How do you see health? When you think about eating healthy food, going to the gym, drinking 8 glasses of water a day, do you see it as a chore or do you enjoy it? Do you think of it as work or play? These two perspectives are what sets you apart when embarking on your fitness journey or following through for the long run.
A few decades ago a fascinating study was performed[i]. A team of Italian psychologists interviewed some inhabitants from a few Italian Alpine villages that had been somewhat spared from the industrial and technological age. The most striking feature and seemingly ultimate reason for their perceived long-term happiness was that they could seldom distinguish work from play. Even though, they spent much of their days in what we might call work, they didn’t view it as anything different from sitting and drinking with friends, it was just life. Milking the cows held the same value, importance and joy as sitting and playing the guitar. I wonder would happen if we all worked toward taking on this approach to life?
Today is the first day of the new year. I am choosing to write an article at 9am after just having finished my gym session…on New Years Day! This could be viewed a few different ways. #1. I am completely crazy. #2. I have no life. #3. A combination of #1 and #2. #4. This is just living. Undoubtedly most would think I am utterly nuts, but for me this is enjoyable, just as having a big NYE party with my friends was. So, why is it that many folks go out of their way to make a definite distinction between work and play? Between exercise and rest? Why does we always view work and exercise as punishment while rest and play are hailed as rewards? Maybe solving this riddle is the key to our happiness and success.
Pleasure and Pain
As human beings, we are terrible at knowing what makes us happy. Our decision-making process is tightly based around 2 movements: toward pleasure or away from pain, with the latter of the two being the stronger stimulus. With this knowledge and our earlier observation around punishment and reward, is it any wonder that our heavy reliance on willpower fails to successfully traverse us through the work week or exercise regime? I mean honestly, if I had to face punishment every single day I would probably hate life and give up too. The problem is that we are leaving a life of ‘well-being’ up to choice and as we know when we’re given too much freedom and choice our inherent nature to find the path of least resistance will happily guide us down the road of decisions based on whether we feel up to taking the punishment or not. Pleasure usually reigns supreme. This is a blueprint for disaster.
If we keep segregating our lives into activities of punishment/pain and pleasure/reward we will be in a constant state of guilt, denial and anxiety. There is no simple remedy to this problem, the list and tasks to transform your life to one of joy is long and at times tedious. But at any time, we have the choice to make the shift. To either move from what we have now to something we love or to take ownership of what we currently have and learn to love it. It all starts with deep reflection and questions of ourselves.
What if you enjoyed it or at least felt good about it?
How would your life change if you didn’t view it as healthy eating and exercise, but simply viewed it as ‘living’? Imagine if going to the gym or going for a run and eating lots of vegetables, lean meats and good fats was not a health kick or something you had to ‘crack down’ on, but simply life. What would life be like if you enjoyed Monday mornings at work? You wouldn’t be in a cycle of abundance and lacking but simply a way of life. There wouldn’t be guilt and shame attached to that celebratory dinner with champagne because that is how you celebrate special occasions and tomorrow when you wake up you get straight back into living. Your whites would be whiter and your brights would be brighter. Isn’t that a life worth fighting for?
Reference for Work or play…How do you see health?
[i] Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience (p. 145)