Mash's Musings

How not to exercise

Published May. 31, 2021

We are often reminded these days to treat ourselves. Books and studies around habit forming will recommend positive reinforcement of good habits by rewarding yourself for each positive behavior. My newest bad habit shows that taking this mantra too seriously is like taking 2 steps forward and n steps back, where n represents a number which I don't want to think about. The initial objective was to explore the new cities I'd moved to and get myself out for some longer walks or bike rides. Fresh air and exercise, what could go wrong?

To incentivize myself I set some destination point for some new treat, usually a donut or ice cream shop at least half an hour away, to act as a reward for accomplishing this goal. This worked to great effect and had me exploring all around nearby neighborhoods all for the cost of some spent calories. Unfortunately, it turns out that my brain's sugar response was a bit too powerful for this to be sustainable. I soon found my Pavlovian response kicking in every time I would leave the house for anything. Out for a grocery run? Hmm isn't there a donut shop a bit further down the road? Chatting with a friend on a walk? Oh, might as well grab some fro-yo.

In an attempt to justify my behavior, I propose a thought experiment: Who is likely to live a "healthier" life? The man doing regular, intense exercise and crushing two scoops of ice cream and a decadent donut every day? Or the man living a relaxed life, never exceeding 60 bpm heart rate, with not a gram of sugar in his body? Let my tombstone show that I undertook these endeavors with all the gravitas associated with such a scientific endeavor, for who could argue that there were any other options left to take?

RIP Mash