If you want to have placemats on your tables, you should have them.
If you don't want to have any, you shouldn't.
If you want to have some for celebrations and not for everyday, that's fine.
If you do not want to have them but get them because that's what people in your social class do, that's just stupid and conformist.
And here comes the punchline: if you'd like some, but don't get any, because people might think you got them just because you thought you should because that's what people in your social class do, that's stupid and conformist too.
(Thanks to the guilty parties -- you kno who you are -- for initiating this line of thought.)
Internetissä oli keskustelu siitä, että minkälainen ostoskassi on kaikista ekologisin. Että paperikassiko vai uudelleenkäytetty muovikassi vaiko puuvillakassi vaiko semmoinen oikein erityis-ekologinen kassi jonka saa tilata Amazonista.
Oikea vastaus on tietysti ei mikään yllämainittu. Oikea vastaus on se kassi joka sulla on jo. Enkä usko, että ei ole mitään kassia, takuulla on. Jos muka ei todellakaan ole mitään vanhaa koulureppua tai messuilta saatua mainoskassia, niin käytät ensin loppuun ne kaikki paperi- ja muovikassit joita sulla kuitenkin on kotona, vaikka et tunnusta, ja sillä aikaa kun ne kuluu loppuun askartelet uuden kassin vaikkapa vanhasta paidasta tai sen virkatun liivin purkulangoista, jonka muuten heittäisit pois.
Ei tarvitse ostaa minkäänlaista kassia, Amazonista tai muualta.
Some time ago I wrote about the concept of "motivation" and why it does not appeal to me.
Another concept that's lately started to seem unhelpful is "willpower". This came up when I talked to a friend about how I had managed to make some changes, and he remarked that he does not think he would have the willpower(*) for similar decisions.
As is manifested e.g. by how it is typically modeled in role-playing games, people tend to think that the willpower to do things or to refrain from impulses is something you generate when you rest. You then store it in your brain (or wherever). When you are doing things, or refraining from impulses, you use up smaller or bigger amounts of it, until it gets depleted, and you rest again.
I don't think that's how it works. It is obviously harder to resist temptations and to get off your arse while being tired, be it mentally worn out or physically exhausted or lacking sleep, but once you are better off, it does not get easier to start and do things instead of opening another can of beer the longer you stay idle. In fact, it gets harder. You do not generate willpower while you are not using it. The rest does not give you willpower; it simply removes a block (the exhaustion) from using what you already have.
Instead, you generate the power to resist temptations and to do what you want to do by doing it. The trick is to do it, but not to overdo it. It is like cycling: if you move too fast, you exhaust yourself and fall over, but if you move too slow, you also fall over and starting up again is harder work than keeping on going would have been.
Or with another silly metaphore, willpower is like the water in a river. As long as you stand in the river, you do not run out of water to wash yourself. Surely you can also stand on the shore, lug the water up with a pail, wash one part of yourself, and do the lugging again, but why should you bother? It's nicer to swim. Just don't go into too strong currents or you will drown.
(*) To said friend: yes, I know I oversimplify the discussion almost beyond recognizable, but the rest of it is not important to this post.
Joo, nyt se sitten on alkanut.
Tässä paras kuulemani vihje (käsien pesemisen ja sairaana kotiinjäämisen kaltaisten toivottavasti tässä vaiheessa itsestäänselvyyksien lisäksi) possuflunssan seurausten vähentämiseksi jokaisen omalla kohdalla:
Mitä tahansa aikataulutattekin just nyt, laatikaa suunnitelmat sillä oletuksella, että seuraavan parin kuukauden aikana jokainen asiaan millään lailla liittyvä ihminen on ilman ennakkoilmoitusta poissa kuvioista kaksi viikkoa.
Tekemättä jäävien töiden aiheuttama stressi ei liene epidemian kansanterveydellisistä vaikutuksista pienimpiä.
Is it just me, or have we started to confuse the concepts of “responsibility” and “fault” at some point, so that you only are expected to feel responsible for fixing something if you are actually the culprit in breaking it?
“I take full responsibility” implies “it is totally my fault”. “Well it’s not my fault!” implies “so you cannot expect me to do something about it”.
I have — seriously — seen this go the extent where people argue that a father is not responsible for paying something his sons broke, because he was not personally there throwing the stones at the windows, and a teacher claim she cannot be held responsible for explaining the basics again and again to a child, because it is not “her fault” the kid has not gotten it yet and she needs to move on with the others. (Maybe the teacher does need to move on. But that has nothing to do with it being or not being her fault that one child is behind.)
Most far you see it go with people (not) taking responsibility for their own happiness. Somehow, there seems to be a subtle pervasive thinking that if you are responsible for fixing it, you must be somehow guilty for it, so that in response to things that might need changing people (yes, including me) tend to err to two completely borked reactions.
I’ll skip the first one, which is the “it’s unfair I have to actually work to overcome my faults, I was born this way, you can’t hold me responsible!”, because that is usually only spoken out by people who will not read this far anyway, because I am already being so unfair here and being mean and making, indeed forcing them to feel guilty for stuff that is totally not their fault.
But the second, infinitely more usual is that people actually decide that they need to take responsibility — and then immediately feel guilty for whatever it is they need to change. This results in them feeling so guilty for being such bad persons as to be unhappy that they then avoid doing anything because the guilt is so uncomfortable to face.
Quite often, when people need to change something in their lives, that “something” is not really “their fault” in the sense that they would be somehow morally bad for having it in their lives in the first place. The people who do the first borked reaction are actually partially correct: it is usually in no way your fault if some things are harder for you than others. If concentrating on things is not easy for you, if you get easily irritated by what others consider small stuff, if you have difficulties controlling your urges for food or drugs, if you are shy in new situations, if you find it terribly hard to be organized — more likely than not, that’s not something to feel bad about. It’s just the way you are. You were very likely born, raised, or both that way and should not feel any sort of personal guilt or shame over it.
But that does not mean you are not responsible for it. It is ok to find concentration difficult — but if you are a student, you still need to find ways to help you study. Others can help, but you need to invest in finding out what helps and what hurts, and then implementing that help. It is not shameful to be one of those people who cannot used alcohol without getting addicted — but you are still responsible from abstaining if you cannot control it. It is ok to be shy in social situations — but that does not mean you cannot figure out how to overcome that fear so that you can still take part in what is important for you, in a way that works for you. It is ok to find organization hard — but sometimes naturally disorganized people need to work harder than others on keeping a routine in order to be able to function in certain jobs.
With responsible, I do not mean “you are a bad person if you do not fix it”. That is confusing guilt with responsibility again. You are not guilty of anything if you have things in your life that do not work for you. Even if you could have done something about them a year ago, not having done it yet is usually not “your fault” in the sense that repentance or asking someone’s forgiveness or hiding away in shame would be necessary. It is just how things are, it is how you have lately been. No need for guilt. But if you want stuff changed now or in any point in the future, more often than not, the only person that you can expect to change it is yourself. Even if the stuff is actually the fault of someone else, it is still often your responsibility to initiate the change. Even if they are a circumstance you cannot make away with, it is your job to try and find help living with them.
I know, it is often not fair. But “fair” enters the equation about as much as “guilty” does.
People react in two ways to hearing that a particular child as ADHD. One group of people says: “Oh! That explains why he is like that, guess we just need to tolerate it.” The other group says: “Oh! That explains why he is like that. I guess we need to work really hard to maintain order, so that he is not constantly disturbed.” The second group is actually trying to help the child. The first one is avoiding responsibility.
Any more than a child, you cannot simply decide to be different: to be more organized / restrained / social / industrious / whatever. You are what you are and for most of these things, you will be that way for the rest of your life, at least to some extent. But that’s ok. What is important is what you want to do about it. Any time you spend feeling guilty over stuff that is not in your control is time not spent in figuring out how to live with it.
Note that there is an important “if” there hidden in the above: “if you want to change this or that”, “what is important is what you want to do about it”. Feeling guilty about something in your life that you do not even think you want to change is the most borked option of all. You can perfectly well choose not to do anything at all about something that is suboptimal, and there is no need to feel guilty about it, regardless of what some other people think. Deciding what you will change and what you will let be is also part of the responsibility that is yours.
(How to make changes happen once you have accepted that you need to is much harder. I am with the Zen Habits school of thought there: slowly, and one thing at a time.)
I have said it before, but it seems to me that a completely disproportional number of people around me and in the society are not as happy as they should be. And I have said it before, but it seems to me that part of this is due to completely unrealistic expectations: that to be happy one should be cheerful, healthy, and full of energy all the fucking time.
One of the special cases of this kind of thinking is where people know what would help them: they should take it slower, they should have less thing to do all the time, they should concentrate on one goal, they should sleep more. Or, even, they should take their meds, they should be in therapy, they should frigging take the sick leaves offered and not press on. Or, in some cases, they should get off the sick leave already, keep calm and carry on, even when it is tough. The point is, very often people know, on some level, but at the same time they feel that they should not need whatever they think they do.
There are many reasons why one would not act on what one knows. “Knowing” itself is a complex thing, and it is possible to “know” something to be the truth while at the same time still not completely accepting it. What helps with that is time, and thinking about it, and talking about it, until the knowledge really sinks in. But what seems to keep a lot of people back at that phase is the idea that they “should not need to” do whatever it is they need to do.
“I know I would feel better if I slept more, but normal people should really get by with 7 hours.”
“But other people can do such-and-such and still have energy for so-and-so, so I should not need to drop one either.”
“It is expected of me that I get by without this much help, so I should really not need all this to get by.”
What you need is what you need. What you “should” need does not exist.
Merriam-Webster defines “motive” as “something (as a need or desire) that causes a person to act” and motivation as “the condition of being motivated”, that is, of possessing a motive, or “a motivating [something that provides a motive] force, stimulus, or influence : incentive, drive”. I do not personally like the word much, the way it is usually used in my hearing. I am ok with the usage that emphasizes the “need or desire”, the personal reason for to do something, as in “my sole motivation to do X is that it is necessary for Y, which I really want”, though even then I would prefer “reason” or “incentive”.
Motivation seems to separate into three things:
1. a need or desire for something (motive),
2. something that causes one to act on that need or desire (incentive), and
3. the energy to stay at the task (drive).
When people say “I do not have the motivation” or “I do not feel motivated”, they can mean any or any combination of these. Saying that alone is not usually helpful. To figure out how to solve your “lack of motivation”, you need to figure out which of these it is, and then act on that. If you wait until you “feel motivated”, chances are it will never happen, because three such complex things will need to coincide by chance. It is possible to desire something because it is The Thing to desire, act on it simply because you expect praise or rewards from others if you succeed, and have energy simply because you are feeling energetic in general. I would guess a lot of us have managed at least a couple of major life goals simply by that, by a combination of energy of youth, strikes of luck, and the design of the society. This might be what creates the expectation that we need to “be motivated” to achieve things.
1. The motive.
First question to ask yourself when you do not feel motivated is this: do I actually really want this thing to happen? If so, why exactly? Here are two test questions: A. If I did not know any of the people I know now, would I still want it? B. If I had enough wealth that I could amuse myself in any way I wanted without the fear of ever being hungry or homeless, would I still want it? Wanting things because they bring company or security is not bad. It is, however, crucial to understand that you want something because you enjoy the company, or because you want the additional freedom that wealth brings, instead of the something itself.
Self-awareness to the level where you figure what you really want is not easy. I suppose that a lot of our stories and other escapism deal with people with Fates and Missions and stuff because it would be ever so much easier to have one given to us than it is to figure it out ourselves.
But the truth remains that if you do not have a motive, you will not have motivation, and you can as well stop wishing you did, and start doing something else.
2. The incentive
If the motive is about “why exactly do I want this in the first place”, the incentive is about “what all will I miss or lose if I do not do get off my arse and actually do this thing?” The trick is not to be stuck with the first answer, but to do a chain of so-whats.
If I do not finish this document today, then I will not finish it by the deadline, because there will not be enough time. So what? Well, then I will have to go to the team meeting and explain why it is not ready. So what? The others will be pissed off. So what? I really don’t want N.N. to be pissed off with me. Bingo — apparently N.N. being pissed off is something that you really care of. Would that be an incentive enough to actually get off your arse: “I really like N.N. and do not want her to feel angry or her work to suffer because I do not do my part”?
Or maybe there is no N.N and the chain goes on. If they are pissed off, that could reflect badly on my review. So what? These are uncertain times, and there might be layoffs. So what? If I am fired, I am not sure I can get another job. So what? I do not have enough savings to live on just social security and keep my house. So what? Well I really goddamn like that house! Would that be incentive enough? “I want to do well in this job so that I do not have to face the insecurity of having to find another one.”
Or maybe it goes on until you arrive to “oh screw it, I don’t even want this job”, in which case you are back to the motivation step. That’s ok.
3. The drive
Once you have the motive and the incentive, this step is relatively easy. Here’s how. Realize these points: A. You will never feel energetic all the time, and B. If you do fifteen minutes of it, it is more than not at all.
If you labor under the illusion (surprisingly common these days) that healthy, happy people are energetic and “motivated” and driven and light-hearted all or even most the time, get rid of that idea right now. It is simply not true. Energy levels and moods come and go. Spikes are fun, but for the most of us, they are rare. If you wait until you are highly “motivated” (with the meaning of energetic and feeling like it) before you do things, you will accomplish very little and spend a lot of time feeling bad and wrong about “not being motivated”, when in fact there is nothing whatsoever bad or wrong about you.
If you really want to do something (you have the motive and the incentive) but you do not seem to be able to find the energy, then make a deal with yourself: agree that you will do something for it for fifteen minutes, and then you are free to go and not worry about it anymore today (this morning, this evening, this week, for an hour, whatever). Fifteen minutes sounds like nothing. It is nothing. It should be easy accomplish. Think of the tiniest little thing that you can do right now to promote your pursuit, set a timer to fifteen minutes and then think about your motive and your incentive, and do that thing or nothing until the alarm goes (and when I say nothing I mean absolutely nothing: no web, no IRC, no getting up and walking around, no TV or radio, no reading a book, no drinking tea or having a sandwich or going to the toilet).
Of course, often after the first fifteen minutes or tiniest little thing you will feel like doing more, because the hardest thing is to start — and you can, if you want to. But that is not the point: this is not a trick to get you started. The point is that those fifteen minutes are more than you would do if you instead just sat around fretting about not having motivation, and so doing them you are already on the winning side: doing more than you were about to, getting better at getting it done.
And if you really end up sitting that fifteen minutes doing nothing — then either you really needed the rest, or the tiniest little thing was not tiny enough, or you were mistaken about your motive and incentive. That’s ok too. Simply retry. Today, or tomorrow.
Screw motivation. Just do it, if you want to, and don’t, if you don’t.
(Disclaimer: actually not having the energy for anything ever and/or the inability to recognize at least 1-3 real needs/desires/motives can be symptoms of burn-out and/or clinical depression. I do not mean to belittle these conditions or to discourage people potentially suffering from them from seeking medical advice.)
(Disclaimer 2: despite being posted right after several people used the “not feeling motivated” phrase on an IRC channel, this post is not aimed at them. I have planned it for a couple of weeks now — and have a todo list trace to prove that. The latest examples simply served to remind me of a pet peeve.)
Lately, I have wanted to scream every time I hear the term “healthy food”, or see a food or nutrient pushed as healthier than something else. (And you see it all the time, which makes me want to scream way too often.)
Here’s a newsflash to all you intellectually challenged victims of health crazes: food is healthy, by definition. If it is bad for you, it is not food. If you do not believe me, try going without for, I do not know, say a month. If you after that still refuse to eat something that is generally considered food on the grounds of it not being healthy, I will do my best to have you admitted to a psychiatric institution and they can inflict an anorexia diagnosis on you.
And no, particular foods are not healthier than other foods, either. An apple is not by some absolute default healthier than a piece of chocolate. If you eat only apples you are likely to feel like crap, just as you are if you eat only chocolate. (I do not recommend trying either, but if you do not believe me, a month is probably a good length for an experiment, again.)
Particular diets are healthier than some other diets, I have to give you that. But even there, the effect is probably less than you think. Your body is brilliantly good at transforming things into other things, with just a couple of notable exceptions (the major one being vitamin C, the metabolism of which in humans, or rather the lack of essential parts there-of, is one of the best arguments there is against intelligent design). Sure the transformation might be somewhat more inefficient than eating everything in the exact required amounts, but last I checked lack of fuel for their bodies was not a problem for most Western humans. It is also crucial to understand that just because a diet consisting of nothing but pizza, fries, and sugared soft drinks is unhealthy, pizza, fries, or sugared water are not unhealthy as such. They are food. Foods are not unhealthy. Diets are. If you generally eat your veggies and so forth, eating a pizza every now and then is very likely going to do exactly nothing to your overall well-being (if anything, it makes you feel warm and fuzzy and adds to your mental health).
And no, we did not evolve to survive on a particular diet. I know, I know, in the stone age we ate berries and meat and not roots and grains and all the carbohydrate crap (says you), but evolution is not about what you do in your everyday. You can do a hundred sit-ups every day and your daughter will still be born the exact same abs she would have been without you taking all that trouble. Evolution is about whose offspring survives. And while I dislike making far-gone conclusions about the effects of our evolutionary history to our current day, if I believe one theory about the evolution of human nutrition, I believe the one that says there has been a huge pressure towards being able to effectively use whatever food happens to be available. If the diet of a nation consists of potatoes and gravy for a couple of hundred of years, the people unable to utilize the potatoes will die off and the rest of us will rule the Earth. If the diet of a nation consists of whatever hell is available and occasionally nothing for a couple of tens of thousands of years, how the hell did the stone age folks who need a carefully balanced diet of carrots and beef to feel good manage to spread their genes to all of us?
There is two major ways to construct an unhealthy diet (given that you have enough to eat in the first place, which we should not forget is still the major problem about food today): eat too much, or do not eat enough veggies. Do both of those, and you end up spherical and feeling like shit. Do not overdo it, and eat your rabbit food like mom told you, and you will in most cases be just fine. Yes, there are cases where special diets and special attention to diet are needed. Some people have actual diseases that kill them off or seriously disable them if they eat the wrong things. Some people are competing athletes who train for full weekdays and compete on the weekends. Pregnant women are recommended to take certain supplements. The likelihood that most people reading this who are very conscious about their diet have any of those conditions is not very great, however.
The ones who really need the special attention should keep on paying it. The rest of us need to stop fussing about it and eat some but not too much of what’s put in front of us, and be grateful.
(I could also use this post to rip apart the YLE newspiece about how “Finns eat healthier, but get fatter” (in Finnish, sorry), but commenter Ari T. did it for me already in the comments. The gist of it is this: 1) the results of the study cited probably mean that some Finns (say) they eat healthier, while some, very likely at least partly other Finns get fatter, and 2) even if point number one does not hold, if your diet makes you fat, it is an unhealthy diet, no matter what you eat, and 3) the questionnaire used in the study does not even ask about the amount of food consumed, so using it as any sort of indicator for the general unhealthiness of anyone’s diet is plain stupid.)
Based on exactly nothing but observation and speculation, I claim that a lot of the problems that Western-world relatively well-to-do adults experience in their lives are about vicious-circle-like downward spirals.
As an example there definitely is a subtype of burnout/depression that goes like this: you set expectations for yourself, you fail to meet them, the failure cause guilt and anxiety, you set up more expectations of the I-really-need-to-get-this-done type, the anxiousness and guilt make you perform worse, and you fail again. As another example, one of my own goes like this: I sleep too little, so I need to drink caffeine to keep my work going, lack of sleep and caffeine make my performance drop below levels I feel I am committed to, performance dropping causes stress, stress causes an evening drink and computer games, the stress, alcohol and excitement combined cause bad and diminished sleeping. I am sure you can invent your own examples – not getting physical exercise because of not being fit enough to feel comfortable at places where you could get it sounds common enough, at least.
Now the thing with such vicious cycles is that there is practically always some component in them that is not your fault. The society sets expectations on us that are hard to resist. Anxiousness causing bad sleep is a given, there’s not much anyone with a normal mind can do about it. You might not be fit because you have been lazy, but because there has been some circumstance preventing you from staying fit. The circle feeds itself: it is not a simple thing you do or do not do, it is a complex mess of variables where even if you fix one, the others keep on dragging you down. No step on the circle might seem like a major thing: your expectations are not that high, you are not that anxious; it’s just two cups of coffee and one gin and tonic a day, for gods’ sake! It is easy to start feeling like a victim, to feel like this stuff just happens to you, to feel that you are caught in a spiral not of your own making.
Yet the spiral is there, and it really is a spiral that also includes steps that are your own actions or attitudes. And the spiral is going to stay there until you do something about it. Other people can help or hinder, but unless you recognize your spirals and break them, your recurring problems are going to, well, recur. This has nothing to do with fair, and nothing to do with whose fault. It has to do with realism, and responsibility: if you do not fix it, no one else can.
When did we start thinking that you can only be responsible for something, if either it is your fault, or someone pays you to?
1) Hire a good secretary. This step is essential. Do not proceed without completing it. This person’s job will be to keep bureaucracy off everyone else’s backs, and in the current world they are absolutely crucial. Make sure you hire someone who understands that their job is to pro-actively make bureaucracy invisible for the team — instead of someone who thinks it is their job to wait until the team asks them to handle a particular paperwork tidbit and then meekly do as requested.
2) Advertise that you have a person whose job it is to keep bureaucracy off everyone else’s back. Agree beforehand with people you are recruiting what bureaucracy they are supposed to do and with what tools (bring in receipts of travel expenses, note down times when they arrive and leave work, make lists of participants on their courses and the grades for the secretary, agree on further appointments with customers/patients, report patient/customer meetings they went to) and what they are not required to do (fill in stupid forms about travel expenses, detail times they spend at a particular project, enter grades into database, handle billing details). Try to limit requirements to specialists to giving information to the secretary, without limitations on the format of said information, and especially avoid requirements to use a particular fancy computerized system to deliver the info. Guarantee that if further bureaucracy will become necessary for whatever reason, the secretary will handle it based on necessary information from the rest of the team, with no restrictions on the format of the information.
3) Agree beforehand with people you are recruiting what projects / teams / courses / patient groups / whatever they will work with. Be specific. Agree that they will also have the responsibility for co-ordinating and developing these things with the rest of the team. Guarantee that unless the employee requests it, this will not change before a certain time (of at least two years, preferably more), so that the people will have the chance to think long-term and to commit. Advertise that you think long-term.
4) Agree and insist on team meetings. Separate brainstorming / check-up meetings from a working meeting about a specific problem / case. Guarantee and advertise that you will be available for both, daily if necessary.
Self-evident? I wish.