Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Motivation, please?

A very talented friend of mine recently completed a side project. Not for a deadline or a paycheck, but just for personal improvement, shits and giggles, and because she wanted to. I beam with pride. That shit is hard to do.
For some reason, the vast majority of us humans are hard-wired to need to be forced to do anything not strictly meeting the definition of leisure. Which is pretty dumb, when we all admit we would be happier/healthier/more productive if we just did the things on our To-Do list in a timely fashion. And yet, our personal projects sit un-completed, while our netflix que swiftly empties.
Philosophers, and more specifically economists try to describe and predict human behavior with a few simplifying premises in place. One of these premises is that we are rational, which is clearly flawed. There are new theories being tossed around, trying to explain why a rational person would do irrational things, concepts like "bounded rationality" and "time inconsistency" get tossed around to explain why we basically act like teenagers when it comes time sit down and work one something without an external force pressing us.  The basic idea is that we think differently about the present than we do about the future, in terms of wants, desires, money, and expectations.  Which makes sense to anyone who ever spoiled their dinner with a sugary sweet treat because someone brought doughnuts to work.
Another theory is that of supernormal stimuli, which basically says that our recently evolved brains haven't caught up with all of the amazing, yummy, shiny things in the world, and so rather than consume them in any reasonable fashion approaching moderation, we go for it with the all-you-can-eat buffet of sugar, fat, fun, and leisure. Think eating State Fair food while sitting in a hot-tub recliner watching every season of your favorite show in a row. With beer. Who wouldn't want to do that?!
I suppose the boring answer is, an evolved adult human being with shit to do, like, walk the dog, read that book I bought 2 years ago and/or wash myself. Booooring.
This is of particular concern to me because I have a pretty large project staring me in the face, and after a short burst of enthusiasm, have completely halted production. I have, however, used up all my lives on whatever online video game was handy so, there's that. But actual work on a project that I care about and will contribute to my future in a real way? Nah, I'm going to need a deadline or, better yet, a troll with a giant mace standing behind me to get that done. And maybe take away my internet connection.
Luckily, human beings are highly adaptable creatures, meaning we can always change.  Seek out new civilizations and boldly go back to what we started, and finish it.  Good habits, though much less fun, are just as plausible as bad habits.  

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

On Life and Getting Older...

Not that I'd used this label before, but I had a fantastic mentor for a while. As is the trend for young people, I did not realize how good I had it until it was gone. When he died a few weeks ago, I was devastated. How strange it is, to be surprised by the effect a person has on your life. You would think I would have noticed something like that.
After the memorial, I went through the old emails he'd sent me over the years, searching for some of the humorous gems I remembered and hoping for some previously undiscovered words of wisdom. Even in death, he did not disappoint:
My point, to close, is that it really is not so much important where you start, and how long it takes, just so you get to your destination, and not when you are too old. You will have to work until 75, I am certain, so you have plenty of time to amortize your investment.
Keep going, he tells me. It is not too late, not by a long shot. It only feels like I am old because this is the oldest I’ve ever been. But don’t worry, life says with a chuckle, you are going to get older. Much, much older. You’re welcome! That is the funny dance of our modern lives, trying endlessly to hold death and old age at bay, as though they are twins rather than rivals, each stealing numbers from the other. How do we not see that old age is the prize we gain for surviving a raucous adolescence? Wrinkles are the door prize you get, in addition to the degrees, jobs, raises, pink slips, leases, relationships, and other life detritus we collect year after year.
Remember how old you felt five years ago? Or ten? Extrapolate that sensation for ten years from now, and listen to your older self when she tells you that you aren’t shit yet. You are still a baby, fumbling through life. We all are. For ever. Fumbling through life, making mistakes, feeling younger than our age and older at alternating intervals, and wondering what on earth happened the entire time.
Assume that this is just how life feels, marvel at it, and move on.