The Fit Student—Reward Yourself!

What brings you pleasure?  Lunch at a comedy club? Lunch by a still pond?  Or lunch loaded with Redbulls and ballpark franks at a spelling bee?

I once got highs over perfect math grades.   I’d stare at math textbooks until midnight, solving problems.   A 100% exam scored a victory.   Anything else, meh.   Yet, I fretted failing every test.

Now, I get pleasure from healthy diets.   My boyfriend calls it OCD.   I record each calorie, study healthy tips, and eat raw foods.   I lecture baristas—the vegetarians—on high fiber diets.  Yet I flinch over my past struggles with eating disorders.   Might food-OCD be another form?

And what about exercise?  In grad school, my endorphins shot nonstop from fitness.   I trained two-to-five hours each day.    But after I stopped, each attempt to restart failed.  Why?  I jumped into high intensity training too soon.   My mood soured.   My jaw quivered.   Panic erupted.

Only once I started going for walks—daily—did I return to fitness.   Now, I feel pleasure from most any exercise.   To reward myself for every ten-minutes shadow boxing, I house-clean.   Make chores breaktimes to liven ‘em up.

I feel pleasure from cold showers, too.   Cold showers lower stress and depression.   It’s impossible to feel poopy pants in blasts of cold water.   Consider electric shock therapy.   If electric shock can zap away psychosis, what might cold shock do?

When I land a career, I’ll set aside even more rewards.   Buy comfy gym clothes.   Layaway a souped-up hybrid bike.   Load up on coconut milk and organic carrots at a hippy wholefood fare.

Mithu Storini talks about the need for pleasure in the book Stress Proof: The Scientific Solution to Protect Your Brain and Body – and Be More Resilient Every Day.

  • Make pleasure a priority: “You must treat pleasure with the same importance with which you treat going to work or taking a shower, by allotting time for it every day.  Never leave pleasure by the wayside or sacrifice it for ‘more important’ things” (p.  155).
  • Insert pleasure in everything you do: “Actively seeking and feeling pleasure at every opportunity on your daily routine can make you resilient to stress” (p. 156).
  • Reward yourself with pleasures while you work: “Pick three things that bring you pleasure.  Look at your schedule and slot these three things into your work” (p.  157).
  • Reward yourself often to lower stress: “There is evidence that actively cultivating reward and pleasure in your daily life can protect you from chronic stress and its damaging effects on your reward circuit” (p. 154).
  • Your life will worsen “if you stop doing things that bring you pleasure, while living under chronic stress with a hyperactive emotional brain that keeps you immersed in negativity” (p. 155).
  • Depression kicks in when stuck with a jerk: “When a vulnerable mouse is locked in a cage with an aggressive mouse for about ten minutes every day, it develops depression after only two weeks.  Ten minutes of mouse time is at least as long as a workday in human time” (p.  153).
  • But rewarding yourself makes anything bearable: “In one study … stressed mice were given a sugar reward … This reward appeared to ‘normalize’ their behavior so it was comparable to that of the mice who had not been stressed” (p. 156).

I feel rewards when I compliment people.   I once told a woman that she had a beautiful soul.   Her face softened, moved by the gesture.   Her boyfriend hugged her tighter.   A tiny child peered up at her face.

Then she loaded up on a caramel macchiato, a caffeine moustache etching her grin.

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