Would you pay more to miss a workout?

Motivational fees are not new to this blog. In a previous article, we documented how NBA All-Stars hated paying fines for being late. Parents, on the other hand, didn't mind paying extra to pick up their little ones late from daycare.

Gym-Pact offers what Zhang calls motivational fees — customers agree to pay more if they miss their scheduled workouts, literally buying into a financial penalty if they don’t stick to their fitness plans. The concept arose from Zhang’s behavioral economics class at Harvard, where professor Sendhil Mullainathan taught that people are more motivated by immediate consequences than by future possibilities.

Zhang and Oberhofer translated that principle to workout motivation. If missing a workout cost people money, they’d be more motivated to stick with it, they thought.

“If you have a toothache, you go to the dentist. If there’s a cavity, you know it needs to get filled in, but if it doesn’t hurt right now, you may not bother,’’ Mullainathan said. “In traditional gym memberships, not going is not very costly. In this one, you actually might feel the pain of not going immediately.’’

Gym-Pact launched a pilot program in October with a small group of participants, including some first-time gym members, at Bally Total Fitness in Boston. A second group of about 20 customers kicked off 2011 at Planet Fitness locations in Government Center in Boston and Porter Square in Cambridge.

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Keep in mind, sometimes experiencing pain is just what we want to punish ourselves and reduce feelings of guilt.