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How to Commit to an Exercise Routine

New research identifies personality traits that predict visits to the gym.

Source: Pxhere

It is said that it is easier to start something than to finish it. But how do we know if we will—or won't—finish the things we start? And how do we know if other people will finish the things they tell us they will?

Forthcoming research in Psychological Science explores this topic in the context of exercise. Specifically, researchers at the University of Oregon assessed which personality dimensions might be most predictive of an individual's ability to maintain a self-initiated exercise regimen.

To study this question, the researchers recruited 282 members of the recreation center at the University of Oregon to take part in a short survey. In the survey, participants were asked to fill out a series of personality scales, including the Planfulness scale, the Brief Self-Control Scale, the 60-item Big Five Inventory, and the 12-item Grit scale.

For readers not familiar with these measures, the Planfulness scale assesses a person's tendency to utilize mental processes to promote goal achievement. For instance, one item on the Planfulness scale asks people to indicate the extent to which they agree with the statement: "Developing a clear plan when I have a goal is important to me." The Brief Self-Control Scale measures self-control with items such as: "I am good at resisting temptation." The 60-item Big Five Inventory is a global personality test that measures five core dimensions of personality: openness to experiences, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and introversion/extraversion. Finally, the 12-item Grit scale measures a person's determination and ability to overcome adversity with items such as: "I finish whatever I begin."

Next, the researchers tracked gym attendance of the survey participants during the 2016-17 Fall and Spring semesters. They did this by monitoring ID-card swipes required for entrance into the recreation center.

Aligning participants' self-reported survey data with their gym usage, the researchers were able to test whether certain facets of personality were predictive of continued gym attendance. They hypothesized that the personality facet of planfulness would play a key role in people's ability to maintain their exercise regimen.

Interestingly, they found partial evidence in support of their hypothesis. Participants who scored higher in the trait dimension of planfulness were, overall, more likely to visit the recreation center. For example, an increase of one scale point on the five-point Planfulness scale corresponded to approximately seven additional gym visits per semester.

What they did not find, however, was evidence that people who scored high in planfulness showed any less of a drop-off in the amount they visited the recreation center over the course of a semester. In other words, people both high and low on the personality dimension of planfulness were equally likely to maintain, or discontinue, their workout routine.

Next, the researchers tested whether the personality facet of planfulness was able to predict gym attendance above and beyond the other personality dimensions measured. They found that it was. This, they say, is evidence that planfulness, though perhaps a close cousin to other personality dimensions, such as conscientiousness, grit, and self-control, is an important personality dimension in its own right.

The authors conclude, "The results from this study support the validity of the Planfulness Scale for measuring the propensity of individuals to make progress toward their goals in the real world. While further testing is necessary, the accrued evidence to-date suggests that measuring planfulness may be uniquely useful for researchers investigating a variety of goal-directed behaviors, including the pursuit of health and lifestyle goals."

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Ludwig, R. M., Srivastava, S., & Berkman, E. T. (2019). Predicting Exercise With a Personality Facet: Planfulness and Goal Achievement. Psychological Science.

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