The Simple Way to Unbloat Your Downtime

The quest for enough has been a challenge throughout my life.

The clearest memory I have of this is back in 2015. I had bought a stack of pre-owned Playstation 3 games — yes, I’m a late adopter.

Sunday evening rolls around and I have finished all of my life admin by 5PM. I have a clear 4 hours to get comfy with my video games until I have to go bed and bid the weekend good bye.

And for the non-gamers out there, just do a find-and-replace of your favourite sit-on-your-ass-and-relax activity wherever there is a reference to video games 😁

it’s always better in your head

Here’s how it used to play out.

I see the loading screen for my favourite game and it’s such a joy. I know that I have such a long expanse of pleasure ahead of me. The first five minutes of starting a game and feeling the familiar shape of the controller in my hands is such bliss.

The first half hour rolls around and it’s nice. I’m thinking “Life is good.”

The first hour finishes up. “This feels like a satisfactory way to spend a Sunday evening.”

The second hour ticks by. “Oh wow, half way done already?”

And then, the third hour slips away. “Oh no, the weekend is almost over.”

And, by the time the fourth hour finishes up and its 9PM, I don’t feel satisfied. I struggle to name the feeling.

Is it regret?

No. I enjoyed myself, even if the entire 4 hours wasn’t quite the bliss of the first 5 minutes.

The best way I can describe it is a sense of “meh.”

It was good, not great.

A sense of killing time, not savouring it. Sound familiar?

the bloated feeling of mental junk food

The closest physical sense I can compare this emotional sense to is eating a big bag of potato chips (or, do a find-and-replace of your favourite crunchy snack).

The first salty, slightly oily crunch feels like such a treat.

The second bite is nice, but not as good as the first.

And on it goes, each bite bringing diminishing returns of pleasure.

So, given unsurprising sense of diminishing returns, why don’t we stop?

It’s because we don’t have a good sense of enough.

Our domineering lizard brains steer us towards consuming all the calories and conserving energy where possible, because that’s what it took to survive in an uncertain, hostile environment. This is low grade hedonic adaptation that was adaptive in the unforgiving habitats of our early ancestors where food was scarce and survival depended on being energetic misers.

However, that strategy applied to our less hostile, more convenient environment can leave us in the above state of bloated “meh.”

Not a great way to feel at the end of our hard earned downtime.

how to mentally unbloat

Here’s how I turned my “meh” downtime into more soul-satisfying moments of bliss!

In an approach that was part gamification and part temptation bundling, I developed a points system where doing good habits would earn me ten minute blocks of time with my beloved video games.

This had a two-fold benefit:

1. Because I had to earn the benefit of each 10 minute blocks of time, each 10 minute block felt so much more rewarding than if I just allowed myself to play whenever I wanted to.

2. Because the amount of time I could play was balanced by the amount of good habits I did, the answer of “How much game time is enough?” had a pretty clear answer: “It depends on how many points you earned!”

still mentally bloated?

The first time I implemented this points system, it didn’t transform my 4 hours of “meh” video games into the kind of crunchy, oily, and salty bliss you might get from the first bite of a freshly popped packet of potato chips. However, it did start me on the road to understanding that when rewards feel like they have been earned, they feel that much more satisfying.

Later on, persisting with this system helped me to understand how I could use the number of points to regulate how much I indulged in mental junk food like video games or TV to give me a clearer sense of “enough.”

The idea of having to track your down time and habits with a points system might seem as enticing as voluntarily doing your taxes early.

If that’s the case, you can see my post on temptation bundling for a gentler introduction. However, once you get used to it, the feeling of knowing where enough is can transform the way you experience your favourite pleasures.

You will be able to dip in, savour a few bites and then say “That’s nice, I’ll save the rest for later!”

Instead of having a four hour down time session that leaves you feeling bloated. You might have a session of an hour or less that leaves you more satisfied!

And what could you do with those remaining three hours?

You could do your taxes 🤷🏾‍♀️!

Or, given that it takes only a minute to get started on that book you have been wanting to write, that guitar you got for your birthday or to even start exercising, there’s a lot you can do!

If you’re having trouble getting started, check out the Habitling Habit Building Course that uses the power of habit design and accountability to get you started and moving on whatever your unbloated brain desires!

Either way, don’t let that bloated feeling rob you of the pleasure of your hard earned downtime! Try out temptation bundling, the simple point system or my habit building course and bring more satisfaction into your life!

If you liked this, you may also like these gems:

Instant Gratification: The Art of Temptation Bundling and Immediate Rewards
Stepping off the Treadmill: How to Break Free from the Hedonic Grind
Game On for Goal Getters: Gamify Your Quest for Success!
Are You Chasing Status Symbols or Soul Desires?