Why you didn't train today: A cost-benefit analysis of a workout
I woke up in a bad mood yesterday, and I have no idea why.
I can't really pin down which particular emotion I was feeling the most. It wasn't anger or sadness. I just had this general mixed sense of being down.
My mood wasn't focused at anything or anyone. Nor was there an explanation for it. I slept well, ate well, the weather was nice...no concerns or stresses I could think of. Nothing to complain about. Just a total mystery. A random dark mood.
But whatever it was, I just wasn't happy.
So I went for a bike ride.
I rode hard. I climbed up hills until my lungs ached for air and my legs pooled with acid. On the flats and downhills my feet turned the pedals over at higher rate than usual, smashing them down with intention and vigor.
This particular route finished with a steep 60-second downhill where I clocked in at 40 miles per hour, and my life's sole purpose became about maintaining a firm, but soft control of the handlebars as I kept a sharp eye out on driveways and side roads for unsuspecting cars. A little dangerous, but it was a great way to finish out the ride.
And the instant I dismounted my bike, I could already feel the change. I was a new person. Instead of being consumed with my own thoughts, I suddenly became grateful for the beautiful weather, and felt the satisfaction that often comes after such intense physical efforts. I was eager to get changed so I could spend the rest of the day with my girlfriend. Although it was just an ordinary 70-minute ride, I felt like I had accomplished something. In thinking of my earlier mood, I just laughed and shook my head, still wondering what could have brought on such a dark and depressed state of mind.
But it didn't matter. I was good now.
Later that afternoon, with the morning's experience still fresh in my mind, I was reminded just how powerful a workout can be. Even after years of training, I'm still amazed how good it could make me feel, and I was thankful such a tool would always be available to me.
But it also left me frustrated that so many people, for whatever reason, either don't or can't make exercise a part of their life, despite how badly they want it. It's ironic that such a powerful tool is so freely available to everyone, and yet so many people struggle to make regular use of it.
I'm not going to pretend to fully understand why everyone doesn't exercise. As much as I'd like to believe I've got everyone's issues all figured out, to do so would be just a tad judgemental. Everyone's got their reasons, their issues, and their journey.
I can only speak about what I've seen and the people that I've coached. And I've noticed a few trends in peoples' behavior, comments, and opinions on exercise, and I've developed a little theory.
I believe that some people don't exercise for the same reason I would never pay a million dollars for one of those overly simplistic abstract paintings that look they were created in a kindergarten class.
That kind of art--if you want to call it that--just doesn't do it for me. Even if I had the money, the price would still be obscenely too high. So it's a no deal. Yet, paintings like these continue to be sold for obscene amounts of money. So obviously there's a market out there for them.
And isn't that how we make all of our buying decisions? If something costs $20 and we see more than $20 worth of value in it, we make the trade. If not, we leave it on the shelf.
A lot of people feel the same way about exercise. The time, money, planning, and physical pain required to work out seem too high a price tag for whatever benefits they feel they might get. So they pass on the offer.
I know I'm reducing complex human decision-making behavior down to a simplistic model of a cost/benefit analysis, but I really believe that for anyone that passes on a workout, they're really just making a purchasing decision. If took away the costs or raised the perceived value they'd extract from just a single workout, they'd likely make a different choice.
The fitness industry has done an excellent job educating people on the value of exercise. Although I still think people underestimate the benefits (especially in the long-term), for the most part everyone agrees that exercise is a good thing.
Where we've gone wrong is inflating the actual costs attached to the activity. In the process of celebrating six-pack abs and marathon finishes, we've put a life of activity and movement out of reach for many people who think extreme levels of body composition, fitness, and commitment are how exercise needs to be done.
But exercise doesn't have to be a costly, time-consuming, all-or-nothing suffer-fest three days out of the week. People don't need to join a gym, buy $400 worth of Lululemon, or get a PhD in kinesiology just to get a sweat going.
However, the fitness industry needs people to think that getting expert advice and purchasing special moisture-wicking clothing are necessary steps to simply getting their heart rate elevated once in a while. Our #riseandgrind culture loves to things harder, more complicated and less approachable than they really should be, and then blame people for their laziness and poor life choices when they can't seem to get it together.
Exercise is a habit. And habits need momentum. Getting started should involve the least amount possible to still get a benefit, and it should grow from there.
Where is there a rule that says you can't do a 5-minute workout...naked? Seriously--knock out 50 squats before you hit the shower tomorrow morning, it's not a half-bad way to start things off if you're new to this whole exercise thing. And it's 5-minutes more than you were planning on getting done today anyway. The day after do 51. Keep adding each day--trust me, you'll figure some things out for your own.
What's interesting about the cost/benefit relationship with exercise is that over time, the things that were once seen as costs actually become part of the benefit package.
Time that you once had to take out of your day to exercise now becomes time that you get to take. Discomfort that you once had to endure, now becomes something that you get to endure--and overcome. Although by no means pleasant at the time, that pain that once scared you now challenges and excites you, and rewards you with a sense of empowerment that you can't get any where else.
But it's only with practice that the perceived costs begin to shrink, and the benefits seem to grow to the point where you can't imagine not working out, because that would just be a bad deal.