why we don’t get off the couch (even when we know we should)

iStock_000013005687XSmallYou’ve all heard someone say, “I know I should exercise but I don’t have the time,” or “I even know exactly what to do, but I just sat on the couch.” I know because I’ve been there. Over the past year I have made one excuse after another about how I can’t workout regularly and track my progress because “my gym wasn’t ideal”, “I didn’t have my preferred equipment”, “I had to drive further,” and “I don’t have time.”

The awesome book Nudge that I am reading right now gave me some insight as to why we don’t get off the couch, even though we know we should! “Choice architecture” influences many of our day-to-day decisions without us being consciously aware of it.

Just like architecture involves making decisions that influence traffic flow and whether or not certain groups of people will interact with each other (e.g. placement of bathrooms), “choice architecture” is about deliberately designing our choices – for profit, for health, for safety, etc. This is exciting and dangerous at the same time.

We allow many of our choices to be manipulated throughout the day by default settings. Default settings are the path of least resistance and a form of choice architecture. We do not have to make a decision. It’s easier.

Think about it – you buy a new phone and the ring tone and loudness are set, the background is there and whether or not your keypad beeps when you push buttons. Now, you may change a few of these settings, but I’ll wager that you keep most of the default settings. Computers  are the same way. Plus, the less you know about xyz product, the more likely you are to keep the chosen default settings. This gives companies lots of power.

This is very interesting because subtle manipulations can influence how we purchase, how we live, what foods we choose, and how we act.

Let us go back to the couch. The couch is the American default setting. We can work all day, come home and sit in front of our new plasma and make no further decisions for the remainder of the day besides which show to watch. It allows us to tune out of reality and watch other people doing worthwhile (sometimes) stuff instead. So we’ll watch The Biggest Loser and wish* we could experience those results instead of actually going through the hard work.

The couch/TV are our default settings because we have made them that way AND industries have used “choice architecture” to nudge us in that direction. Primetime, ESPN and network broadcasting tell us we need to be in front of the TV at 8pm to watch House and nowhere else. At 5 or 10 pm, we MUST watch the nightly news.

Although neither watching the news nor your favorite show are inherently bad, TV is hypnotizing… it’s much more difficult to stop watching once you’ve started. I’m glad that DVR and TiVo have helped these mandated choices, but they are still our defaults.

Another reason why people do not get off the couch is, I work full time.  I deserve to rest and relax. This is my favorite because I use it often. And because rest and relaxation are very important to schedule into your week, I use it as my reason to be lazy. Although full-time work is much different than being a full-time college student, it does not give license for laziness.

In college, we dreamed big and discussed saving the world. We were open to considering new ideas that stretched and broadened our minds. I love that. It has dawned on me that I feared the full-time work-world so much because I see people begin work and waste away, close their minds to change, grow fat and old, and/or become slaves to their jobs.

If you think about it, this too is the default setting. Everyone else uses it. It is the path of least resistance.

The last reason that people don’t get off the couch is an inability (or refusal) to accept that actions have consequences. I am 25 years old and work in the school system where we try to instill the reality of consequences into young people, especially high school students. I’ll be honest with you – I am just now grasping how decisions I make now affect my future, mostly because my loving husband has been patient with me about our finances. Before, it was all about immediate gratification. I see it. I want it. I NEED it… NOW! With consumerism and “keeping up with the Joneses” at its peak, any young person that can fathom consequences is a special individual indeed.

In today’s society, immediate gratification is also a default. This issue probably started with the rise of credit but it spills over into the rest of our life. What we eat, what we where and how we spend our time all have consequences that need to be considered before the decision. If we sit on the couch every day after work and eat fast food because we “don’t have time to prepare a 10-min. meal” while we watch TV just because it’s “easier”, we will get fat, lazy and out of shape. Then we not only deal with the grossness of obesity, but must face the health issues and rise in medical costs as well.

Yes, it is easier to let everyone else make our choices for us and buy ____ food and _____ TV and ______ clothes because the advertisement told us to, but what kind of life is that?

Are YOU really running your life if you allow everyone else to make your decisions?

Don’t worry. There is hope. Small changes can have drastic results.

Instead of lazily fattening yourself on the couch this evening, try exercising during the commercials – squats, push-ups, planks, sit-ups, deadlifts, etc. This small change can add up to significant exercise time that not only strengthens your body but improves insulin sensitivity and burns fat as well. You will feel better and accomplished instead of wondering what in the world you did with your evening.

Another suggestion is to use choice architecture to make the default settings in your home positive ones.

Supermarkets and cafeterias use choice architecture to influence our spending and eating habits, knowingly or not. Simple placement of food items, like on the middle shelf instead of the top or bottom, or in a well-lit area as opposed to a dark, out of the way area increases sales of xyz items. Currently, unhealthy processed foods and commodity foods are the centerpieces of our stores and cafeterias… they are the defaults and we unwittingly cave. What if whole unprocessed foods were our defaults? What kinds of changes might we see?

We do not have control over businesses, but we DO have control over what comes into our homes.

By not allowing unhealthy foods into your home, you automatically decrease your chances of messing up. The separation between your craving and the steps it will now take you to satisfy it are many, thereby making it more difficult to obtain. It’s easier to stay at home then go purchase xyz item. The path of least resistance is now to stay home and scramble some eggs instead. Throw the junk food out and don’t allow it into your home. It works.

The last suggestion is to exercise immediately after work, before you even sit on the couch. Because it is hard to leave the couch once you’ve finished your day, don’t start before you’ve exercised OR prepared dinner. Fight the urge and you will be rewarded. You don’t have to run a marathon. Start small. Move around for 5-10 min. with walking, jogging and calisthenics as mentioned above. Increase the time slowly as you feel you should. Don’t make it harder than it is.

In summary, most people choose the path of least resistance detrimentally. Choice architecture influences our eating, our spending, our living. By “going with the flow” we fail to plan for the consequences of our behaviors and make excuses about health problems, laziness and fatness. Making healthy, productive choices default in our lives can have significant impact on the course of our futures. Small changes, like exercising during commercials or immediately after work, have large results.


I spent about 3 hours on this post. If you like it, forward it to a friend, Tweet it, or repost it on Facebook! I appreciate you.


  • Sara J

    Reply Reply April 11, 2011

    I agree with the working out before you get home (or, if possible, working out before you even go to work). The first half of this school year as I was getting adjusted to teaching I would use so many excuses. One was not having a place to work out, then it came to not wanting to pay for a place to work out. Once I applied for a gym membership it was that I didn’t have time to work out, or that I didn’t know a work out routine to do. Or I would get paranoid that people were watching how awful I was at working out. Now I make a decision the night before to work out the next day. I pack my workout clothes in my bag the night before that way I don’t have the excuse of running out of time to pack clothes the next morning. (I had quickly learned that driving back to the apartment after work to get clothes only led to me sitting and watching netflix for 2 hours.) So definitely quick preparation before hand helps me out immensely.

    I also try not to stress about how strenuous my workout sessions are because I want to associate gym-time as fun-time. Reading research about “paleo fitness” has helped on this front, reinforcing the notion that I don’t have to run 3 miles everyday (i hate running) or even carry my weight in barbells across the gym floor (i’m still pretty weak). So I don’t have the excuse of things being too difficult and giving up in the near future. As long as I’m lifting and expending energy (and wandering around the gym from station to station like a kid with ADD) I can find ways to keep the fun in exercising while keeping my movements meaningful and not burning out on the whole ideas of exercising in general.

    I also find that this comes with studying the Bible. I’m still working on ways to make that everyday habit. Because at the moment coming home and reading the Bible before I go to bed just isn’t cutting it, as by that time I’m exhausted and not comprehending what I’m reading. However I notice plenty of wasted time in the day from watching tv, or surfing the blogsphere, or any number of things that I could cut out and place Jesus in instead.

    • gerilyn

      Reply Reply April 11, 2011

      Great thoughts Sara! I feel ya! I like how you’ve overcome such challenges. If I know a busy day is ahead, I definitely work out in the AM because I know I’ll be too tired after working all day and then training others.

      I have started setting aside 10 min. in the morning to read the Bible. That’s it. I just read… everything else I tried was too much and I always failed, but I can seem to just read for 10 min. every morning… maybe next year, I’ll go for 15! 🙂

  • Whitney Hardy

    Reply Reply April 11, 2011

    Really enjoyed this post! It happens to me all the time, and I am so not above using pregnancy as an excuse, even though I’ve felt fine throughout the whole process. As soon as I set foot in the door, my shoes are off and my booty is headed for my favorite chair and my ottoman. Thanks for posting this!

    • gerilyn

      Reply Reply April 11, 2011

      Ha ha! Clint better watch out when that “way of woman” is upon me some day about 30 years from now! I’m sure I’ll milk it for all it’s worth! 😉

      Appreciate your comments!

  • Mike T.

    Reply Reply April 11, 2011

    I’m enjoying your motivation and good advice! Hopefully it will begin sinking in with me soon!

    • gerilyn

      Reply Reply April 11, 2011

      Thanks Mike! Baby steps… congratulations to y’all, by the way! Exciting!

  • Jessie

    Reply Reply April 11, 2011

    Love it. I should read this everyday. Very well written, the points are clear and the conclusion even clearer.

    • gerilyn

      Reply Reply April 11, 2011

      Thanks Jessie! I appreciate the encouragement!

  • Laura

    Reply Reply April 11, 2011

    Loved this! I always enjoy reading your posts and learning from you. You have definitely pointed me in the right directions and helped me to improve my quality of life. You’re a great encouragment! Thanks 🙂

    • gerilyn

      Reply Reply April 12, 2011

      Glad to help, Laura! AND I’m excited to see your Paleo Challenge Results! Your hard work has paid off! =)

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