The first time, I did it for money.
I was 29, I had just started my first full-time job after college, and I was flat broke. When I heard there was a contest at work with a pool of money involved, I didn’t care if it meant jumping off a roof or shaving off my eyebrows, I was getting that money.
I didn’t think I was overweight; it was more like I didn’t mind potentially being underweight for a week or two if necessary. $100 was that valuable to me at the time.
The truth was, I was obese and didn’t know it.
I wound up losing 11 pounds in 3 months (not quite a pound a week), I got my cash, and I did it again a year later. I went from a size 14 to a size 6. During the time I worked at that place, I made something like $225 in these weight loss contests.
Probably more importantly, I learned my way around a gym, built up my base fitness level, and started to understand how the bag of cookies in my desk drawer contributed to whether my pants fit or not.
2020 has been tough on me, partly because I almost died of COVID-19, and partly because my ego is crushed. This was going to be the year I turned around all the weight I gained in 2019. Instead I’m up 10 pounds from January 1st.
On me - and I don’t know what it’s like on other people because I have only one body - on me, I can directly correlate extra body weight with migraine and night terrors. This was just as true when I was boxing four days a week and doing fifty burpees as it was when I was a size 14 and seeing black spots when I climbed a flight of stairs. I don’t know why this is. All I know is I don’t do well when my body weight hits a certain specific number.
I have the intrinsic motivation to do whatever I can to regain my health in 2021.
I thought, it’s the right time of year. What if I bring everyone else with me?
A fitness contest was the first time I ever really took the initiative to do anything specific for my physical health. I was motivated by cold hard cash, and it worked. I visualized having to pay out $50, instead of receiving a payout, and every day that drove me to push a little harder.
This is the only way that competition really works on me. If I can imagine a negative outcome on a specific date, I will work very hard to avoid that negative outcome.
“I am not going to be that person” who has to pay $50 because I wouldn’t stop buying cookies to keep in my desk.
Being the organizer of a contest is exactly that type of motivation that works on me. Imagine being the person who brought up the whole thing, and then publicly failing.
I reached out to our human resources person to run the rules of the contest by her, the one that we had successfully done in the past. It had been fifteen years since I first heard about it, and I figured that the zeitgeist had probably changed since then. Better safe than sorry.
I try to live by the rule NEVER GO VIRAL FOR THE WRONG REASONS, and part of that is to never come to the attention of HR for the wrong reasons either.
The way the contest originally worked, everyone would weigh in once a week and a non-contestant would observe and record the weights. It was all private. Participants pledged $50 each, and the money went into a kitty. At the end of the 13 weeks, whoever didn’t make their goal forfeited their $50, and whoever made their goal split it. It usually worked out about 50/50, which tended to mean you either paid $50 or got someone else’s $50.
The goal was to drop a percentage of your body weight in 13 weeks, same percent for everybody. I can’t remember what it was but I want to say 6%.
If everyone made their goal, we would all just keep our money. If nobody made their goal, everyone had to pay up and the money would go to charity. Neither of those eventualities ever happened.
It turned out that the pooling and splitting of the money was the problematic part. Possibly it touches on some kind of state law about raffles or sweepstakes.
I had figured it would be more of a problem with the “weight loss” part, since apparently admitting that you want to lose 10 or 15 pounds makes you some kind of baby-eating demon.
I had a plan for that part, though, because I still have every intention of running some kind of fitness challenge for 2021. It needs to result in me fitting back into my work pants, in case we start working on site again, or otherwise I will have to show up in my pajamas.
The first place where I worked had an average employee age of around 53. There were several diabetics, and most people had the type of lifestyle-related health problems that are typical of people in their fifties.
At this place, there is a much higher proportion of early-career people, including high school and college interns. There are more athletes; my boss recently took a meeting on his exercise bike. The majority of people who might be interested in a fitness challenge, then, don’t really have any weight to lose.
What I’m proposing is much more complicated.
Athletes all do different stuff, so how do you compare between, say, a swimmer and a power lifter?
I’m aiming for total miles, total exercise minutes, and total weights moved across departments.
This makes for a lot more metrics to track, but that also allows for more exploits, a nice feature of any game that draws people’s attention. How do I find a loophole so my team can win?
My plan is to try to use this as a learning opportunity for myself. I want to learn to make different dashboards and data visualizations, and these are the type of numbers that I understand.
If this all works out, it will give us something interesting to do during the final months of isolation. I’ll learn more about data science and hopefully fit back in my work wardrobe. Some people’s dogs will get out more. We’ll all feel more like a team. And anyone who doesn’t want to play can just ignore us.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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