Sunday, September 27, 2009

Motivation and PASSION

The photo shows my water aerobics friends (I only wish!)

Joel is having trouble keeping motivated and wonders "is it worth the effort?" (See 1 and 2.)

He writes "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?"

I thought about it while bicycling to water aerobics this past Saturday morning, again at Paneras with my bike club friends, and yet again at Chumach (Bible) Study at the synagogue that morning. Yes, the coffee and snacks are a definite draw, but it is mostly the people, my set schedule, and naps that keep me motivated.

As I turned the pedals, and watched the world go by, "People/Set Schedule/Naps" became "PSSN". That acronym, with the addition of vowels, morphed into "PASSION".


When young, motivation is easier. A close-knit, loving family had high expectations for me. My mom worked at my grandma's knitting shop. I was surrounded by women who doted on me. In those innocent days, it was considered safe even for young children to play outside. I had a nice nap every early afternoon. My dad, a letter-carrier, was up and out on schedule early every morning, but he also came home early and we spent quality time talking, working carpentry projects, and playing.

I walked to school on a set schedule with friends. In those days we had all-day kindergarden that included a noontime nap. The naps ended with first grade, but the set schedule, and a sense of duty to family and teachers went on through high school. I worked part-time at a shoe store and selling ice cream on the beach and in an office during those years and that motivated me to go to college so I could qualfy for non-menial employment.

Work as an engineer was challenging and often involved long hours of (unpaid) overtime and travel, but I was motivated by obligations to wife and children. Again it was the people in my family and at work and in the clubs and synagogue that kept me motivated. My wife and I had a full schedule of work, attendance at our daughter's school events, square dancing, and so on. I had bike and ski and kayak club friends. My employer paid for me to get my Masters and then my PhD and that kept me busy and intellectually alert.

Then, the children went away to college and had families of their own, ... and we retired!


There is a danger of "vegging out" in retirement if you are financially secure. Pension and Social Security checks come regularly, investments grow, and so do your waistlines! There is a temptation to sit and watch mindless TV programs, eat rich food and "enjoy life - you earned it!"

Fortunately, my life before retirement gave me the foundation for the PASSION (People, Activities, Set Schedule, Interests, Optimism, and, eventually Naps) that keep me motivated.

People - Particularly loved ones - your wife and family, but also friends, neighbors, co-workers and other acquaintances.

People are far and away the best motivators. Spouse and family provide a firm foundation. If you show up they have to let you in! Beyond that, what gets me up and out almost every morning are the people who are waiting for me.

As I bicycle down the street, people call out my name and I say theirs. Others nod to me - we don't know names but we shout "good morning!" as I bike and they walk their dogs or jog along. At the sports pool they (mostly women :^) are happy to see me. We exchange pleasantries, ask about travels, and kid around about who can hold his or her legs up higher and longer and so on. No better way to start a day than exercising in a heated pool. (My wife, Vi, goes to some of the same water aerobics classes, but she travels by golf cart, most often with a neighbor.)

If I'm meeting friends for a bike ride we are happy to see each other. Bicycling is probably the best form of transportation ever invented. You go fast enough to get someplace miles away, yet slow enough to talk, enjoy the sights and sounds, and "smell the roses". And, bicycles run on peanut butter sandwiches - "green" energy!

We eat out with other couples, go to parties and entertainment events, and enjoy life. It is my wife and all those other people who make it worthwhile!

Activities - Athletic and otherwise

The key to living a nice long life is to keep moving! It may be "sour grapes" but I don't think strenuous running or competitive sports are good for the body, particularly not an aging body. That is why I do "soft' exercises such as bicycling, water aerobics, kayaking, walking, and so on.

I try to put in at least an hour a day, but, I keep the civil service worker attitude in mind: "I'm paid by the hour, not by the mile!"

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

When we retired we thought we were leaving set schedules behind. However, it turned out that our calendar is far more complicated than ever. Without scheduled events it would be so easy to stay in our cozy bed all morning, reading or watching TV, perhaps taking turns preparing breakfast in bed. To help prevent that, our alarm is set for 6:30AM every morning and we have no TV in our bedroom.

My morning schedule is set in stone: get the newspaper, feed the fish in the koi pond, read the paper over a light breakfast, and get outside! Monday, Wednesday, and Friday it is bicycling to regular water aerobics. Tuesdays I lead an easy neighborhood bike ride and end up at a different sports pool for deep-water aerobics. Thursdays I bike with a neighbor to a men's breakfast at Perkins and then to deep-water aerobics. Saturdays it is early deep-water aerobics and then a bike ride to Paneras. After bicycling home, it is into the hot-tub with a cup of ice cream and a magazine. Then, it is time for a nice nap!

The rest of the day is free, except for lunch or dinner with friends, shopping trips, volunteering at the synagogue office Thursday afternons, Friday evening services, and other odds and ends. My wife and I each teach an online grad course for the University of Maryland, so that takes a few hours every other day or so. I also have email to keep up with, my Blogs (The Virtual Philosophy Club, Curb Your Enthusiasm - Fantasy Episodes, 2052-The Hawking Plan, and 2052 Life, Liberty, and Technology), my Google Knols, websites I follow including The Drudge Report, Watts up With That, Reality Prime and several others. There are TV programs I watch regularly, some automatically recorded on our DVR. That keeps me busy and involved!

Interests - Intellectual and otherwise.

My interests are wide and varied. We get lots of magazines, mostly from trading in unusable airline miles. My wife buys me books, in a so far unsuccessful attempt to change my social and political views. (My father taught me to be frugal. therefore, any book or magazine we have paid for, including those from airline miles, and idiotic political screeds, has to be read.)

Optimism - Open outlook welcoming variety.

Take to heart Max Ehrmann's beautiful words of Desiderata "Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, ... be on good terms with all persons. ... the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is ... everywhere life is full of heroism. ... Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. ... You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."

Naps - Noontime slumbers to refresh body and soul.

This has been a protracted posting. Time for a nice long nap!

Ira Glickstein


joel said...

Ira said, "Yes, the coffee and snacks are a definite draw, but it is mostly the people, my set schedule, and naps that keep me motivated."

Thanks for the helpful post, Ira. It involves several applications of motivation. We are first of all motivated from thought to action by survival instincts or their remnants. I count the need for coffee and snacks in that category. Your wishful thinking that you're going to see your swimming pool full of nubile girls is another survival rooted motivator. The stimulus of gathering with other people is part survival based and partly a higher order motivator based upon intellectual stimulation. Another higher order stimulus might be the thought that somehow you're going to be rewarded with longer life and better health if you crank that bicycle for several miles. Unfortunately for me, that's something I lack. For awhile when I was younger, I trained for the Honolulu Marathon. It was fun for a few months, but then the old "why bother?' set in. Clearly, I wasn't fast enough to win thus leaving only the health benefits. If you count up the hours of prime time needed to gain the health benefits, they far outweigh the hours of not-so-prime time one might gain at the end of life.

However, I'd like to digress a bit. Biking seems to me to be its own motivator and I wonder why. Whether as a kid or right now, the feeling of cutting through the air on a bicycle is an end in itself. That sensation seems to be primal in some way. I once added a windshield to my motor scooter and found the pleasure to be much diminished. I found the same feeling of air flow thrill, when I started to learn to surf. What is there about motion of this type that gives us pleasure? Are we wired by evolution to migrate? -Joel

Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks for your kind comments Joel. Yes, humans are social animals and enjoy sharing food, intelligent conversation, and physical activity together - and if the possibility of sexual satisfaction rears its pleasant head, all the better.

You mention training for the Honolulu Marathon and quitting when you discovered you were not "fast enough to win ".

My dad was also very competitive. In his younger days he was a champion handball player in Brooklyn where it was a major sport. He also played on his post office softball team. In one game, I watched him run to second base and knock the baseman on his butt, making him drop the ball. A spectator standing near me, not knowing he was my father, said "What an idiot, doesn't he know that guy has to go to work tomorrow?"

Perhaps due to my dad's cuthroat athletic aggressiveness, I reacted against any kind of competitive sports.

Bicycling can be fun without competition. As you indicate, it combines health benefits with the feeling of flying through the air much faster than you could run and with less effort than walking. It is also a social activity and a way for a married man to safely spend fun time with healthy women other than his wife. And, if the destination is Paneras, coffee and snacks.

Ira Glickstein

PS: You mention surfing as also promoting the feeling of air flow thrill. I guess so, but you don't really get anywhere and the thrill is short-lived, like downhill skiing. I never surfed, but I much prefer cross-country skiing. Perhaps less thrilling, but easier on the body with more extended enjoyment.

joel said...

That was a very interesting story about your father and its effect on you. It turned my attention to competitiveness or lack thereof. Although I need to be at the top (and as John pointed out with his enjoyment of the praise earned by his painting), and am susceptible to praise, I'm not willing to work very hard to achieve that goal. Some people like your father are strenuously competitive at everything no matter how trivial and seem to have only two positions on their motivational switch, while others are wired with a finely graded rheostat. I wonder if your story about seeing how fast you could file mail in the correct cubby hole, means that your observation of your father's behavior might have channeled your competitiveness away from dangerous competition with others and toward safer competition with yourself.

In my case, comparison with others doesn't motivate me to action. I quit the painting club at The Villages when it grew to the point where it contained too many highly gifted artists. For me, an effortless victory is much more enjoyable than a hard one. I still recall the feeling of absolute joy when I won a New York State Scholarship with no more effort that taking a competitive examination. I compare that to the joyless feeling when I finally got my Ph.D after years of struggle and five drafts of my dissertation wrested from a professor who believed that a doctorate should be a "trial by fire." A revelatory experience for me was climbing Mt. Washington (I think) in New Hampshire. I was ready to turn back as soon as we got seriously tired. My companion insisted we had to get to the top and I followed him. It was a "Why bother?" moment for me. For my companion, it was a opportunity to emulate his hero, Edmund Hillary. -Joel

joel said...

Another interesting aspect of Ira's postpost is the role of scheduling in motivation to action. This seems well accepted. In running it's important to train at the same time every day. Lance Armstrong credits his success in part to the regularity of his training. Rain or shine, wind or storm, Lance was out there biking. A written schedule with alarms and a means of checking off the activity seem to help. The question is; "Why?" It's not a though one forgets to bike or run or swim. It's obvious that one has completed the task when it's done. What does crossing it off the list do? My wife is very big on chore lists and draws great satisfaction in drawing a line through the item. I don't. I'm sure she's in the majority. -Joel

joel said...

I think that the answer to my question above is "momentum," (Whatever that might mean in neurological terms). -Joel

Ira Glickstein said...

"Momentum" has to do with inertia. According to the Laws of Nature, things that are not moving tend to remain still unless they are accellerated by some external force. Things that are moving tend to continue to move unless opposed by some other force. Normal friction causes things to slow down unless additional external force is applied.

In NY we had a stair-stepper and a treadmill that did not get much use. We also had a stationary bicycle that turned out to be a great place to hang clothing.

The reason for the disuse was lack of motivation to continue. When my wife or I got onto one of these modern day torture devices, it did not take us long to figure out why we should stop. She had to make a phone call or I had to check the TV schedule, etc. After a few months of sporadic use, these exercise machines became part of the background - barely seen and not appreciated.

We now have the wonderful Wii video system, including the balance board and several exercise games. At first we used it fairly often, but now only when we show it to visitors. One of the games keeps track of the last time you were on and the trend of your weight and body mass and fitness, etc. I dread getting on because the "trainer" will notice how long it has been since my last time.

The key to motivation is to keep up a regular schedule and for people (other than your spouse) to care! When I was on weight-watchers I had to go in to get weighed once a week. Some woman I did not know would record my weight and tell me how much it had changed since last time and she would be (or act) very happy if the results were good. That motivated me to lose 40 pounds over several months. After I hit my goal and held it for six months I got their key award and stopped going. (20 pounds have come back, but the other 20 are gone for good.)

So, yes, momentum is necessary to keep motivated. I find that people provide the energy to overcome normal friction, That, and locking yourself in to finishing the session. I enjoy getting into the sports pool because of the social interaction and I stay for the hour so as not to disappoint the instructor and my budies. Once a bicycle ride is started you can't quit without disappointing others. When you get to the goal (e.g., Paneras) you have to bike back home. Same with kayaking, cross-country skiing, etc.

Ira Glickstein

Stu Denenberg said...

Regarding Joel's comment on wondering why biking was so satisfying ("I found the same feeling of air flow thrill, when I started to learn to surf. What is there about motion of this type that gives us pleasure?"), I think Ira put his finger on the answer when he said,"it combines health benefits with the feeling of flying through the air much faster than you could run and with less effort than walking."

Simply put: biking at its best is as close to flying without leaving the ground as we can get. And who hasn't dreamed (literally dreamed) of flying? Biking uphill in the rain is not so much fun but on a long steady slightly downhill run where the pedaling feels effortless it's heavenly (literally).

Regarding Joel's comment about his wife enjoying crossing off chores from a list --- when I was working I would put each individual task on a 3x5 card (easy to carry in a shirt pocket)and when a task was completed would find considerable enjoyment in ripping the card in half and dropping the pieces into the wastebasket.

Ira Glickstein said...

Stu - good to "see" you back on the Blog. Yes, bicycling is better than flying (and I used to fly a 2-seat Cessna 150). On a bicycle, you get the air flow thrill, your feet press into the uphills and enjoy coasting the downhills. Your hands on the bars bounce over every crevasse and bump. When I look at a map of our area and of the parts of the USA and Canada and Ireland and England and France touched by my bike tires, it is like my hands have caressed those roads. Much more personal contact than places driven to or flown over.

Joel, today's Annie's Mailbox (the new name for Ann Landers Advice Column since her death) has a letter from a depressed woman who decries her lack of motivation. The most noticeable thing about her letter is that *every* sentence starts with "I" and many have an additional "I" or "my" in them. She has tried therapy and prescription medication to no avail. The advice given is more "trial and error" with medication and therapy via "self-help groups". What a load of crap!

It seems to me this poor woman has lost contact with other *people*. All that is left is "I, I, I, and my". She has pushed family and friends away. What she needs more than meds and therapy is PASSION: People, Activities, Set Schedule, Interests, Optimism, and Naps.

Ira Glickstein

PS: It is afer 2PM already and past tiem for my nap :^)

joel said...

Thanks for the interesting ideas. I'm going to experiment with the micro-scheduling. I'll decompose each "task" into components and put the components on a list. For instance, I'll get out my brushes, get out the pallet, get out the canvas, etc. If I only think about doing one at a time maybe I can make some progress. -Joel

Ira Glickstein said...

Joel wrote, in part: "Thanks for the interesting ideas. I'm going to experiment with the micro-scheduling. ... I'll get out my brushes, get out the pallet, get out the canvas, etc. ..."

Here's a serious idea you might consider. Pick a Topic you could post to the Blog in a month that you could illustrate with one of your paintings. The Topic could be painting or motivation or anything else under the Sun.

Say you plan to post on or about 08 Nov. Work backwards and set a schedule. You'd want to have the text for the posting a few days before 08 Nov, say around 05 Nov. The final painting should be available for a digital photo about 01 Nov. To meet that date, you need to have a pencil sketch by around 20 Oct. To meet that you'd need to pick a Topic for the posting and come up with a concept for the painting by 12 Oct.

OK, the above is just an example. It is up to you to come up with your own plan and schedule and commit to it.

It may help you to let others know of your plan so we can root for your success and vicariously enjoy each step of your progress. You could report your progress in this thread. That is the "People" part of PASSION.

The "Activity" part is the painting and writing. The "Set Schedule" is your committed plan. I hope this idea and your plan helps keep up your Interest and Optimism and gives you time for a nice Nap when you need it most.

Ira Glickstein