20 July 2015

Is it Wrong to Take the Elevator to the Gym?

When I go to the gym, unconsciously (habitually) I take the elevator. My usual work-out is around 35 minutes (+/- 5) and the main purpose is to burn some calories (I’m not into body building).

Quite recently I realized that my habitual / mindless behaviour is, in a way, awkward. I live on the 10th floor and the gym is in the opposite building (just across an alley) on the 12th floor.

If I would be a perfectly (economically) rational  creature, I would go down the stairs from the 10th floor to the ground floor, go out of the building and then go up the stairs 12 floors.

Since I am going to burn calories by means of making physical effort, subsequently sweating, several potential reasons for taking the elevator are automatically excluded. I’m taking the elevator not because I want to preserve energy – avoid effort. For sure I’m not trying to preserve my good looks (i.e. avoid sweating) since I am going to sweat at the gym.

Saving time could be a plausible explanation for my irrational behaviour, but I seriously doubt it. I could simply take the stairs (both down and up) and cut my gym work-out time by 10 minutes. I assume the overall calorie burn-out would be similar. Moreover, I don’t count (monitor) burned calories, so, for sure, this is not the reason.

The more realistic reason for me taking the elevator to the gym is that I formed a habit: go out of the apartment to the elevators. This is because of convenience – going with the elevator is easy and rather fast.

Moreover, the elevators in the building are very salient: there are four of them positioned in the very centre of the building, in a spacious hall. On the other hand, the stairwells are almost hidden and the doors are grey – taking the stairs is clearly not the natural thing to do.

Beyond the habit explanation, there is, I believe, a more profound explanation.

In psychology of money there is the phenomenon of mental accounting – discovered by Richard Thaler. In a nutshell, mental accounting means that we associate different amounts of money with various expenses and we label “this” money for “this expense”… we have “holiday money”, “retirement fund”, “beer money” etc.

Moreover, it is very hard for us humans to shift money from one account to another, or to integrate accounts. If you want to learn more on mental account check out this post

I believe that we think using mental accounting when it comes to any type of fungible resource. In my case of taking the elevator to the gym, I do not find it natural to use my energy (effort) to get to the gym, but I have no problem in spending lots of effort in pointless weight-lifting and pedalling on a fixed bike.

In other words, I find it difficult to spend the gym effort on climbing stairs.

This type of automatic thinking goes beyond awkward getting to the gym behaviour.

I remember that a few years ago, I asked someone for a favour that would have taken about 20-30 minutes of work. As a reply I received a long email telling me how he was too busy to make the effort. The answer (probably) took at least 15 minutes to write…

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