Trying to figure out if activities are nourishing or not is more difficult than it seems because of the way we respond to reinforcements as biological organisms. Some reinforcements have delayed effects, meaning wanted or aversive they occur long after the fact. But we, just like all other organisms, have a hard time making that connection. It’s when reinforcements occur at or around the time of a behavior that we make the connection between the two without even having to try.
Where this really causes problems for us is that some activities are positively reinforcing in the moment but have delayed aversive consequences that far outweigh this positive reinforcement, like the taste of fast food versus its long-term health issues. Other activities are aversive to us in the moment but have delayed wanted consequences that far outweigh this negative reinforcement, like the pain of exercising versus its long-term health benefits.
In the natural environment where survival is a moment to moment affair natural selection favors organisms capable of making an instant connection, adjusting behavior right away based on whether reinforcements are wanted or aversive. But like B.F. Skinner aptly pointed out, this isn’t always best for the organism, as any moth drawn towards the light of a fire who ends up incinerated by the flames would attest. In our modern world the predilection causes us untold problems since it often compels us to do the inverse of what is actually best for us in the long-term.
There is no way to beat this problem except to become consciously aware of it and leave our animal instincts behind, accepting that what feels good in the moment is not necessarily equated with ‘good’ and what feels bad in the moment is not necessarily equated with ‘bad’. We have to leave ourselves open to the delayed consequences and actively make the connection when those consequences come around, not with our physiological apparatus but with our brain power.