Friday, July 30, 2010

Beat me upside the head with a carrot and call me Nancy: an exploration into Motivation

I wrote a paper, back in the day, on Motivation. Because it was of great interest to me: it seems to be such a central part of everyone's lives. It's a glaring example of one of those things our education should really deeply cover, both theoretically and especially practically, but doesn't even touch on it, in it's frantic scrabbling to get kids to remember the dates of the Napoleonic wars for one week so they can pass the memorization test.

If you know how to effectively motivate yourself, you will be successful in any filed you go into. If you can transfer that skill to other people, you will be successful as a leader in any field you go into.

There are two, no, three main ways I see, for motivating people: the carrot, the stick (which I always found interesting, to picture, because I would see a white rabbit with a carrot dangling from a stick like a fishing pole, and when the carrot wasn't working, the very same stick used as the fishing pole for the carrot was turned into the beating stick, without even bothering to remove the carrot, thus creating a rather interesting symbology, as the rabbit was being beaten with the carrot flying around erratically on the end of it's string.) And the God Within.

Carrot is familiar to all of us: I want you to do A, so I say I'll give you B if you do A. If you want B enough, you'll do A. Tada; motivation success. Or else, self motivation: I want B. I need to do A to get B. If I want B enough, I'll do A.

Stick is also familiar: Do A or I'll beat you with B. Or self motivation: I'm afraid of B, so I'll do A to prevent it.

The God Within is my third category, and so may require a bit of explanation. The Root of the word "enthusiasm" means "the God within." And the motivation strategy goes like this: I want to do A, so I'm going to do A.

This comes from my eastern philosophy background, but is a very simple concept: it's the idea of enjoying the process, rather than just enjoying the result. When you are enthusiastic about doing something, it's because you genuinely like doing it. Maybe my stated goal is to make a Bow that I can practice archery with, but my primary goal may be simply the enjoyable process of creating the bow, cutting out the general shape, slowly scraping away growth rings, testing the flex, working around knots, enjoying the fresh air and the feel and smell of the wood, and the challenge of the task.

This can go along with carrots or sticks.

Now we come to the problem shooting part of this analysis. What happens when B is not enough motivation, either positive or negative, to make you do A?

I really want to learn how to get past that initial awkwardness barrier of striking up a conversation with strangers. And of getting through the initial stages of getting to know someone I'm interested in, and expressing interest. That's B, my desire, my goal. The stick side of the motivation is I feel like a heel when there's someone I want to talk to and I don't, because I'm shy. The Carrot side is I'm really curious about what having an intimate relationship is like.

However, neither of these motivations are enough to overcome my demotivating factor, which is that it scares the poop out of me to approach women. Perhaps if I felt truly horrible about myself for being shy like that, or desperately wanted a girlfriend, then it would be uncomfortable enough where I am, to change states.

This happened once in my life, when I was super depressed. The pain of my current situation was enough that I would try anything to try and get out of it. And my way out was meditation. I started meditating very regularly. Thus began my spiritual journey. This is very often how changes in people take place at first: people becoming sober, revolutions happening, etcetera. We humans don't like change, really don't like it, and so things have to get pretty awful for us to be forced to really change how we function.

This is unfortunate, because, looking at the change from the other side, it's a much better way of being, generally, and if we had changed sooner, we would have saved ourselves a lot of misery.

This is very well illustrated by the whole world today, with it's outdated and harmful systems of education, politics, energy, business. Energy is a simple one to look at for me. There are ecologically sustainable systems of living, that would give people a higher quality of life by far, and that would not only stop putting ecological diversity and the planets homeostasis systems in jeopardy, but would reverse the destructive trend we've created.

However, we are changing over in a very slow way, and, at least in large scale, only when the alternatives become unbearable. Cuba is a good example, for oil dependency. They got cut off from oil imports, so they had to change to more renewable systems of living. Which turned out to be great for them, once the changes were put into place.

Lets make this overly simple: what we have here is an extremely unequal evaluation of current happiness vs. future happiness.

If your current happiness, on a scale of 1-10, is a 3, because of your current way of living, and you know of another way of living, that would put your happiness at a 7, but you would have a temporary discomfort adjustment of -2 to happiness during the time you were changing, most people would not opt for the change. It's not logical, but that is the choice most people make.

(in reality it's much more complicated, but I'm simplifying to highlight a specific point.)

So, we want everyone to be able to switch to the better life, or at least be able to switch ourselves.

How do we overcome this "change discomfort" barrier?
Things that have done it for me in the past:

--Wait till the current way of living becomes unbearable (the current way of living for some reason drops to a 1). Works occasionally, but not under your control. No one, or very few, are going to intentionally make there lives miserable. That happening is just a gift from God. Not a technique you can decide to use.

--Find a way that doesn't cause as much change discomfort. This is sometimes possible. Often it involves taking a lot more time, energy and/or money (which is really the representation of both, in our modern society). Sometimes you get other people to hold your hand, show you the most efficient way, or, it it's an external thing, do it for you. Often it's just a matter of time and intention slowly undoing things. Your consciously working on yourself, but at an easy pace. If you have the patience, this can work. Sometimes though, there are issues that refuse to be easy, and either need a full frontal assault or else won't budge. Often the only way they get moved is when option one happens, and living with the issue becomes unbearable. This is what I call "tough love" ;)

--Learn how to enjoy the process. This is the God Within option. If you can learn the skill of enjoying the process of change, it's like negating or reducing the temporary -2 to happiness. This is a subsection of the other method, but it's important enough to get it's own paragraph. If you don't have money and you don't want to spend extra time, this is often the only feasible solution.

A few useful tidbits:

--Set attainable, specific goals. When your designing a way of self-motivating, you want to put all your focus on positive motivation. Live and our minds already give us way to much negative messages. When you set measurable and reasonable goals, it's encouraging and fun when you fulfill them. Sometimes we're fuzzy on weather we've made any progress at all, and it's nice to be able to look back and see clearly that we have. That's positive reinforcement, and that helps lower the -2 change penalty.

For some goals it's a bit more fuzzy, like spiritual enlightenment, because the end goal is really unknown, and even the path more than a few feet infront of you is unknown, and setting goals for spiritual growth is hilarious in it's futility: the ego always sets the goals, but it's not the ego that has control, in this game. However, you can still identify what your next step is, what your blocks are that you need to work on, and that allows you to look back and see that progress is happening.

--Look for a friend, teacher, coach, or group to work with. This lowers the happiness penalty, often even turning it into a happiness bonus. I can't stress enough how useful this is.

--Discover your passion. There's not enough time in life to do everything every person you thought was cool did. Also, you might not even enjoy the things that people you look up to enjoy. That's fine. You've only really got time to do one thing in this life, and that's be you. Some people can fudge this with sticks, fearing other peoples opinions or there own inadequacy. Sometimes for quite a while. Ultimately it will leave you feeling empty inside. This step is difficult as hell, in my opinion. So that means, it's difficult as hell for me. Your results may vary. This is all about respecting who you are enough to listen to what it is you want, rather than what you think you should want or be.

It's a lot longer of a journey than just picking up a book by some guy or gal who you think is swell and saying, "I'll have what she's having". But ultimately it's the only way you'll ever be happy with your life. Better to start now than realize you've never lived as you draw your last breath on your deathbed.

At first I thought this meant finding some "thing" that I "did". But as I continue to explore this quest, it seems more likely that the answer to this question is a way of living, alive to each moment and alive to what your heart is saying, right now, not thirty years ago on that hill when God told you what you're supposed to do with your life. Maybe that will happen, but it seems more common that comes after you've settled into being alive to your heart, each moment. It makes logical sense too: first, you learn how to listen and honor yourself. Then, you discover what you really like to do and what you're good at.

As a closing thought, I'd like to remind you that your life doesn't start when you get struck by lightning and realize your destiny is to fight crime as Skunk Man, but that it starts right now. That infact, what your divine job is, right now, is to be confused and searching. It's hard to see, in the fog of that job, but there is just as much beauty in the struggles you are facing now, seemingly alone and uncomprehending, as there will be when the fog has cleared and you move with the unerring accuracy of your heart.

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