The Life Experimenter : Change Your Life, One Month at a Time

Life Experiment #56: Improve My Eyesight Using a Smartphone App

Screenshot of the Eye Care Plus App

 

I’ve had an interest in trying to naturally improve my vision since 2009 when I was about to go to Navy boot camp. During those two months, I noticed an improvement in my eyesight after doing a series of eye exercises but ultimately didn’t stick with it. Then on a 7-month deployment in 2011, I decided to give up wearing contacts the entire time and again I noticed an improvement.

But, by far my biggest improvement in eyesight came in 2012 when I decided to give up wearing contacts altogether and gradually reduced my glasses prescription over the last five years. I’ve been wearing glasses and contacts non-stop since I was 15, but now at 34 years old, I only wear glasses at work and occasionally at home when needed.

Hypothesis: I believe that daily vision training will get me close to the point where I no longer need glasses and for the next month I will be using the Eye Care Plus app for 30 minutes a day.

Vision Improvement…There’s an app for that.

The idea of using an app to improve my eyesight came to me after reading an article in Popular Mechanics. The article was about a group of researchers who conducted a study with 19 baseball players from the University of California. The players used an app called UltimEyes for 30 minutes a day and the vision training improved the player’s distance vision an average of 31 percent.

The concept of the vision training was not based on strengthening the eye muscles but improving the brain’s ability to process visual cues called neuroplasticity. The idea is that our brains can be re-wired to process visual objects more accurately. After reading the article, I tried UltimEyes and needless to say I was not impressed. The app simply presents a series of small blurs to the viewer which you have to find and click. It’s interesting at first but gets pretty boring after 30 minutes.

This ultimately led me to look at other vision improvement apps. Eye Care Plus is one of the best vision improvement apps out there and it’s free! The app gives you a daily program of “exercises” in which you can use to treat various eye conditions such as dry eyes, accommodation, improving eye muscles or increasing relaxation. After a few sessions, I noticed an improvement in my visual acuity. The app has various levels of training times ranging from 5 minutes to 30 minutes a day. I going the full 30 minutes and I’ll be using the built in eye test once a week to gauge progress. I’ll post my results after a month and see what a difference this app can make.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Ending Wage Slavery: How I Paid Off $83,000 In Student Loan Debt

Screen shot of student loan website with a zero balance.

“Thought I’d get a prize at the end,” I casually said to my wife last week as we made the last payment on our student loans. This rather anticlimactic event marked the end of my personal journey to pay off over $83,000 in student loan debt and be completely debt free.

We did it! Like most people I thought I was going to be in debt forever. I started to really get serious about debt re-payment in 2013 and continued each year to lower my loans. The payments seemed endless, but on January 23, 2017, my family became completely debt-free. No bills to no one. The only way is up from here. Here’s how I did it.

First, Learn To Seriously Save Money

Next, Avoid Spending Money

That’s my secret. Save money and don’t spend it all.


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Life Experiment #55 – How I Lost 15 Pounds In A Month Using MyFitnessPal

myfitnesspal

I’ve experimented with countless ways to use weight. Everything from intermittent fasting to vegan and vegetarianism. By far the easiest way I have ever lost weight and kept it off is counting calories.  It sounds so simple that you may just want to write it off, but if you read on, I’ll tell you how I lost 15 pounds in 30 days using MyFitnessPal.com

I recently became hooked on reading posts on Reddit.com. After perusing the /r/loseit section for weight loss ideas, I found a lot of people posting that they lost weight through tracking their eating and exercise on MyFitnessPal.com.  Being a fan of high tech solutions, I fired up my phone and downloaded the app.

MyFitnessPal is a website with an accompanying app that allows you to track all of your eating and exercising then generates a net calorie number for you based on your goal.  My goal was two pounds lost per week, so it told me to not eat more than 1,500 calories per day.  The coolest part of the app is the ability to sync a large variety of fitness devices and apps like FitBit or Jawbone wristbands with  your calorie data.  I love to run, in fact I run everyday to work, so I sync MyFitnessPal with the MapMyFitness app and end up burning 500-700 calories everyday I run to work.  So on the days I run, I can actually eat up to 2,000 calories to stay under my limit and hit my weight loss goals.

Budgeting Your Calories Like Money

The reason why I’ve become so obsessed with the idea of calorie counting is in a lot of ways its like budgeting money.  I’ve recently started paying attention to my spending more in my quest to get out of debt.  The idea of having a budget and not going over is really simple to understand.  Looking back at my eating patterns before this experiment it’s easy to see the areas where I was eating too much.

I’m not a fanatic about staying under my calories either.  In fact I tend to eat a lot more on the weekends but my numbers tell me that I just need to remain focused during the week and I get back to where I need to be.  The beauty of tracking everything you eat is you learn so much about what’s in the foods you eat and you learn how much is appropriate to eat.  I couldn’t imagine eating food now without really understanding how many calories I was consuming.

Losing Weight With Low Carb Meals

The FAQ section of /r/loseit/ has some great post on diets in general.  What I found interesting is that they don’t recommend one diet over another, but point out that all diets basically do the same thing. Get you to eat less calories.  I chose a low carb diet combined with intermittent fasting.  I like eating low carb because it forces you eat more whole foods and avoid a lot of processed foods like breads, pasta, and chips.  Now when my girlfriend and I sit down and do our meal planning every week, we just google “low carb” + whatever recipes or meals sound good.

For example, living in Naples, Italy, we love Italian food, especially pizza.  But instead of eating all that bread, we found that eggplant, zucchini or cauliflower all make excellent crusts. Top that pizza off with a little bit of sauce, cheese and veggies and you have yourself a healthy, low carb dinner.

Cutting Out Calories With Intermittent Fasting

I’ve done several experiments with IF-ing or Intermittent Fasting.  I’ve never ended up sticking with one way of eating, but after tracking my calories, I can see how it can be used to keep calories down. I’ve never been a fan of eating a bunch of small meals.  If you need to eat something all the time, then go for it.  For me to hit my weight loss goals, on three meals a day, I would need to eat three 500 calories meals, which means you really need to pay attention to portion size with each meal.  Instead I focused on skipping breakfast and sometimes lunch during the week and eating most of my calories at dinner.

A lot of people are really skeptical about eating this way and that’s OK.  Everyone is different.  I’d say whatever works for you then do it.  Eating less during the workday allows me to focus more on my work and not so much on constantly eating little meals throughout the day.  I eat a lot more frequently during the weekend, because its my time to relax and really enjoy meals with friends and family.  But fasting during the week allows me to get back on track to where I need to be.  Now that I’m at my goal weight I don’t need to be as strict with fasting and I primarily just skip breakfast and eat a small lunch. But again, whatever works for you is what you should be doing.  As long as you are eating less calories then you are right now then you will lose weight regardless of how big your meals are and how often you eat.

 


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Life Experiment #54 – Use The Debt Snowball To Become Debt Free In A Year

debt_snowball

I’ve been pounding away at my debt over the last two years. In 2013, I decided that I was sick and tired of being in debt. At the time I had $72,000 in student loan debt. Over the last two years I’ve paid off $42,000 ($12,000 from DoD Student Loan Repayment Program and $30,000 of my own money). With only $30,000 left in debt, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and it feels good. For the next year, I’ll be scrimping and saving everything I can to finally be debt free.

Hypothesis: I know that I’m will eventually be debt free, but I believe the debt snowball will motivate me to pay off my debt faster than a year. By focusing on smaller goals and building on that momentum, I feel that I’ll be more motivated to cut my expenses and increase my income.

Using The Debt Snowball

I’ve been inspired to become debt-free for a while now, but recently I’ve started listening to the Dave Ramsey Show and I really like his take on wealth building.  His main message is don’t borrow money and if you’re in debt, get out as soon as you can and don’t look back.  Simple enough.  But what really caught my attention was his suggestion on using the debt snowball.

The debt snowball is simple.  Just list out everything you owe money on, make the minimum payment on all the debts, then apply any extra towards paying off the debts smallest to largest. Once the smallest debt is paid off, you take the that extra cash and apply it towards the next smallest debt.

The method works because you break an otherwise daunting goal into bite-sized victories and you’re able to see progress along the way.  For me, the only debt I have left are nine private student loans from the same bank with all the same interest rate.

What I’ve done in the past is take the entire debt divide it by the number of months I want to pay it off by. This method seems logical…I owe this much, I pay this much and I’m done…but there’s no incentive to pay more. There’s nothing motivating to finish early.

By using the debt “snowball” realized that I could pay off 4 of the 9 loans within the next 6 months.  I could pay off one loan each month in the next 3 months. By having small targets…i.e. a little loan, I could build up my cost cutting and income muscles over time to take on larger and larger debts and until I’m done.

Laser Targeting Loan Repayments

After looking into it, I found out that after paying the minimum payments on my loans, I could apply any extra payments towards specific loans at my bank.  While the total debt is the same, there’s something extremely motivating about seeing each of your loans disappear one by one.

I originally planned to allocate $2,500 per month ($30,000 / 12 months) towards debt repayment, but after discovering that I could pay off an entire loan next month by paying an extra $162 I saw the real power of the debt snowball. By focusing on eliminating one loan at a time, I can build momentum along the way and find new ways to save money and increase my income.

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Photo: Flickr


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Life Experiment #53 – Running To Work: Part II

Running In Naples

I just moved into my new apartment here in Naples, Italy and I’m loving it.  I knew first and foremost that I would not get a car here in Italy. Sometimes it can be inconvenient but it has definitely simplified my life.  I choose an apartment about 6 miles from where I work. Just far enough that its not a crazy distance to run. I’ve been testing the bus routes and running paths since I’ve arrived and I definitely think its time to roll out my new routine so for the next month, I’ll be running to work.

Hypothesis: Based on my past experience of run commuting in San Diego, I know for sure that a daily run to work will increase my overall fitness level. There’s nothing more motivating to get you to workout then applying it to something practical in your life.  I’ll being using the a combination of public transit and running to make my way to work, so this month is all about finding out which combination works to get me there in the least amount of time at the lowest cost.

Public Transit And Running Hybrid

After some initial runs, I know have the capacity to run the entire distance, but as a practical matter, I find that it’s best to combine some public transit with running. In San Diego, I used a free commuter ferry to get me across the San Diego Bay to my job in Coronado.

In Naples, I’ll be using combination of either subways and buses plus running to get  from my apartment to work at the Naples airport.  I’m trying to the least expensive option if I can. So far I’ve used a bus called the Alibus to get work.  The only problem is this particular bus costs about twice as much as regular bus ticket (3€ per trip or about $3.67).  Not a big cost, but the goal is to keep my transportation costs as low as possible.

My other concern is safety. Downtown Naples can sometimes be a little crazy to navigate by foot.  San Diego had big even sidewalks that I could easily run whereas running through parts of Naples can get a little congested when trying to push through little crowded sidewalks. I don’t want to have to stop at every intersection to lookout for cars.

Overall, a little run commute can be fun and pretty rewarding.

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Photo Credits: Flickr


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Life Experiment #52 – No Booze For A Month – Part II

No Alcohol Sign

0645 – My alarm went off for the third time again.  Time to wake-up.  Half awake and hung over, I had to get dressed for PT.  It was a Thursday.  Contemplating my reason for drinking I began to realize that it was a problem.  I had allowed stress from my job overwhelm me and lead to my week night ritual of sangrias and wine drinking.  Typically I’ll down a bottle of wine in a night no problem.  I’ve started to wonder how my mornings would be different if I chose to abstain from alcohol completely…say for 30 days.  That’s why for the whole month of August I’m going booze-free.

Hypothesis: I believe that a month of no drinking is definitely going to clear my thinking.  I foresee big improvements in productivity, socializing and maybe a little in weight loss.  The main point is to prove to myself that I don’t need it.

My 30-Days Of Restricted Duty

I haven’t really talked about this to many people, but the first time I went alcohol-free for a month was not by choice.  I was stationed onboard the USS Ronald Reagan.  It was the night of their Christmas Party.  After having a little too many glasses of wine and drinks at the bar I had gotten separated from my friends and decided it was in my best interest to make it back home.  At the time, home was a little rack on board the ship.  The cab driver told me that he couldn’t take me on base.  I had about a mile walk to get back to the ship.  Lucky for me, base security found me in a parking lot leaned up against a car.  They realized I was too drunk and took me back to my ship.

At that point I thought everything was cool.  Until about two weeks later when I gotten summoned to the ship’s legal department.  They were going to make an example out of me.  I was sent through the whole discipline process and finally making a deal with the XO to volunteer to restrict myself to the ship for 30 days in exchange for not receiving any formal punishment.

For anyone in the Navy who’s ever been through Restricted Duty or “Restriction” knows it’s no picnic.  It’s the military’s way of putting you on house arrest.  If your ship’s in port, then there’s no getting off.  No going home to your friends and family.  You’re stuck to live and work there against your will.  Basically jail time. You get a cute little badge with a giant “R” so everyone know’s that you messed up and you’re not allowed to go anywhere.  They even take your ID, so don’t even think about escaping.

This was my first attempt at giving up booze.  Not really on my own choice.  But alcohol had gotten me in this situation and my hope was that giving up alcohol would get me out.

“I’m Not An Alcoholic”

When you look at the drinking habits of me and my friends, I wouldn’t really consider us alcoholics.  I drink like any typical American.  Downing a few glasses of wine after work and partying on the weekend.  My whole reason for giving up alcohol is that I feel that I’ve come too dependent on it.  The idea of not drinking for a whole weekend is so foreign to me.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t drink on the weekend…or during the week for that matter.

My Strategy For Sobriety

I’ve already thought this through quite extensively in my first attempt, Life Experiment #37 – Give Up Drinking Alcohol For A Month.  I think the real challenge is two fold.

#1 – Finding New Ways To Relax After Work

My job in the navy can be pretty stressful at times.  I often come home from work, cook dinner, turn on the TV and the wine starts flowing.  Fast forward three hours later and I haven’t moved and that bottle’s gone.  Everyone experiences stress at one point in their lives. It all comes down to how you manage.  Some people smoke, others drink while the smart ones exercise, meditate or read.  With the crutch of the liquid relaxer removed, new de-stressing ideas become more obvious.

#2 – Learning To Socialize Without Alcohol

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m always trying to find ways to drink on the weekend.  Going to the beach? Grab a makgeolli, please (Koreans, you know what’s up).  Going out on a Saturday night, let’s pre-game.  Sunday afternoon Bloody Marys? Yes, please!  But what what I crave more than anything else is to spend time with the friends and people I care most about.

It’s not that I’m against other people drinking, it’s just learning how to have fun without drinking myself. Socializing is just another form of stress.  What if you’re meeting someone new for the first time.  A little liquid courage will solve that problem.  Or what better way to create some memories than talking about how drunk everyone was the night before.

My biggest fear is that I’ll be pressured to drink if everyone else is.  But looking back I’ve gone almost 10 years as a vegetarian and a little criticism has never stopped me.  I know don’t how many BBQs I’ve been to where I had to awkwardly ask someone to throw on my veggie burgers. Soy burgers are up!  I guess non-drinkers face the same struggle.  How does a sober person handle themselves in a world filled with drinkers?  I’m about to find out. Bottoms up!

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Photo Credits: Flickr

 

 

 

 


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Life Experiment #51 – Learn Italian By Writing Everyday For A Month

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In about three months I’ll be moving to Naples, Italy where I’ll be stationed in the US Navy for close to three years.  I couldn’t be more excited.  Living overseas in Korea has changed my perspective on the world.  It’s made me realize that there’s so many more cultures and ways of living out there that I couldn’t imagine just settling down and living in one place the rest of my life.  A big hurdle to living overseas is taking the time to learn the language.  In Korea, I used menus to help to learn to read Korean and ultimately enjoyed some delicious foods.  Italian on the other hand uses the same alphabet as English which drastically cuts my learning curve.  So I’m taking a different approach.  Instead of just reading the language, I want to actually practice writing it out and ultimately use it to communicate with other people. For the next 30 days, I’ll be writing at least three sentences in Italian everyday.

Hypothesis: Many people think that speaking the language and having spoken conversations with native speakers is the only way to learn a language.  For me, I’m a visual learner, so I need to see and write things down to learn them.  Looking at the words and studying them helps me to recall them easier than just hearing them.  I believe that by writing at least once a day, I can immerse myself in Italian and begin to pick up the grammar, sentence structure, and vocabulary.

Online Journaling With italki.com

I love to write…in English.  Otherwise, why would I take the time to write in this blog.  Italki.com has come up with a social network for language exchange.  The site is mainly geared towards matching students with language teachers, but it has a feature that I really like.  An online “notebook”.  People from all over the world can post a profile about themselves along with journal entries in the language of their choice.  Then other members can post corrections to their entries.  It’s like having an army of language teachers to correct your translations for free.  What an awesome deal.

I started with a simple post trying to say the following:

Hello! My name is Allen. I’m an American living in South Korea. I am in the United States Navy. Next year I’ll be moving to Naples, Italy. I’m learning to write Italian. I want to write every day to improve my Italian. Please help me to improve by providing feedback.

After a little cheating on Google Translate and googling “How do you say ____ in Italian”, here’s what I came up with:

Ciao! Mi chiamo Allen. Io sono americana abitare corea del sud. Lo sono nella Marina degli Stati Uniti. L’anno prossimo mi trasferirò a Napoli Italia. Sto imparando a scrivere italiano. Voglio scrivere tutti i giorni per migliorare il mio italiano. Ti prego, aiutami a stare meglio, fornendo un feedback.

I called the post “Le mie prime parole in italiano” meaning “My First Words In Italian” and hit the submit button.  Within a day I had three people correcting my work.  Telling me to use “americano” instead of “americana” for American or “lavoro per” instead of “nella” to say that I “work for” the US Navy rather than “I’m in”.  I even got a “molto bravo!” or “very good” in English.  Wow, who knew that there were so many people out there willing to help others.  Machine translators are never this nice or to even that accurate.

But if you think about it, for a native speaker of a language, editing is easy.  When it takes me two hours to type eight sentences, a native speaker of a language can come in and make  edits within minutes.  They know this stuff.  I’m just learning.  But after only one day of typing away I already took away a few things including:

Making Friends On italki.com

Journaling is great, but I really want to use writing to connect with other people.  Italki.com also allows you the option of sending private messages or following other members.  You can search for other members by what language they speak, what language they’re trying to learn and where they’re from.  I searched for Italian speakers learning English living in Italy.  While the idea seems kind of dated.  When I hear about pen pals, I always think of that scene from Eurotrip, where Cooper tells Scotty that “Only girl scouts have penpals” and they that his pen pal is probably a sexual predator.  Regardless, I’ll send out some messages and see what I get back.

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Photo Credits: Flickr


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Life Experiment #50 – Limit TV Viewing To An Hour A Day

Watch_Less_TV

TV is something I’m constantly trying to do less of.  I’ve actually tried to give it up twice already (Trial #1, Trial #2).  And while I did reap some positive benefits from less TV time during those months, when I’m done with the month trial I always end up back right where I started.  I don’t think that a little tube time is bad.  There is actually a lot of great content out there that can teach you a lot, the problem is limiting the total time.  This month I’M limiting myself to one hour a day.

Hypothesis: I believe that limiting the total time I watch TV will make me more aware of the habit and eventually watch it less and less.  I know there’s a lot of positive things to be gained by less video time.

Using Technology To Control Tube Time

I was inspired to try this out after realizing how effective the Pact app was at getting me to workout.  I watch 100% of television or “online video” through my computer.  Since I live overseas, this is pretty much the only way I can view American television. And when I say television, I mean any video streamed over the Internet or watched on a computer including online video sites like Youtube, DVDs, and regular TV shows streamed through the Internet.  I actually don’t even own a TV or have cable.

I found a great extension for Google Chrome called StayFocusd.  The plug-in allows you to limit the total time you spend on a list of websites of your choosing.  After that limit is reached, it blocks any attempt to navigate to those pages.  I popped in my favorite video sites including obvious time wasting sites like Facebook and YouTube and my timer began.  Day one has already proven to be super productive.  Instead of my usual vegging out in front of the screen, my timer hit its hour limit and I started cleaning my room, did a little exercise and write this post.  Join me this month in tuning in and turning off your TV!

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
-Groucho Marx

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Photo Credits: Flickr


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Conclusion #49 – How To Never Skip A Workout Using Your Smartphone

Gym_Pact

Do you struggle with going to the gym?  Are you reading this instead of exercising? What if I bet you $5 that you weren’t going to workout this week?  What about $100…would that motivate you then?  That’s exactly what I did to motivate myself during my One Month of Trail Running.  I’ve been using  GymPact or now called Pact app for the last two months.  The free app available for both Android and iPhone allow you to set-up a “bet” of at least $5 that you will commit to going to gym or run at least one day a week.  You can adjust the amount of days to everyday and increase the total bet to as much as you can pay.

Basic Running Program Using Pact

The pact app works on by either checking in at a gym in their database for at least 30 minutes or using either the RunKeeper or MapMyFitness app to run or walk at least a mile in a total time of at least 30 minutes.  You receive a reward of about $0.20 for each completed workout and lose all of your money for each missed work out.  I made $1.82 running everyday the first week.  I set-up a basic running program of 2-3 times per week. I’d do sprints one day (8 x 100 meter dashes),  long distance of at least 5 miles and a high evaluation run of at least 200 feet.  At first my planned on doing all trail running as part of my 30-day trial, but I realized that it’s important to mix up your routine with different distances and paces.

Using Technology To Hold Yourself Accountable

I think the idea of using an app to penalize yourself for laziness is genius.  I only wish there were some other way to apply this to the rest of my life.  What if your bathroom scale Tweeted your weight to all your friends when it got too high or your TV charged you $20 for every hour you watched it too long or your alarm clock donated to charity when you snoozed.   Suddenly your home is filled with a bunch of robotic coaches helping you to ditch bad habits.  I think it’s important to motivate yourself beyond just avoiding a cost, but the sometimes it helps to have a little push when you’re first getting started.

I already have some ideas on how to change certain habits:

I’m sure as our things get smarter, then recording their behavior will be easier.  Like what if your toothbrush could record how often and how long you brushed….apparently it already can!

 

 


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Life Experiment #49 – 30 Days Of Trail Running

Woong Mountain

Last year, I ran my first marathon.  I still consider it one of my greatest physical accomplishments.  Setting big goals and accomplishing them are things that make life worth living.  To feel truly alive we must push ourselves outside of our comfort zones.  Here in South Korea, I live in the district of Jinhae.  It’s on the southern tip of the country and surrounded almost completely by mountains.  Hiking is big in Korea.  It’s almost a requirement to own at least one hiking outfit to live here.  I decided to take advantage of those trails and take on 30 days of trail running.

Hypothesis: While weight loss and increased endurance do help the motivation to work out, my primary goal with this habit is to increase my physical activity.  When I trained for my marathon last year and ran everyday, my overall metabolism was higher.  I started everyday with a morning run and felt amazing afterwards.  I hope that this experience will raise my energy levels throughout the day.

How To Use A  Smart Phone To Keep Yourself Accountable To Run Everyday

Running is not complicated.  Strap on your shoes and go.  The hardest part about running is having the motivation to do it everyday.  Enter the smartphone.  For this trial I’ll be using two apps to stay motivated….GymPact and MapMyRun

GymPact

GymPact keeps you motivated to either go to the gym or for a run by betting yourself that you’ll do it.  You can bet yourself as little as $5 for each workout that you’ll follow through on it.  Complete the workout and the app rewards you with money from other members who don’t follow through.  While the money you receive may only be a few cents, the idea that you’ll be charged a “fine” is enough to push anyone to keep going.  For runs you have to run at least a mile with in an hour and a half and you have to run for at least 30 minutes.

MapMyRun

GymPact uses data from MapMyFitness apps to track your running workouts.  I’ve used this app while training for my marathon last year.  It records all your routes via your phones GPS and uploads your workouts to share with your friends.  They even have the option of setting a custom goal.  For this trial, I put in a goal to run everyday for 30 days.

If you want to add me as a friend on MapMyRun my username is Allen25848004.  Happy trails! 🙂

 


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