Often when we partake in certain activities or behaviours, instead of exercising or doing other things we promised ourselves we would do, we just do it without questioning why. As a result we may experience a variety of emotions (guilt, disappointment, anger etc.) all of which will vary in intensity depending on what we did or didn't do. For example you may feel mild guilt when you miss one exercise session, or you might experience major guilt or even anger when you miss a whole week’s exercise or have several junk food binges.
At the point when we make the choice to not exercise or not stick to a diet, we usually don't think about the logic of what we are doing, instead opting to embrace the emotional rewards or benefits of the ‘black listed’ behaviour. For example, despite saying to yourself “I should be exercising”, the thought of sitting on the couch with a beer is more emotionally appealing at that point in time. Once you have the idea in your head you often don't consider the negative consequences, choosing instead to let your thinking run away with thoughts of how good the beer will taste and how relaxed you will feel.
For most of us when we experience these thoughts we are also aware, to some degree at least, that we are actually kidding ourselves. More often than not however we are reluctant to entertain these thoughts out of fear. More specifically, the fear of not getting the emotional rewards we have all but promised ourselves we would experience after partaking in said behaviour. This is ironic as at some point we have probably also considered the emotional rewards of doing the very thing we are now trying to avoid e.g. exercising or eating a healthy meal. So why is it then that even though we want to exercise more, quit a bad habit or eat healthier food, we don’t? I mean, we know that it will make us feel better, it will make us look better and will probably help us cope with life better. Surely these reasons should be enough, shouldn't they?
As many of you will know, myself included, these reasons although entirely logical, aren't enough. In fact in 9 out of 10 cases these reasons would come up woefully short of providing the required dose of motivation needed to start and stick with something new, like an exercise routine for example. So does this mean that the reasons we wanted to do these things in the first place aren't valid? Does it mean we never really thought it was that important? No, not at all! It just means that when we were presented with a choice to initiate our new routine or do the same old thing, we forget about all of the good reasons of doing something new and chose to do something we are familiar with, e.g. sit on the couch with a beer. Sitting on the couch with a beer of course has its own set of compelling benefits. Benefits that at the time override our original reasons for wanting to exercise. In short we often choose the short term pleasurable or fun option over the long term benefits of making a change. Why, because we want things now! We want instant satisfaction and an immediate feeling of pleasure. While we know exercising regularly will bear fruit in time, it doesn't help us to soothe the ‘now’. It doesn't help to soothe the tiredness, the stress, the anxiety or the cravings we may be experiencing. Or at least that’s what we believe at the time.
So the question is, how can we remind ourselves of all of the valid reasons that made us want to exercise or eat better in the first place, while looking subjectively at the reasons for wanting to take the easy or fun option? One way to consider both sides of a choice before coming to an informed decision is to play the 'BUT game'.
Continued in part 2