Delaying the Gratification of Fitness and Health

Imagine it’s 2003, Laois are after beating Dublin in a Leister semi-final, the country is bracing itself for The Sugarbabes who are coming to rock Witness and I’ve just lost a tooth chewing a Roy of the Rover bar. What else is different? Oh yeah! None of us have a clue what a smartphone is.

I could still imagine all those things being true today, all except for life without a mobile phone, and that’s despite the fact that Roy of the Rovers, Witness, Laois GAA and possibly the Sugarbabes have all since gone extinct.

Image result for roy of the rovers bar
I’d murder one of these right now!

My own mobile phone addiction has been a gradual process that started with buying my first Blackberry in 2010. Nine year later I am absolutely addicted. I know this because I hate it, yet it is still sitting looking at me as I type. My phone would be in my hand as I eat breakfast, walk to the shop, watch TV, sit on the toilet and somewhat insanely as I try to go to sleep. Thankfully I am aware of this addiction and I am taking steps to liberate myself. Steps like deleting social media, reading more and practicing doing nothing – give it a go and see just how difficult it has become.

As you know I am not the only one, in fact I am not even an exception. The world – especially Ireland – has become highly addicted to these clingy devices. According to Deloitte’s mobile consumer survey 2017, we know that Irish people check their phones an average of 57 times a day. And I would hazard a guess that things have gotten even worse in the last 24 months.

What are we checking for? We pick up our phones unconsciously. Craving for that rush of a new notification, looking for that instant hit of happiness, or even just to transcend into the cyber world as we scroll and scroll and scroll through the never ending feed. People have changed. Whether it is through phones, game consoles, TV on demand or the thousands of other technology related reasons, we now constantly crave the dopamine that these devices feed us. And do not be fooled, this is not only a younger generation epidemic. This is one that we’ve all been sucked into. Just take a look around the next time you sit on a bus or in a cafe, you’ll soon notice that you’re one of the few weirdos doing so.

The question is, has it changed how we live our lives away from mobile phones? Does everything now have to be instant or do we still have the ability to delay that gratification?

I first realised my own psychological shift towards this need for instant gratification as I attempted to watch -arguably the best TV Show of all time – The Sopranos and failed. Prior to this in 2012, or 2BMA (Before Mobile Phone Addiction), I watched all 5 seasons of The Wire. To this day, I argue that it is in fact the greatest TV show of all time.

Give over Fitzy, The Wire is good but it has NOTHING on The Sopranos.”

Ok. So in 2017, or 3 AMA, I sat down to watch The Sopranos. But as I said, I failed. I got as far as season 2 and gave up. Not because I didn’t like it, but because I wasn’t arsed. It required attention. An entire episode of 60 minutes could be based around some character building and my impatient mind could not be bothered with it. Instead I just watched House of Cards and then Stranger Things, because Netflix knows that my attention span will not last a full episode without something bonkers happening. Hollywood has actually changed how it makes television to suit my shorter attention span. Shit!!

The embarrassing realisation that I am addicted to my phone sparked an interest in the theory of instant gratification, which brought me to picking up this gem of a book in my local library in Drogheda.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Stanford University Professor Walter Mischel began the infamous Marshmallow Experiment. The initial experiment tested children’s ability to delay gratification by giving them one marshmallow and telling them that they would get another two in a few minutes if they didn’t eat the first one. The results were as expected, hilarious, with some children giving in instantly and others heroically fighting the urge of scoffing it down – as seen in these brilliant remakes on YouTube. His two follow up studies in 1988 and 1990, showed that of the children from the initial experiment, those who were able to wait for the second marshmallow turned out to be more competent, have better physical health and even have better SAT – Leaving Cert/GCSE – scores.

Reading this book from a health perspective, I realised that real physical health depends on this ability to delay gratification. Physical health requires patience and needs to be earned through time and commitment. Physical health that is just taken over a short period of time tends only to be a fa├žade. Good for likes on Instagram but it will all be forgotten about too soon when your sweaty palms begin to lose grip on the oily handles of faking it. I am just glad that good physical health through sports participation was something that I had earned long before the existence of smartphones. And I empathise with any of you who are beginning your own physical activity/health journey since growing accustomed to instant gratification. If this is you be patient, be careful.

Just like Hollywood, the fitness industry is adapting to the Western world’s psychological shift. The “8 Week Transformation” is fitness’ House of Cards. Think about it. Eight action packed weeks with a specific destination/ending. Monday motivation, leg-days, TBTs, gym selfies. Every day, new rewards. Instant results. Instant gratification. Here today, gone tomorrow! Lasting as long as Frank Underwood’s reign as president before falling hard off the wagon.

Compare that to the aerobic exercise. The Sopranos of the fitness world. Season 1 starts off with you trying to make up your mind whether or not you will take the journey. In season 2 you cross the threshold but still see no visible results. Season 3 and 4 may bring some gratification as you can look back on the distance you’ve traveled so far. But it is only in season 5 and 6 that you can sit back and take stock off all you have achieved and how you have sustainably transformed yourself into a healthier, fitter person who like The Sopranos will stand the test of time.

So, for those of you who are considering going for a more sustainable fitness challenge. Whose main goal is to become a runner, a cyclist, a yogi, a person who wants to be fit forever more. Do not expect instant results. Do not think that you are 8 weeks away from a “transformation Insta”. You may only start to feel the results as you wrap up season 1. If you’re lucky, you’ll start to see them during season 2 or 3. And then come the real rewards. As you persevere through the 4th and 5th season, you will experience a true transformation. You will experience a sustainable physiological and psychological change. You will own the status of being an athlete, rather than only borrowing it for that wedding or holiday. Good things take time. The greatest investment that you will make will be learning to love the journey more than the destination.

Image result for parkrun ireland
Parkrun.com

As always I hope that you enjoyed reading the blog. Feel free to leave any feedback in the comments below. Also, I am now living life without Facebook, Instagram and Twitter which makes it difficult to share this blog, so if you really enjoyed it I would greatly appreciate if you could send it on to friends or share it on your own pages. Thank you and happy summer!

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