bluelogoAfter participating in the Old Forge Triathlon back in August, I found myself without any more events to prepare for this year. So, without the added motivation of training toward a specific race, I was looking for ways to maintain a high level of weekly activity as summer turned into fall.

Luckily, just after Labor Day, my office's HR department announced that we could sign up for a company-wide WalkingWorks challenge through Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts. I had no idea what it was -- only that it was some kind of fitness competition -- but I said, "YES. Sign me up!"

Basically, they divided our entire office into teams and gave us each a cheap little pedometer. The idea was that we would all tally up our steps on a daily basis, and enter our mileage into a tracking website that displayed our position relative to each of the other teams. No big deal, right?


This little thing was my frenemy for 28 days. We were literally joined at the hip.

As it turned out, keeping that little thing clipped over my belt for four straight weeks was a pain in the ass. Going through airport security with it, having people look at me thinking it was an insulin pump or something, and remembering to clip it back on in the morning and when I changed into my workout clothes was kind of a drag.

The online system was set up in a way that encouraged the attainment of higher and higher step counts in each successive week. So, for the first week, I didn't try to do anything out of the ordinary, in order to set a reasonable baseline upon which to build.

After one week, voila! The system automatically gave me a new goal for the next week, that amounted to maybe 15% more steps. I didn't have to invent a target for myself; it just told me what to shoot for.

Challenge accepted! I found myself trying to hit higher and higher numbers  each week. Between this "gamification" effect and the added pressure of office competition (including a constant stream of encouraging emails from my colleagues in Bogotá, some of whom are loan officers who literally walk around all day), the challenge ended up providing very powerful motivators that enabled me to change my behavior over the course of the program.

By weeks three and four, I started going out of my way to add steps wherever I could. I even ran home from work one day, which I had never even attempted before, given that it's more than five and a half miles away. When people at the office asked to meet with me about different projects, I said, "sure, but we're going to walk while we talk," and instead of meeting in a conference room, we'd go outside for a little fresh air.

And at the end of the four weeks, guess what? I didn't have to wear the stupid pedometer anymore, but some of those new habits actually stuck. I found myself feeling an urge to take the stairs, to keep holding those walking meetings, to go out to lunch or down to the store on foot instead of driving... it all adds up!

I think if I had only done the challenge for one or two weeks, the habit change wouldn't have been as sticky. It definitely takes time, but having the pedometer as a constant reminder that I could always do a little more was really helpful.