In January of 2015, I was living in Charlotte, North Carolina finishing up my college degree.
I quit personal training when I left my sister’s place (an hour north in Winston-Salem), so I had no more 5am wake up calls. I could sleep in everyday. I had an awesome job working for Metabolic Effect that didn’t even require me to leave the house, and I would land a modeling job once per month.
Life was great!
Yet, I was miserable. I was lonely, always tired and anxious, and borderline depressed.
How? Why? It made no sense. It was my ideal life. I didn’t have anything I really had to do. I could sleep in, hit the gym, watch Pardon The Interruption everyday, and was only required to be in class for 9 hours a week. And that’s when I actually went to all of them (sorry Mom). I went to fucking Australia for crying out loud! AUSTRALIA!! Where everybody is laid back, topless on the beach, and says “mate” (which makes you feel like you’re a good friend of theirs. It’s awesome.)
Was I just an ungrateful little shit? Perhaps, but I don’t think that’s what it was.
And don’t get me wrong, I was in a state of euphoria when I was traveling, but quickly returned to my baseline mood when I returned home
Here’s the deal, as humans, we are magnetically pulled towards inactivity. It’s called the Path of Least Resistance, and we’re all about that life.
The Path is the idea that we will choose the easier task. It’s easier to watch TV than read a book. It’s tough to hit the gym, but fairly easy to make a bag of popcorn (microwave manufacturers even put a popcorn button on the microwave now so you don’t even have to type in 2:52 anymore– the Path of Least Resistance at it’s finest).
Think about it, we want to make a ton of money so we can quit our jobs and relax on a beach all day. We desire fewer responsibilities, less to-do’s, and a smaller workload.
Yet when we finally get to a place where we’re still in bed at noon, rocking our favorite pair of underwear, while binge-watching Netflix, we find that it’s not all that fulfilling (trust me, I was there A LOT).
Research actually shows that Americans find free time more difficult time to enjoy than work. We don’t enjoy inactivity nearly as much as we think we do
If that’s the case, why do we work so hard so we can relax? One of my favorite J. Cole lines is “Ima stack paper, hustle, just to relax later.”
Just like Cole, we work our asses off in order to relax. After a long day of work, we get rewarded with TV. After a workout we deserve a doughnut.
So I get it, this could come off as really depressing.
“So Danny, let me get this straight. Are you saying life is shitty at work, and life is shitty out of work?”
Sort of… Actually yes. Yes, I am saying that. BUT, that is not how it has to be. What can we do about this lose-lose scenario?
Passive Leisure vs. Active Leisure
Passive Leisure is watching television, creeping on your ex’s Instagram account, watching everybody’s Snapchat story… twice. It’s mindless video games, Facebook scrolling, and going to the movies. These things do in fact feel relaxing. The problem is that after 30 minutes, they begin to drain our energy. This is something psychologists call psychic entropy. We will call these activities Drainers.
Now, Active Leisure on the other hand are games, sports, hobbies, reading, juggling fire torches, connecting with people, and meditating. They enhance our concentration, engagement, sense of enjoyment, and motivation. They are the opposite of Drainers in that they are difficult to get started on, but after a few moments, actually energize and fulfill us. We will calls these activities Gainers.
It’s harder to pack your gym bag and leave the house than it is to take off your pants and turn on ESPN. This is called activation energy. It basically means this; How difficult is it to start something? The more difficult it is to start something, or the more activation energy required, then it’s less likely we actually do it.
These Gainers require us to gain skills, engage our minds, and pursue goals, all of which are essential to our happiness. Again, as our dude J. Cole says, “Thinking about the board I use to have above the dresser/Half the shit I wrote down/I did it, it’s old now/I got new goals, plus my money on Manute Bol”
This was why bad days were becoming a recurring theme in my life. I was engaging in a ton of Drainers. I wasn’t hanging with friends. There was nothing mentally stimulating I was doing. I actually felt like I knew Hank Moody from Californication.
**Side Note: people who watch a lot of TV think that they have more friends than they actually do. No, Harvey Spector is not actually your friend.
The Big Idea
The Big Idea here is to change the way we chill out. How can we replace TV with pick-up basketball? How can we Facebook less, and actually meet Sheryl at the coffee shop instead of rain-checking again this time?
The more often we engage in Passive Leisure, the more difficult these habits will be to break.
We have to figure out ways to decrease the activation energy of Gainers, and increase the activation energy for Drainers. We need to make it harder to perform Drainers, and remove some of the barriers to Gainers.
Take the batteries out of the remote, and put them in another room. Pack your gym bag, plan your outfit, and set the coffee to be brewed at 6am the night before, so you’re more likely to get up and go to the gym. Move in with your grandmother so you’re less likely to lose your pants the minute you walk into the house. Don’t keep junk food in the house. Set up automatic payments to your Roth IRA account to you don’t need to muster up the activation energy to transfer money.
I’m now blogging regularly, started personal training again, working out 5 days per week, and am living with my girlfriend. All of these things come with challenges of their own, and I’m no longer ballin’ out in Australia, but overall I am happier, more energized, and I still get to wear my favorite underwear, and tune in for Game of Thrones every once in awhile.
Achor, Shawn. The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. New York: Broadway, 2010. Print.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row, 1990. Print.