research for design: week 1

At one point in my pre-pandemic life, I went to the gym four days a week, for months on end. This felt like an absolutely incredible achievement, given that I’d spent my teenage years denouncing any sort of physical activity. I became a gym person through sheer power of will. I would stretch at the start of every workout, then run a mile on a treadmill despite hating almost every second of it, and then go through an ever-changing weightlifting routine. I lost weight despite bulking a bit in muscle, and for the first time in my life had a hint of a six-pack.

Then COVID happened!

circa 9 months pre-covid

Writing this all out now makes me miss it more than I could tell you. I miss feeling confident that I could move a heavy box all by myself. I miss being able to touch my toes while stretching my hamstrings. I miss running up the subway stairs and not getting winded.

I was at my gym the last day it was open in March. I didn’t feel very safe in it that day, but I knew the closure was coming and wanted to get one last workout in. I already knew I wouldn’t be as motivated to work out at home — I’ve always felt that the physical gym space was the biggest psychological factor for me to find motivation. Eventually I did try — I played some Ring Fit Adventure at home, then got some adjustable weights, then eventually a foldable bench. But I’m still not working out four days a week.

So the question for this project is — how can I make that happen, for myself and others? Can I create something that helps overcome these psychological or material barriers?

For my mess map, I wrote up as many of these barriers as I could. I quickly saw three large buckets forming — (lack of) motivation, space, and equipment — and spread the sticky notes around the bucket(s) they related to. Further down, I wrote up the tools I knew that could address these issues — separating by general tools, and specific or branded ones. The last area deals with my questions or considerations for the next phases of the project.

I focused my secondary research this week on Becoming Your Desired Self. It’s a twelve-part workshop piloted earlier this year by my office, though I wasn’t directly involved in it since I was out on vacation while it happened. It provides actionable and affirming tools to help create habits (and stick with them). Some of the key takeaways are the idea of breaking down habits into small, achievable segments; observing cues that trigger different habits; being intentional about one’s routine and environments in order to trigger desired habits; and maybe above all, approaching the entire process with an open, non-judgmental, compassionate mindset.

I think focusing on the psychological barriers might be the best route for the project — it seems the most universal issue, whereas space and equipment problems are deeply particular to each person’s life and body. I’m leaning towards designing some tool — whether it involves journaling, planning, habit tracking, etc — in a few different formats to increase accessibility and usability.

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