We can't keep our own fitness promises for the same reason that addicts are addicts and Congress can't pass deficit reduction
Every January, millions of Americans, brimming with optimism and a little extra belly from the holidays, commemorate the new year by making an unfamiliar urban trek. They go to the gym.
One in eight new members join their fitness club in January, and many gyms see a traffic surge of 30 to 50 percent in the first few weeks of the year. Stop by your local gym today, and the ellipticals will be flush with flush new faces. But next thing you know, it will be April, our gym cards will be mocking us from our wallets, and our tummies will have sprouted, on cue with the tree buds.
Economists make and break gym promises just like the rest of us. And, as they're considerably more likely to run statistical regressions on their personal lives, there's a healthy academic literature about going to the gym. Here's what economics can teach us about fitness and the fitness industry.
WHY CAN'T PEOPLE KEEP THEIR GYM PROMISES?
FOR THE SAME REASON CONGRESS CAN'T PASS DEFICIT REDUCTION.
People are way too optimistic about their willpower to work out, Stefano Dellavigna and Ulrike Malmendier concluded in their famous paper "Paying Not to Go to the Gym." In the study, members were offered a $10-per-visit package or a monthly contract worth $70. More chose the monthly contract and only went to the gym four times a month. As a result, they paid 70 percent more per visit than they would have under the plan they rejected. Why? Because people are too optimistic that they can become gym rats, which would make the monthly package "worth it." Silly them.