Fitness Friday: Breaking the Habit

Well adventurers, I messed up. At the time of writing, I haven’t worked out for the whole week. This is my first week since starting Fitness Friday where I spent the entire time not being very focused on my fitness. But while this certainly means I cannot talk about my experiences with Ring Fit Adventure – or review the zoo like last week – I do want to take this opportunity to reflect on the circumstances and mindset that contributed to my lack of exercise and consider some possible solutions to get me back on track next week.

While I would love to say that the reason I never worked out was simply because I was too busy, that definitely wasn’t the case. During any given day over the past week I definitely had opportunities to carve out half an hour to play some Ring Fit had I truly felt motivated to do so. These periods of time usually come after dinner right before putting my child to bed, or after my child is in bed while my partner is playing games with friends or streaming on their Twitch channel. As both situations cropped up this week, instead of devoting energy to exercising I was putting my effort into other things, the most significant of which was a project for my blog.

On the Wednesday prior to the posting of this article I shared a class guide for Dark Deity – a list of all 54 classes in the game, their weapon and armor types, as well as the skills and aptitudes for each one. To compile this guide, I needed to play enough of Dark Deity to at least reach the second tier classes. I also wanted to update my old character and weapon guides to reflect any changes made by patches since the original time of posting. That meant starting a bunch of randomized playthroughs again and again until I had seen the base stats of every character, not to mention taking some time out of my run to assign all the weapon tokens in my inventory to every single weapon type to write down the stats for each. This was time consuming work and I wanted to get it done in time to have the post fit into my normal posting schedule – the drive to finish the guides as quickly as possible was the main cause of my time away from exercising.

At least Maren is making gains.

I started Ring Fit Adventure at a time when I was actively looking for something new to cover on the blog. Most of the stuff I was playing was on PC instead of Switch and that was making it difficult to play enough games to get three articles per week. The time I had available on evenings and weekends I truly saw as “free time,” uncommitted hours where I could kind of just slot in whatever because I wasn’t devoted to using that time for something specific. This is distinct – at least in my brain – from the time I devote specifically to gaming and blogging and my motivation interacts with free time differently. The stuff I do during free time is just to fill time – alternatively the stuff I’m doing when I am working on a project is accompanied by a degree of focus and motivation that doesn’t apply to “free time” activities. The stuff I do in free time has no urgency while the stuff I do in project time feels like it has to get done.

This is significant because part of my effort around using Ring Fit to exercise and writing about it online was intentionally to hack this aspect of how my brain works. By turning exercise from a free time activity to a project time activity, it would feel more necessary and immediate, something I would do because I needed to rather than something I would do only when there was nothing else to do. I didn’t reach that point before Dark Deity came up, and so when completing the guides became my project time activity, all of my free time activities stopped happening until that project was done, including exercise. This is significant because it’s an issue I can anticipate happening again in the future.

At the end of June there are two different games that are going to be coming out which I am deeply excited to cover for my website: Fire Emblem Warriors Three Hopes and AI The nirvanA Initiative. I’ve been planning to set aside some funds for these games or purchase them with tax refund money so that I can get them as soon as they come out and cover them over the course of July. I can already tell you with confidence that unless I end up thinking those two games are downright bad, they are going to fully hijack my project time brain and any time I have to spend on my own rather than being a father, husband, or worker will be fully dedicated to those two games. When that time comes, it’ll be easy to leave exercising by the wayside if I haven’t firmly cemented it as part of my routine. In my head, I won’t have time for it – even if I absolutely do.

I gotta keep working out if I want to hit stuff with an iron pipe as hard as Mizuki!

I’ve had these struggles with motivation before in the past with activities like writing or live streaming. For both of those activities, I made the decision to only do them when I feel motivated to do them. For streaming, that has led to ending my streams – I rarely feel the motivation at all and I’m satisfied with that. For writing, this has put me on a three post per week schedule for a few months now. I have consistently felt a strong desire to write and wanted to build other activities in my life, like gaming, around keeping a consistent schedule on Adventure Rules. Exercise is different from both writing and streaming in one key way: the degree of necessity. I can live my entire life without streaming or writing and while perhaps something could be said for the lack of “spiritual fulfillment” that type of lifestyle would bring, it wouldn’t kill me to live that way. Not exercising though…that will kill me. I need to exercise even when I don’t feel motivated to, so just letting motivation lead the way like I do with my other hobbies is not going to be sufficient as a solution. Especially since with exercise, much like with streaming now, I never truly feel motivated to make it happen.

This is, broadly, a skill I need to improve for other aspects of my life too. Anything that my brain interprets as a chore is very difficult to make myself do unless there’s external pressure. For something like cleaning, living in an apartment where I can get in trouble with the landlord for not maintaining the space to a certain standards is a necessary motivating factor for me. For doing dishes, not having clean pans to cook with is a temptation to buy food, and the loss of money from spending it on fast food feels enough like a consequence for me to be a motivator (most of the time). For exercise, the external motivator would be physical symptoms like pain or breathlessness or trouble sleeping, but the reward comes slower. When the dishes are done or the living room is vacuumed I can see an instant difference; exercise takes weeks to start seeing even mild improvements to the things I want to make better so as soon as something more interesting comes along, I forget about it. And then falling off the wagon is in itself demotivating because it feels like I have to start over from scratch and have lost all my progress.

One thing I might attempt to see if it makes a difference is a mood tracker. This is something I’ve used previously as a tool to assist with anhedonia during depression to some degree of success. Prior to an activity you don’t feel motivated to do, you document how you are feeling. You then do the same after you actually do the activity. Over time, you’ll have a record of how good you felt after accomplishing the thing you didn’t feel motivated to do, and can use that record to say “hey brain, every time I’ve done this in the last two weeks has made me feel better about myself, so you should be excited for it, okay?” You build the body of evidence that the activity is valuable to convince you to follow through during the times you don’t really want to.

I think that will be my plan for next Fitness Friday – I’ll try to make a log of each day that I exercise to keep as evidence that doing so will be valuable even if I don’t suddenly turn into a muscle god over the course of a week. I’ll plan to report back then on whether this was a useful tool for me in trying to get myself motivated to exercise in spite of other projects that are vying for my attention.

One thought on “Fitness Friday: Breaking the Habit

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  1. As someone who hated home workouts (I prefer just doing activities or sports instead) and is now exercising daily, I can say that it feeling like a chore is very normal. But facing down that reluctance is a buildable skill too. It just requires repetitions. Anyway, wishing you all the best with your journey!

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