Athletes say they get a "high" from exertion. I... do not.
I really do like the main thesis of this article, but as someone who's been bodybuilding/powerlifting for the past 8 years I will say that there's a bit of nuance to Arnold's statement, at least as far as my lived experience goes. When I first started exercising I HATED it. Whenever I was forced to run in gym class, or my parents pushed me to do an interminable series of team sports in the desperate hope that their incredibly unathletic, rail thin son would somehow be bullied by coaches into becoming sociable, I experienced nothing but misery.
After I decided to try and get into weightlifting after various health problems related to being undernourished and sedentary popped up, guess what, I STILL hated it!! It wasn't until after almost 6 months of half-hearted sessions in the gym that I started to get an endorphin rush from training. I started to actually look forward to improving the numbers from my previous workouts, and became excited about the prospect of pushing myself as hard as I could. All of the stress from the day would melt away as I focused all of my effort on moving the weights.
I think that this principle of originally hating something but then finding joy in it after an initially rough learning period can be applied to SO MANY things. Sticking to a decent sleep schedule, social interactions, eating healthily, hell even goddamn dark souls!
So I think one healthy take away from Arnold's original message (that I'll admit isn't readily apparent in what he says and needs clarification) is that certain originally unpleasant tasks can BECOME enjoyable and rewarding if enough time is put into them.
This post resonated with me.
Over lockdown I got a virtual reality headset and started playing a bunch of VR games. Some of these are quite active - I'd end up drenched in sweat after a long session. I found a service, "YUR.fit" (as in, "Why You Are Fit"), which tracked the calories you burn in VR. There's some gamification to it - monthly "seasons", where you get a medal at the end of each month based on how well you did. I've gotten a platinum medal every month since the service left beta - 20 months of doing, on average, 60-70 hours of cardio per month. I'm trapped in a gamified exercise loop. I lost a lot of weight - so much that started getting kind of gaunt, and had to really increase my calorie intake to get back up to a healthy weight. My resting heartrate dropped from 90 to 60. Despite the good results, the habit definitely has some of the hallmarks of addiction - I feel worried and anxious if I'm falling behind on the monthly target, I forgo social activities to spend more time exercising, I keep exercising even when I've injured myself because I cannot permit the streak to end.
I just need to find a way to make things like "getting a better job" or "learning piano" just as addictive and rewarding.
I will add that there's a difference between negative and positive reinforcement. If you feel pleasure while you do the activity, the activity itself is reinforced. But if the high comes after stopping a painful activity (as in lifting weights for most people), it is the STOPPING that is reinforced. In the latter case, the decision to exercise may be motivated, but still requires willpower to actually make yourself go do it.
Also the early stages of addiction (excitedly doing the activity because you love the high) require an almost immediate onset of reward upon beginning the activity. The more delay there is, the less "addictive" it will be. This is why most healthy, natural behavior is not very addictive -- reward is delayed.
Even still, this kind of addiction does not change our top priorities. If using conflicts with things we prioritize like family, not dying, morality, etc., the addictive behavior will stop or lessen. Destructive addiction occurs when one is running from something -- either pain from withdrawal or pain the behavior numbs.
In his autobiography Arnold claims he said that to make working out sound 'sexy'. I don't know how anyone else feels about it, but now when I think of gyms I picture them as being sticky and stinking of ammonia.
Honestly, reading through the part of the article about a drug that gives you a 'natural high' for doing the virtuous thing being misused by a nefarious government reminds me a lot of the game We Happy Few, yeah, since that's arguably what the 'Joy' drug from that game does. Also, arguably, the whole deal with 'Prozium' from the Christian Bale movie Equilibrium.
If I ever write anything this poignant and funny, I will absolutely keep writing on the same ridiculous subject and how much undue influence it has on all life. Did you write in those episodes of After Hours? Those were also extremely good.
And there I was happily being drip-fed dopamine from my phone and then you go and make me read. Great article..