Friday, September 25, 2009

Is it worth the effort Part 2

A joke that we've seen many times in film and TV, is a situation in which a overly serious actor says to the director "What's my motivation?" The situation generally involves no motivation or obvious motivation such as slipping on a banana peel or falling out of an airplane.

Motivation can come from within or without and is therefore one of the great practical philosophical questions. It is the practical embodiment of "What is the meaning of life?" In solving my own problem of lack of motivation, I'm wondering whether it's possible to use ideas from those who motivate others to motivate one's self. For example, there are those who sell their motivational ability to corporations to motivate the sales staff. There are also books like "Who moved my cheese?" There are religious leaders who motivate people to act more morally. These miss my target in that they are centered on gain in some form or another (reward, reputation, competition or heaven). An example of transferring these notions to the self might be when I promise myself a piece of pie after I complete a chore. The trouble with this is that I'll weigh 300 pounds and become a diabetic, if I use this motivational technique too much. (I know that Ira's bicycling group ends their ride with a stop at Panera's for coffee, danish and conversation. Is this what gets them on their bikes from a cozy bed on a chilly morning?)

Community organizing is another well documented form of motivation. I went to a summary of Saul Alinsky's theories about motivating the masses. It's fascinating reading.

"But it is not enough for the organizer to be in solidarity with the people. He must also, said Alinsky, cultivate unity against a clearly identifiable enemy; he must specifically name this foe, and “singl[e] out”[44] precisely who is to blame for the “particular evil” that is the source of the people’s angst.[45] In other words, there must be a face associated with the people’s discontent. That face, Alinsky taught, “must be a personification, not something general and abstract like a corporation or City Hall.”[46] Rather, it should be an individual such as a CEO, a mayor, or a president."

Can I motivate myself to get out my oil paints and finish the painting that's been sitting half finished for a year, using Alinsky's methods? Can I fool myself into believing that the ghost of Picasso is preventing me from succeeding? Should I hang his picture on the wall of the garage with a knife in his heart? Maybe. Maybe I can get back to my ukulele by targeting the great Ota-san as my enemy. In some psychological sense he is. In Hawaii, I was shopping for an ukulele when Ota-san walked into the shop and started strumming. His masterful playing of this humble instrument was daunting. It was obvious that no matter how much I might practice, I would never reach his level. Alinsky has a lesson concerning that situation. You must motivate the group toward projects in which the probability of success is nearly certain in order to build confidence. (Using Ira again, he is virtually certain of finishing his morning ride and there is no competition involved.)

I'd appreciate any ideas you may have concerning how to move from theory (or daydreaming) to action. Here in my trailer out in the woods of Michigan I have my paints, my violin, my ukulele, my Spanish lessons, my Italian lessons and my book about Einstein. However, all I managed to accomplish yesterday was lay some traps for the trespassing mouse who's stealing my food. Perhaps I was able to do that, because I could visualize him as my enemy! -Joel


JohnS said...

Joel you say, “These miss my target in that they are centered on gain in some form or another…” There cannot be motivation without gain. I paint not because I have decided that I should be motivated to paint. I paint because I enjoy painting but also because I enjoy looking at my better paintings and I enjoy the compliments I receive. My motivation, my gain is enjoyment. I also like to write programs but I seldom do because when I’m done they are done – that is it. I have no motivation because there is no gain for me. If I were able to write a program that I thought would permit me to invest more wisely, I would do so with energy and motivation. I have tried several schemes with no success so I am not motivated to try again; if I had a new brilliant idea, I would be motivated to try again because I could see a possible gain.

To address your last paragraph, if you are honest with yourself, you see insufficient gain in any of the activities you mentioned to motivation you to act. In some cases, performing the act can be motivation enough. Music might be an example. Knowing you played apiece well may give you motivation to continue, your gain, pleasure. Reading an enjoyable book may motivate you to read more by the author, you would gain through enjoyable reading. If you didn’t care for the book, you would not be so motivated.

JohnS said...

An addendum to my previous comment. In this blog reward can be substituted for gain. An antithesis of reward is punishment and of gain, fear. Therefore one can be motivated by either gain or fear. In turn, motivation can be attained as a logical decision – One is motivated if the reward is sufficient to allay the fear of possible punishment.

Ira Glickstein said...

Joel wrote, in part: "I know that Ira's bicycling group ends their ride with a stop at Panera's for coffee, danish and conversation. Is this what gets them on their bikes from a cozy bed on a chilly morning?"

Well, this morning was not chilly, but I was on my bike at 7:30AM headed for an hour of water aerobics and then, with a fellow bicyclist, down to Paneras for coffee with other members of the bike club.

As I turned the pedals, I got thinking about what motivated me this AM (and most other mornings) to get out early and bicycle to water aerobics or other activities.

At first, I came up with "People, Schedule, Naps" = "PSN". Acronyms should be word-like or actual words, so that led to "PASSION", as follows:

People - Particularly loved ones such as your wife (or husband) and family, but also friends, neighbors, co-workers and other acquaintances.

Activities - Athletic and otherwise

Set Schedule - Something to get you up early and out of the house almost every day.

Interests - Intellectual and otherwise.

Optimism - Open outlook welcoming variety.

Naps - Noontime slumbers to refresh the soul.

I like the above so much I plan to write a new Topic soon to expand on it and reveal why I am so motivated - even in retirement. Stay tuned!

Ira Glickstein