to be a lot. But it does have to be regular, frequent, and predictable so that kids know they’re not wasting their investments of time and energy. Success breeds success. **
Given these conditions, kids become so self motivated that when necessary, they’ll adjust their eating and exercise habits on their own, without anyone prompting or bribing them with extrinsic rewards, in order to become stronger and lighter. This in turn enables them to reach the very tangible goal of being able to physically pull their own weight.
A functional approach (whether using pull ups, or bar dips, etc,) to childhood obesity lends itself to the active cultivation of self motivation. In other words, with this strategy we can systematically lead those horses to water and they will drink of their own accord. They are self motivated, self propelled, and self directed. And that's the key of keys to beating childhood obesity.
*When combined with a goal that’s intrinsically valued by the individual (in this case all kids want to be strong because it’s always cool to be strong and uncool to be weak) frequent, documented progress/success makes for an incredibly potent form of self motivation.
**And when kids get a solid, hands-on taste of self motivation in this context, it often carries over into many other areas of their lives as well.