Sunday, September 6, 2009

Is that worth the effort?

[from Joel] As I get older it becomes more and more difficult to motivate myself to do things. Getting out of bed in the morning is a struggle. There's no depression associated with this, just a "what's worthwhile?" If you think about life you see that it consists of various periods of different motivational level. The motivational level is probably fed by hormones not intellect. It is logical that evolution should have made it this way. People who are unmotivated have difficulty reasoning their way out of the condition. It usually take drugs that mimic brain hormones. Nature doesn't find it efficient to keep too many old people around and fixes it so that they go quietly.

The question "why bother?" has various answers that are hormone driven. The responses "I'm hungry, I'm horny. I'm sleepy. I'm cold. I'm wet." are obviously not intellectual. However, the solutions to these "problems" call upon the brain. As we grow older, accumulated wisdom provides us with solutions, but we may lack the initiative to actually care enough to be motivated to implement them or even convince others to implement our ideas. This is probably why people speak of the elderly as "mellowing with age." It seems to me that one of the beauties of religion is that it provides a stimulus to older people just when their hormones (or lack thereof) are telling them that none of it really matters. Fear of the unknown is a great motivator.


JohnS said...

I can’t comment on whether motivation or lack thereof is hormonal, I do not have the training or knowledge. One thing I do notice that may be a hormonal effect is that I have always been an early riser and as I have aged my energy level, which is high in the early morning wanes throughout the day and in the evenings, I have little enthusiasm for any activity. However, I do think motivation has an intellectual and physical element also.

Let me address the physical element first. In my experience, people that remain active as they age are less apt to fall into the doldrums of daylong mind numbing television. However, at some point, as we age, we do not have the physical strength or energy and we must seek intellectual pursuits as well to keep our mine and intellect sharp. I had a good friend who played golf everyday sometimes two rounds. He developed arthritis in his hands and couldn’t play. He fell into a funk; he had nothing to look forward to.

Over the years, I have advised newly retired friends to develop several activities, some physical and some intellectual, or at least a sedentary hobby so if one activity becomes impossible or difficult he would have the others to fall back on.
One thing I have noticed as I have aged is the effort for deep intellectual pursuits has waned. At one time, after I retired, I took college courses just for the knowledge. At one time, I read Science and Scientific American now I tend more toward Discover and Skeptical Inquirer. Still, my interests are there. I like to learn even though the level has dropped. I am always seeking the new and interesting.

I’m surprised that you bring up the subject, Joel because over the ten years we have been acquaintances you have always seemed vibrant and enthused.

As an example of what I was discussing above, I would like to use myself. At age 85 my sport, golfing, has slowed to a couple of rounds a week so what do I do with my time. Of course, I comment on this blog. I have painted for years, now I am trying to learn the impressionist style. I wrote and maintain the web site. I act as the central clearinghouse for three email groups. I also maintain a local database for my neighborhood. I try to read only nonfiction throughout the day and limit fiction to late afternoons and evenings. I am now reading Science and Religion by Paul Kurtz and have just ordered Unscientific America by Mooney.

Of course, it is not all roses. Sometimes, in the afternoons, it is hard to get going and I just goof off. We are all entitled to a little of that, but, the point is we as retirees must evaluate ourselves and work for a rewarding retirement it’s not going to be handed to us on a plate. I’d go nuts sitting on a rocker on the front porch.

joel said...

Thanks, John. It sounds as though you are plenty busy. It also sounds as though you are giving newbies good advice.

I've had some kind of virus lately. You know, ache all over and no energy. Also I overdid it helping my kids with their gardening on the new (old) house. I guess that put me in a negative mood. -Joel

JohnS said...

2Joel, I'd like to comment a little more but I'm overloaded at the moment. Please check this iste periodically

joel said...

Thanks, John. I'll keep checking. I've got my ukulele, my violin, my Spanish CDs, French books. I've got lectures I can prepare for philosophy club. I've got paintings to finish and miniature houses to build. I'm even tempted to go back to sculpting. (I wish I was still tutoring first-graders, but the bureaucracy got to be too frustrating.)

The problem is that each time I think about doing one of these activities, my mind keeps asking "Is it worth the effort?" It's just that I seem to lack motivation. It's easier when the motivation comes from outside like a fixed date for a lecture or an appointment or a club meeting at a fixed time and date. In a sense that's artificial motivation. When I was younger, I recall that jogging was much easier when I ran and from work. I may not have felt like running, but my feet were my transportation. The function of jogging was not some theoretical health improvement but rather it was a daily transportation necessity. -Joel

JohnS said...

Sorry this took so long.

I think I was carried away a little in my earlier comment. I would like to discuss motivation in a broader, more general sense and less personal (my motivation). According to my dictionary there are several definitions that inter weave when we consider personal motivation, two are Enthusiasm - a feeling of enthusiasm, interest, or commitment that makes somebody want to do something, or something that causes such a feeling (I discussed this previously) and forces determining behavior - biological, cognitive, emotional, or social forces that activate and direct behavior. I believe that all of these forces combine to motivate us throughout our live. However, they peak and wan on a biological cycle reaching a peak during our most productive years, which is our ability to procreate. Once a human reaches a certain biological apex, probably in her thirties, the process begins a slow deterioration into old age. I would assume that this is natural. When our ability to procreate is diminished and our biological usefulness is waning.

In the past, we seldom lived much beyond this peak dying in our forties and fifties. Today, in a sense, we are defying nature and doubling our years. Nature isn’t prepared for this. In over riding the natural cycle, nature just seems to be letting us just fade away. Our energy decreases, our pace slows, it takes a greater effort to set and accomplish goals; we become less motivated, less enthused to attack new or old interests.

Cognition follows a similar pattern although on a different lifeline. It peaks early, as we see with a great many scientific breakthroughs, remains on a tapering plateau at least through our productive years. Years that are necessary to assure that our progeny are properly prepared to take our place as adults. Again, this seems to be a natural condition. However, as we have defied nature by living longer there is less natural motivation to maintain this cognitive level of our productive years. One wonders how our Supreme Court functions considering the ages of the Supremes.

The remaining two forces, emotional and social, I believe follow a similar although not identical patterns. I think we see again that as we have extended our lives beyond nature’s intent our lives change. We see this in the gated communities and even in lively The Villages. We gather living a pleasant life but a life of reduced usefulness. We are uncomfortable with the hurly-burly lives in the “real world”.

Still, even though we can recognize that there are natural reasons why our motivation taper off once we have passed our productive years it does not mean that we should watch the Soaps. Instead, as many (most?) of us do in The Villages adjust to new and different challenges.