A musically talented friend of mine recently joined a band and was thrilled to have the opportunity to create new songs and practice regularly with other musicians. But after a while she found it difficult to keep going. “It’s hard,” she said, “when you have no goals and no ambition.” She meant that without a set date for an on-stage performance, the band’s enthusiasm and drive were flagging. My friend is prone to exaggeration — in reality the band has plenty of ambition, and they honed their goals enough that they played their first live gig a few weeks ago — but she was right to pinpoint goals and ambitions as the keys to motivation. Researchers in the field of exercise psychology have long understood that without these ingredients, an exercise program is a recipe for disaster. In a 2009 study, for example, Kylie Wilson and Darren Brookfield estimated that only 50 percent of new members in a gym remain after six months. Without specific goals, they concluded, it’s highly challenging for an exerciser to remain committed to any workout plan.
Of course, it’s in your best interest to help your members stay motivated. How can you get them coming to your facility more than once a week? How can you get them to keep coming after six months, and to return year after year? Here are a few tips for helping them define their goals, feed their ambition, and stay loyal to you and your brand for a long time.
1. Highlight the importance of tracking results. We all know that it’s easier to stay committed to a goal if we can see progress. This begins with establishing a baseline — make it a practice to offer new members a free consultation with a trainer. The trainer should help the member identify exactly where she stands at the start of her new exercise routine and teach her how to measure her progress. Beyond that initial meeting, encourage your members to track their workouts by documenting the machines they used, their weight levels, and the number of reps and cardio routines they’ve performed. Offer them logbooks and workout sheets for this purpose, and promote fitness tracking apps that allow exercisers to stay on top of their performance electronically. Take it a step further by creating your own app or website function that allows for fitness tracking.
2. Design and host collaborative events, and get members to join in. Offering positive challenges that rally your club as a whole allows members to feel truly connected to the community you’re providing. Seasonal hooks can be a great way to get started. For example, around Halloween, host a costume fun-run. During the build-up to major marathons, challenge members to run or walk one or more miles of the marathon until the full distance is completed. Have dance-a-thons on Valentine’s Day, and get a huge volleyball tournament going at the start of summer (you might even cart in loads of sand and set up an indoor beach for this one). Whatever the event, get your members working together. The more fun they have, and the more of a community feel there is, the more likely they’re going to stick to their goals — and keep coming back.
3. Encourage members to think about the kinds of goals they’re setting. Emphasize the idea of SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. With goals clearly defined along these lines, members are well-poised for success. In order to set the right SMART goals for themselves, though, members have to understand what types of goals would work best for them: performance, process, or outcome. You can help them determine which goals they’re best suited for. Performance goals use an objective or measurable standard with a specific due date. Process goals focus more on method — how will an ultimate goal be achieved? What are the steps along the way? Outcome goals measure achievement in comparison to other people. For many individuals, identifying some combination of these three types of goals works well; a performance goal might be best relied on at the start of a membership, while process and outcome goals might be more effective later on.
On the whole, seek opportunities to connect with your members, the new ones and the existing ones, to elicit their feedback and create a caring, responsive, dynamic community. If your members know that you’re there to help them, if they feel you supporting their goals and cheering on their successes, they’re much more likely to stick around. In that sense, helping members stay motivated is helping your own bottom line.