Archives for Motivation
Have you been watching "Downton Abbey" like the rest of us? Think about the Dowager Countess of Grantham, marvelous Maggie Smith. When she doesn’t like something, she gets a face like a cat that’s smelled something bad. And you get the message. If you read authors like Edith Wharton and Jane Austin, you know there’s not a lot of bellowing and stomping around. Hearts are broken, fortunes lost, people became ill, or bereaved, despondent or angry, and through everything, they all use their inside voices. Compare that to, say, the last week on this blog, in which the volume on everything was turned up to 11 (although the comments remained civil and I thank you all for that). Daughter had to rant in public to make her point, Dad had to shoot a computer to make his point, I had to “hate” Dad to make my point. And I'm not generally a hater. But I got swept into what seems a trend of our time: anger that becomes superheated, superfast. It’s not necessarily just that America is getting less civil. For some reason these days, it seems we need the volume on all our emotions cranked way up. Even negative emotions. Maybe especially negative emotions. We need to watch screen violence that is increasingly extreme, we need to fight our battles publicly and with insults and vehemence, and we need to grieve extravagantly, where everyone can see us.
A friend is fretting about her 22-year-old son, who is living at home and, she fears, not getting it together. This is a family with plenty of dough. The boy is well-educated and has been well cared for, despite some dysfunctional family fun, which few of us escape in this world. My friend complains that he’s lazy and over-entitled. He hasn’t been knocking himself out to find a job, and he’s drinking too much. What’s a mother to do? she asked me, wondering if research might hold some answers. Is tough love the answer? Is this a predictable developmental stage? Were we all like that at 22? When did we finally grow up? I've been hearing lots about boomerang kids, who are of an age to be independent but can't seem to get out there and do it. Of course, the lousy economy and unemployment rate don't help and can't be downplayed. But is there something more? Don’t you wish I were about to give you the answers? I’m not and can’t. But here’s some food for thought.
Habit and inertia. I believe those are behind every New Year’s Resolution failure. A recent study out of Harvard finds that nicotine replacements—patches and gum—are not particularly effective in the long term. I read that in my newspaper this morning, along with an article discussing the we’ve-heard-it-before finding that eating foods marketed as sugar-free, fat-free, or low-cal are not a particularly good route to weight loss. They’re just not satisfying, so we just keep eating. What these two articles together suggest to me is that substitution to break a habit is no substitute for breaking the habit itself.
This blog celebrated its first anniversary on January 1, so I am therefore compelled (it's the law) to reflect on the past year. Writing Real World Research has been fun and also a lot of work. I read a lot more research than I end up writing about. Academic writing is no easy read and I am eternally grateful to those researchers who manage to slip a little joke in here and there. Some papers are so dense that even if the topic is compelling, my eyes cross and I can’t hack my way through them. I have no one to blame but myself---I decided to focus this blog on research. Sometimes I hate myself for choosing a theme that so often forces me in way over my head. Still, one of the perks of being a writer is that I get paid for finding out stuff I want to know. Reading and writing about research has taught me all kinds of useful things which, as the blog title suggests, I can take into the real world. So to reflect on the past year, here is some of the stuff I learned writing Real World Research in 2011 that has been most useful to me.
I am not a spontaneous person. When a surprise invitation or opportunity appears, there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll pass it up. Maybe even 60/40. Maybe even more, but I don’t want to admit that to myself. Spontaneity is a good thing. I know this because in romance movies, guys always dump their tightly-wound girlfriends for kooky, devil-may-care, spontaneous girls. And I can see for myself that spontaneous people lead colorful lives full of surprise. My life is pretty interesting, but it’s more a trip on a lazy river than a thrilling tumble down whitewater rapids. Is that OK?
The first step to regaining a healthy weight is loving your body as it is. Research says so: Researchers in Portugal compared a control group of women trying to lose weight with diet and exercise advice only, with a group who also received an intervention focused on body image. The scientists took various psychological and physical measurements for a baseline, and again a year later. What they found was that women who had received the intervention had better body image after a year, and had lost more weight. Body image was measured a few ways: self-perception (what you think you look like compared to an ideal), and dysfunctional investment (worrying about your appearance too much). Dysfunctional investment breaks down again into body shape concerns (my thighs are enormous) and social physique anxiety (I’m the fattest girl here). And in the end, dysfunctional investment appears to be the real enemy here. It seems the less we fret over our (perceived or real) fat, the more likely we are to lose it.
Gluten-free, day 26. It’s been that long since my last bowl of pasta and the realization that the unbearably itchy Mystery Pox I’d fought intermittently for a couple of years was probably a reaction to gluten. Me, the queen of the PB&J foldover. A pizza addict. A bread fiend. A cookie monster. Gluten intolerant. My initial horror at this idea was tempered by relief at having identified (fingers crossed) the Mystery Pox that had four doctors scratching their heads while I was scratching everything else. So at first, I was giddy. I read up on gluten-free living, found recipes, made my first batch of (delicious) gluten-free brownies. Then I made another batch of brownies, as a consolation prize. Because I started realizing, one favorite food at a time, how much I was giving up. I entered a period of mourning that continues to this day. (Today I remembered funnel cake.) I’m sure I’ll get over it. It’s only day 26. In a way, I’m lucky. The memory of the Mystery Pox is powerful motivation for me to stay on the wagon. And I’m lucky that gluten sensitivity is all the rage these days, so finding gluten-free products is pretty easy. But still, I’m in the nitty gritty of trying to change old habits and that's not easy.
In my last post, I wrote about what happens when I compare myself to other authors. To quote myself (how uncool is that?): I can be demotivated in my writing by reading something really, really excellent. I get all hopeless and Eeyore about my own talent. And bad writing isn’t motivating. Being better than terrible is too easy. I get most fired up by mediocre writing, which gives me a just-right goal to shoot for. I want to be better than mediocre. I recently stumbled upon research that appears to explain some of this. The researchers, who have done all kinds of interesting work on envy*, find that “benign envy” is more motivating than all-out admiration or “malicious envy.”
“Vicarious goal satiation.” Hmmm. According to research published in the The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, seeing someone else reach a goal is demotiving. The goal examined in the research was completing anagrams. One group, while completing another computer task, saw a video of hands trying but not managing to complete anagrams. Another group under the same circumstances saw the hands succeed in completing the anagrams. Then, when presented with anagrams to complete themselves, participants who saw hands unable to complete the task did better than those who saw the hands complete the task. The researchers conclude that seeing someone else succeed gives you the vicarious sense of having reached a goal and so you don’t try as hard.