If your intrinsic motivation is not enough to get you to run that 5k, and if you are hoping to do some good for the world while you exercise, it's finally time you study up on what is called the "martyrdom effect." In order to maximize your workouts and simultaneously put your humanitarian side on display, understand this: "the prospect of enduring pain and exerting effort for a pro-social cause can promote contributions to the cause."
The pain you go through to train and complete those office charity runs, the same pain that you may love to hate -- this is what entices you and others to be generous and charitable in the first place.
Consider taking advantage of this enlightening scientific theory using the following methods.
1. Embrace the pain
While the conventional wisdom is that pain and effort can deter us from working out, the Martyrdom Effect holds that the mere prospect of being in pain can promote charitable giving. Across a number of experiments, researchers found that participants contributed more money to a pro-social cause when "the contribution process was painful and effortful than when it was neutral or enjoyable."
2. Warm up to the idea of self-sacrifice
Does everyone want to wake up at the crack of dawn to run a marathon? The answer, more often than not, is no. A common belief of human behavior and motivation holds that we are primarily driven to seek positive experiences, and avoid negative ones. Researchers say this view, although simple and often consistent, "nonetheless paints a rather limited picture of human motivation and behavior." We still see charity walk-a-thons, marathons, people pouring buckets of ice water on their heads, and even fasting to raise money for charity. Seek out experiences involving pain and effort -- you won't be the only one doing so.
3. Give your workouts meaning
Yes, running for the sake of your own health is important. However, when you run for a cause that is greater than yourself, you may find greater health results. Researchers Christopher Olivola and Eldar Shafir found that the martyrdom effect is mediated, in part, by perceptions of meaningfulness.
They propose that anticipated pain and effort can lead people to ascribe greater meaning to their contributions and to the experience of contributing, which then motivates higher donations. Plus, overcoming pain and effort in order to achieve a goal adds a symbolic value to the outcome of the activity.
So, the next time you're looking for a bit of extra motivation in your workout, lean into the pain and discomfort. You may be surprised at the results.