Ask Ariely: On Encouraging Exercise, Activating Altruism, and Debating Dishes

Here’s my Q&A column from the WSJ this week  and if you have any questions for me, you can tweet them to @danariely with the hashtag #askariely, post a comment on my Ask Ariely Facebook page, or email them to AskAriely@wsj.com.

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Dear Dan,

I hate exercise and always have, but I’ve recently started going to a spinning class, which I hate less than other forms of exercise. At the end I usually feel pretty good, but getting there is still a struggle. How can I motivate myself to go?

—Amy 

Clearly your future self wants to exercise, so why not help yourself along? You could arrange to work out with a good friend, which would provide encouragement and social pressure. And when she’s not available, you could make a deal with her: You have to text her a new photo of yourself sweating at the end of the class or else pay her $20. My guess is that the social pressure coupled with the financial incentive will compel your future self to exercise.

If neither of these approaches works, try setting up a regular meeting with an especially annoying colleague just before your scheduled spinning class. That way, you’ll be eager to get out the door, and after the meeting, the cycling will feel like a joy.

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Hello!

What makes people show up at charity events and donate? Do they just want to promote themselves as virtuous, or are they genuinely altruistic?

—Alexandra 

Many factors come into play at charity events. If you attend, you’re signaling that you’re part of a group and committed to its cause. But the social signaling doesn’t stop there. Numerous studies have shown that the more public people’s charitable behavior is, the more they donate. In a 1984 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Joel Brockner and his colleagues showed that people were more willing to donate to a charity when they were solicited in person compared with a phone call. So altruism no doubt motivates many donors—but social factors can boost their giving.

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Dear Dan,

My wife and I alternate who loads and unloads the dishwasher. If she’s the loader and I’m the unloader, I often notice that she has placed certain items facing away from the water jets. My own research suggests that this isn’t the most effective way to get things clean. I haven’t seen a lot of residual bits of food on our dinnerware, but my wife’s habit still bothers me. Should I make some comment about dishwasher arrangements, hoping to give her a learning opportunity, or maybe suggest that we read the instruction manual together? Or should I just forget about it and let the crumbs fall as they may? We are otherwise happily married.

—Michael 

If loading the dishwasher were the only issue in your relationship (now or in the future), I would recommend an evening with the instruction manual and other sources on optimal dishwasher use. But it’s probably not going to be the only small annoyance in your marriage—minor irritations are a natural part of a healthy relationship. So I suggest that you consider this an opportunity for personal growth. Since your wife’s method doesn’t seem to lead to dirtier dinnerware, why not let it be? Letting go is an important skill—and you have in this everyday chore a great opportunity to practice it.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.