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Competitiveness is a Better Motivator than Encouragement

If you've ever tried to find the motivation to start exercising more (around the New Year, perhaps), you have likely been encouraged to find a "workout buddy" who can help provide you with encouragement and accountability to stick to the goal. However, according to a new study, it is not encouragement but competition that seems to be the best motivator.

The researchers in charge of the study observed over 800 students assigned to different exercise groups across a wide variety of activities: yoga, cycling, running, weight training, etc. Groups were structured differently, so that some would provide a sense of friendly camaraderie while others would be more intensely competitive. They then offered control groups where there was little to no structured encouragement or competition.

The results did not end up contradicting the idea that a friendly companion provides support for your workout regimen, but it did reveal that the motivation is significantly higher when competition enters the picture. Encouragement may feel good, but pride is powerful. "As people were influenced by their neighbors to exercise more, it created a social ratchet," said the author of the study, Damon Centola, "where everyone increased everyone else's activity levels." So if you want to work out more, a little friendly competition might be a good place to start.

Potential Preaching Angles: The biblical phrase "iron sharpens iron" is often thought of as a metaphor for believers encouraging one another. But that might be selling the phrase short. Some healthy competition - measuring oneself against someone and striving to match their spiritual disciplines/practices - can be just as productive in one's spiritual life, if not more.

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