Despite the fact that we start off on the right foot and with many illusions deposited on a new exercise bike, some dumbbells that promise that our biceps will bulge considerably or any other tool to shape our figure … the truth is that, for the most part, all this will end up abandoned and covered in dust .
This is fundamentally because our optimism about the future extends not only to the decisions we make, but to how easy it will be for us to do what we say we will do.
Trick of the mind
This little trick of our mind is, in turn, a big problem if we commit to an exercise routine (which even in these days of coronavirus lockdown can end the same way). The effect was highlighted by two marketing professionals: Robin Tanner of the University of Wisconsin in Madison and Kurt Carlson of Duke University.
They concluded that up to 90% of the exercise equipment that consumers purchased ended up unused . To find out what their hopes were, and how they were wrecked, they asked study participants several questions.
They wondered, for example, how many times a week they thought they would exercise in the next month. That was asked to one group, but another was asked the same thing adding at the beginning "in an ideal world". The irony is that the responses of the two groups were not different. There was no distinction between an ideal world and a real one .
As the psychologist Kelly McGonigal explains in the book Self-Control :
We forget about today’s challenges, believing that in the future we will have more time and energy. We believe we have the right to put things off for tomorrow, confident that we will take better care of them in the future.
In the cited study, more questions were asked at different times, and the delusional optimism of the participants was almost always unwarranted. Within two weeks of the first test, almost everyone admitted that they had exercised less than promised . They were then asked to re-weight how much exercise they would do in the next two weeks. The estimates of the majority were even higher than in the first predictions, despite the fact that they had been revealed as inaccurate.
It was as if they were taking their planned number of days seriously and were allocating for the future to exercise even more to make up for their "unusually low" physical performance. Instead of viewing the previous two weeks as reality and their first estimates as an unrealistic ideal, they viewed them as an anomaly.