Category Archives: Leisure Behaviour

Challenging “Being Offensive” as a “Fun” Way to Spend Leisure Time

On this Saturday morning, after enduring a wet, rainy visit to our local Farmers Market to get some of my favorite things, I sat down with my raspberry scone and tuned into a cable news station to see if there were any updates on some of the terror activities that I had seen reported over the last couple of days. Arguably, this is not the best way to start the day, but it was what I chose this morning. The first story that I saw, though, was nothing I expected.

The story was related to the events in Charlottesville, VA earlier in the week. It was a report of a white man sharing with film maker, CJ Hunt, last Saturday that he was not a white supremacist, but that he was participating in the white supremacist march “for fun”. He said, “To be honest, I love to be offensive. It’s fun” (report on this story can be found here). I was shocked. I was shocked for many reasons, but perhaps, as a leisure scholar, I was shocked about how his young man experienced fun.

In the second year of my Recreation Management degree (many moons ago), I had a course in Leisure Behaviour with Dr. Brenda Robertson. It was in her class that I was first challenged to think about and acknowledge the dark side of contemporary leisure and the idea that people engage in criminal activities for fun. Her dissertation work (Robertson, 1994) had examined why young men engaged in delinquent activities for fun, thrills, and excitement. While there are several theories to explain why individuals engage in criminal behaviour, one of the things I learned from her sharing the narratives of her study participants was that they engaged in delinquent activities to meet many of the same needs that I and others seek to meet during leisure. Some were looking for a challenge or to accomplish something. Others were wanting to feel a sense of belonging, relieve boredom, get an adrenaline rush, and to have fun. I could relate to each of these needs because at one point in time, I had also chosen activities during my leisure time to meet these same needs. I, however, had chosen socially acceptable activities.

This morning, I realized that marching with white supremacists (when you claim not to be a white supremacist) and being offensive is another way to experience fun – for at least one person. I also realized that despite studying leisure for over 20 years, I still have so much more to learn about how people use their free time and what they consider to be “fun.” Perhaps, given my understanding that individuals engage in delinquent activities for fun, I should not have been shocked by what this young man said. Marching with white supremacists is considered by most in North American society to be delinquent. Why would this be any different from any other delinquent activity that an individual might engage in for fun? But, I was shocked nonetheless. Maybe this reflects my bias  against engaging in offensive behaviour as fun.

Dr. Robertson’s work has highlighted the importance of leisure education in helping individuals develop the values, attitudes, skills, and interests so that they can identity and engage in socially acceptable activities to meet their needs (Robertson, 2000; 2001). If this event of last Saturday had happened when I was taking her course, I imagine that she would have presented our class with the plethora of activities one could choose to engage in in Charlottesville, VA and ask, “Why…when you could go to any number of museums, historic sites, wineries, parks, restaurants, and recreation facilities; when you could bike Walnut Creek park, check out the city market, experience a themed mystery in the Cville Escape Room, or ride over the Blue Ridge Mountains in a hot air balloon….why would you choose being offensive as your way to have fun?” I don’t know why this particular individual made this choice. Perhaps he lacks values related to engaging in socially appropriate activities during leisure. Perhaps his leisure repertoire is limited – he doesn’t have the skills to engage in many socially acceptable activities. Maybe he had no money for any of the above mentioned activities and could not think of other free or low-cost ways of having fun (e.g., read a book, take a nature walk). Perhaps he doesn’t have peers to engage in socially appropriate leisure activities with. Maybe he hasn’t developed interests in any of the activities that are available to him (e.g., no interest in history, nature, the market). Although I don’t know what exactly drew this individual to meet his need for fun through marching alongside white supremacists, it seems that he and others who may have participated for a similar reason could benefit from some reflection of other ways to have fun. He did seem to stop having fun when the counter protestors approached him. Maybe he had not thought through all the consequences of this “fun” activity.

Perhaps I’m most bothered by the idea that being offensive is “fun”. Fun for who? Fun for how long? And fun at whose expense? Are there limits to what we, as a society, consider to be acceptable offensive behaviour? I do wonder if consuming offensive entertainment (e.g., comedy, television, movies, video games) has supported a desensitization that has resulted or could result in some individuals moving from having fun while consuming offensive entertainment to engaging in offensive behaviour for fun. Do the activities we engage in during leisure and experience as fun influence how we conceptualize “fun” and how we might seek to meet that need? I would argue yes – when we have fun doing something, we consider that experience positive and are more likely to see to have it again. Some research has suggested that youth who view bullying as “fun” are more likely to engage in bullying behaviours (Van Goethem, Scholte,  & Wiers, 2010) – an example of how our attitudes can influence our behaviour.

In my research and teaching, I always had opportunities acknowledge the detrimental outcomes of some leisure behaviour (e.g., sedentary leisure, criminal behaviour), to explain that not all leisure experiences are positive, and to emphasize that some leisure can indeed oppress or exclude. However, I also focus on the power of leisure to make a positive impact – on one’s self and on one’s community and have seen that leisure time and activities can support positive youth development, be transformative, help individuals cope, be a site for equity and inclusion, and strengthen family relationships. So, perhaps this is why I find it disheartening to see someone getting media attention for using their leisure time to offend others, to participate in the promotion of hate, and to hear that the individual perceived that his participation would be fun. I believe the idea that this kind of being can be fun, needs to be challenged.

References

Robertson, B. J. (1994). An investigation of the leisure in the lives of adolescents who engage in delinquent behavior for fun, thrills, and excitement. Dissertation, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR.

Robertson, B. J. (2000). Leisure education as a rehabilitative tool for youth in incarceration settings. Journal of Leisurability, 27(2), 27-34.

Robertson, B. J. (2001). The leisure education of incarcerated youth. World Leisure Journal, 43(1), 20-29.

Van Goethem, A. A. J., Scholte, R. H. J., & Wiers, R. W. (2010). Explicit- and implicit bullying attitudes in relation to bullying behavior. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 38, 829–842.

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The Nonconscious Mind: Helping or Hindering Physically Active Leisure?

My passion for understanding leisure behaviour means that I devote most of my research activities and academic reading attention to investigating and evaluating reasons why people do what they do during their leisure time. A few months ago, I came across an article written by a the social psychologists in our field (Seppo Iso-Ahola) that prompted me to think in a new way about the why we do what we do during our leisure time, or perhaps more accurately, why we do not do the things during our leisure time that might offer us the most satisfaction. Specifically, Iso-Ahola (2015) brought together research to discuss the role of the conscious and nonconscious mind in leisure behaviour.

Iso-Ahola (2015) set the stage for his discussion by wondering, quite simply, why some people spend 5 hours a day watching television – an activity research has found to leave people depleted and in the same or worse mood state than before they started watching (Kubey & Csikszentmihalyi, 2002) while others are more active or engaged in challenging activities – which research indicates provides people with the most enjoyment from (Abuhamdeh & Csikszentmihalyi, 2012) during their available leisure time. He offers two possible explanations for why people do what they do: “(1) people are rational thinkers who carefully deliberate over choices and finally opt for what they think is best for them; they are cognitive decision-makers in accord with “slow” thinking. (2) Alternatively, their behavioral engagement is driven by automatic processes prompted nonconsciously by situational cues” (p. 299).

Fast versus Slow Thinking

Research suggests that we are “fast” thinkers most of the time and that our decisions or responses to situations are most often a result of intuitive, impulsive, automatic or nonconscious thinking (Kahneman, 2011) or “behavioural impulses” (Bargh & Morsella, 2008, p. 77). The behavioural impulses are derived from four sources: evolved motives and preferences, cultural norms and values,
past experiences in similar situations, and what other people are doing in the same situation
at a given time. Therefore, our impulses or fast thinking has roots in our everyday social lives and the stimulus cues in our environment.

The default system of fast thinking leads us toward choosing the easier or less straining leisure activities. This, then, can hinder us from choosing demanding behaviours like exercise especially when it is not part of our routine. But, the conscious, slow-thinking mind can still exert strong influence and even override the nonconscious mind (Baumeister, Masicampo, & Vohs, 2011). However, given the low rates of participation in physical activity and sport, there are clearly some challenges in activating the conscious, slow-thinking mind to engage in the more demanding leisure behaviour or exercise. I found the research related to self-control resources to be particularly insightful in understanding this further.

Self-Control Resources, The Conscious Mind, and Leisure Behaviours

Iso-Ahola (2015) explains that for many people work can be cognitively and/or physically straining or demanding. At work, we exert self-control throughout the day (e.g., focus on tasks, attend meeting we may not wish to; continue with a repetitive task that may bore or tire us; respond politely to rude customers). Work tasks that demand we exercise self-control can use up or deplete our limited self-control resources. This means we have few resources to resist the temptation of non-demanding activities when we get home and have opportunities for leisure. The depleted self-control resources plus the stimulus-cues such as television sets lead to the triggering of our nonconscious impulses that direct our behaviour – we sit and watch television. Other behaviours such as going for a walk or a fitness class or working on a challenging DIY project demand physical or cognitive effort and deliberate thinking. Simple behaviours (watching TV) become driven by the nonconscious mind. More complex behaviours (going to a fitness class), require the drive of the conscious mind.

Another perspective related to the notion of self-control is that leisure does not require us to self-regulate in the way that work and other demanding daily life tasks may. Therefore, once we have completed demanding tasks that required self-control, we feel justified in relaxing or rewarding ourselves (Inzlicht & Schmeichel, 2012). There is a motivational shift away from regulation and self-control toward gratification instead.

The question for me, then, became: Can more challenging leisure activities that could potentially be more satisfying and beneficial be regulated or routinized by situational cues (in the same way TV sets act as situational cues)?

Priming for Complex Leisure Behaviours

Research has suggested that conscious priming is needed to modify most complex behaviours, but that this is particularly the case with exercise behaviours (Iso-Ahola & Miller, 2016). Situational cues (like your pair of sneakers) can drive more demanding behaviour, but only after the behaviour has been repeated over a long period of time (Iso-Ahola, 2015). Nonconscious priming can occur after years of repeated performance, in part, because a habit has formed. Prior to something becoming a habit, the behaviour requires and benefits from conscious priming.

One strategy for conscious priming is having individuals self-affirm their core values and goals related to complex behaviours. This has been effective in countering self-regulatory exhaustion (ego depletion) and failures to engage in the demanding behaviour (Inzlicht & Schmeichel, 2012). For example, if one of your overarching goals is to be healthy and fit and you are highly committed to that goal, priming that goal (e.g., reminding yourself; writing about it) may shield you from conflicting goals (e.g., to relax) that may interfere with you engaging in your physical activity behaviour.

Responding to Self-Control Influences

The idea that we experience a depletion in self-control resources after a work day resonated with me. My work is mentally demanding. At the end of the day, I often sink into the couch and turn on the TV.  I then begin engaging in the “should” game – “I should clean the house,” “I should go for a walk,” and “I should read or knit or do anything but watch TV”. The “should-ing” is followed by the rationalizations to resolve the dissonance: “I deserve/need to relax”. And, as Iso-Ahola (2015) suggests, I frequently am successful in weaken any bit of motivation or commitment I had to more complex, demanding leisure behaviours.

I decided to experiment with the notion of depleted resources a little bit. What would happen if I made the decision to engage in physical activity before the work day started. Clearly, this is not a novel idea – many, many people do this. However, I wanted to implement this based on this new information I had that helped me understand why leaving exercising until the end of day resulted in my irregular involvement. As an adult, exercise has been neither a habit nor a simple behaviour. Therefore, engaging in physical activity takes conscious, deliberate thinking – something, according to Iso-Ahola (2015), I would theoretically have more resources for before I engaged in a full work day. Anecdotally, after a month of experimenting with this, I have found that I have the mental energy to convince myself to head to the treadmill first thing in the morning. Hardly scientific research, but I found it personally interesting how this one change was able to help me engage, more regularly, in a demanding leisure behaviour.

The research related to priming has suggested that writing your physical activity goals regularly or writing about what physical activity means in your life can help prime the behaviour (Inzlicht & Schmeichel, 2012). Therefore, it is possible that journaling about exercise could be effective – even writing a sentence or two each day about goals could activate awareness and conscious thinking. Something else to try if you need to activate your conscious, slow thinking mind.

Conclusion

It seems that the nonconscious mind can be help us to engage in demanding leisure activities such as physical activity…if that behaviour is a habit and part of our routine. Prior to it becoming a habit, it is a behaviour that requires us to activate our conscious mind. That may be easier to do prior to a long work day or it could be supported by setting goals and reminding oneself of the goals (e.g., to be physically active 4 times a week for 60 minutes) and how those goals relate to one’s core values (e.g., being healthy).

References

Abuhamdeh, S., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2012). The importance of challenge for the enjoyment, of intrinsically motivated, goal directed activities. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(3), 317–330.

Bargh, J. A., & Morsella, E. (2008). The unconscious mind. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 73–79.

Baumeister, R. F., Masicampo, E., & Vohs, K. (2011). Do conscious thoughts cause behavior? Annual Review of Psychology, 62, 331–361.

Inzlicht, M., & Schmeichel, B. J. (2012). What is ego depletion? Toward a mechanistic revision of the resource model of self-control. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7(5), 450-463.

Iso-Ahola, S. (2013). Exercise: Why it is a challenge for both the nonconscious and conscious mind.
Review of General Psychology, 17, 93–110.

Iso-Ahola, S. E. (2015). Conscious versus nonconscious mind and leisure. Leisure Sciences, 37(4), 289-310.

Iso-Ahola, S. E., & Miller, M. W. (2016). Contextual priming of a complex behavior: Exercise. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, 3(3), 258-269.

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking fast and slow. New York, NY: Farrer, Straus, and Girox.

Kubey, R., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). Television addiction. Scientific American, 286(2), 74-81.

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