What motivates us to work hard

<— Nope, that’s not the secret.

I was sent this video by a colleague in the environmental field, after a long talk about a particularly difficult project I’m on and what keeps me engaged in it. I recommend you watch it – if only for fun! The video features an artist illustrating the results of a series of scientific studies, and just watching that is an education in entertaining and engaging communication.

There are a number of researchers at MIT, Caltech, and a variety of other institutions who study economics, social behavior, game theory and related disciplines using college students and various incentives, typically, but not always, small amounts of money. In this study, people were promised increasing amounts of money based on their performance at a variety of types of tasks. It turned out that money was not a motivator for most tasks, except for those that were purely rote or mechanical in nature. Once even the smallest amount of thinking was involved, other motivators become far more important.

You might think that this study was skewed by involving a bunch of idealistic grad students with possibly not that much need for money. So they tried it again, in rural India. And got the same results. A bunch of other studies corroborate the findings. So what are the three top motivators that prompt people to do a good or even outstanding job? You’ll have to watch the video to see (it’s worth it). All I can say is, it works for me.


Tips for expanding time

Every now and then I read a book and some concept in it really sticks with me. This time it was “The Divine Circle of Ladies Making Mischief” by Dolores Stewart Riccio. In this book are a circle of 5 women, and each of them has various “talents”. It’s a series, and in this book it comes out that one of them seems to have the ability of expanding time to encompass whatever she has to do – rather than the other way around (doing only what we think we have time for). In the book there may be some magickal means at play; however, when pressed, she gives only one explanation for her inexplicably prodigious output.

She explains that we spend too much time thinking about what to do, or how to avoid doing it, and not enough time just doing it. She goes on to suggest immediately beginning whatever it is that needs doing, without giving it even a moment’s thought – because those moments get ahold of you, and before you know it, you’ve spent half an hour avoiding doing it, or thinking of all the other things that maybe you should be doing instead, or what have you – none of which gets anything done. Could it be that simple?

I’ve been thinking about this off and on ever since. We live in a world where distractions are greater than ever. Scientists have found that there really isn’t any such thing as multi-tasking, as the conscious brain can only focus on one thing at a time. People don’t get more done, in fact, it takes time to switch between tasks and they actually get less done due to the refocusing time, however slight, that occurs each time the mind moves from one thing to another – not to mention the mistakes that get made due to lack of concentration. And this all assumes that you’re doing anything at all in the first place.

The other day I was driving to a meeting and my mind was bouncing around between three topics, two work-related and one personal. I realized at some point that my thinking was totally useless – I wasn’t staying on any one topic long enough to get anywhere, and I wasn’t paying attention to my driving. A multi-tasking failure if ever there was one. This brings up the other half of what I believe to be the two rules of expanding time:

1) When you have time to do something, do the first thing that comes to mind, without a second’s thought. Don’t think about whether you should do it, if there is something more important to do, etc. This just gives your mind time to come up with ways of procrastinating. That thing is most likely coming to mind first because it needs to get done, but often it isn’t getting done because there’s something difficult or unpleasant about it, or it’s a big job. Just do it. Trust that there will be plenty of time later in the day to do anything else that needs to be done. Now you are not wasting time getting started or procrastinating, and your available time is expanding. The job will take just as much time no matter how long you dither around getting started, and that makes it seem to take much longer than it really does.

2) While you are doing a task, think about that task, and only that task. This is really hard. We are programmed to think about many different things at once, the next item on the list, what our co-worker said yesterday, what may happen at work tomorrow, etc. Don’t – give your task its full attention. Give yourself reassurance that all those things are not important now and can be set aside. There is a lifting of responsibility that happens when you say this to yourself that is rather nice. Just say “I’m making dinner now, I don’t need to think about that until later.” Be present and mindful in each task. Take the time to savor the smells of cooking, to get involved in the details of a project so that it gets done right the first time, to drive carefully. Now your time expands because you are not trying to multitask and your brain is not having to refocus continually from one thing to another. You won’t forget what you were doing, or where you were on it, or be tempted to timewaste for a while reading e-mail. If something else is really intruding on your consciousness that you think is important to remember, write down that note or task to come back to later.

As soon as you are done with one task, do the next one that comes to mind. Continue throughout the day like this, and it is amazing how fast things get done. And yes, this is not just for work and chores. Your next thing may be a book you’ve been wanting to read, a yoga or stretch break, or your morning walk through the neighborhood. Be present and mindful in those activities also, rather than letting your mind drift to the next unpleasant task. Then these breaks and fun activities will be much more enjoyable and rejuvenating.

Culture and values

My friend Judith has recently started a new job with a Native American tribe. She has been reading some articles that suggest that people turn to their cultures to answer the following five questions, and asks us to respond:

• What is basic human nature?
• What is the relationship of humankind to nature?
• How should we perceive our relationship to time?
• What is the value placed on activity?
• What should be the relationship of people to each other?

Each of these seems like a giant essay to me :) But I’ll try to come up with some fairly succinct thoughts, below. I don’t know how relevant they’ll be to my cultural context, however, as I suspect my personal views are not mainstream in my culture at all.

What is basic human nature? I’m not sure I know what this question means. But I guess fundamentally I see us as swirling particles of aether, made up largely of energy. I mean this in terms of both our physical nature and our conscious nature. I don’t subscribe to any religious belief systems, and I feel that our basic truth is largely unknowable or unperceivable, at least in our physical form. I consider myself agnostic in that sense. If there is any one basic human nature, it exists far below the level of consciousness, will, right, or wrong.

What is the relationship of humankind to nature? I see our energy as interacting with that of others, with animals and inanimate objects, all as one large system. In that sense, humankind and nature are inextricable and the same. We manifest differently, though I don’t know why energy should differentiate itself into various different patterns. Therefore, I see no real hierarchy among mankind and nature.

How should we perceive our relationship to time? I strongly suspect that time has multiple dimensions, as does space. Physics tends to support that, in that the equations work out better that way. I imagine that our mind is only geared to experience time linearly and in one direction – with occasional glitches like deja vu. Nevertheless, multiple time-space stretches out all around us, and we go along within it in a straight line, not knowing how else to go.

What is the value placed on activity? Hmm. This is another one for which I’m not even sure where to begin. Societies, cultures, and religions all do seem to place “values” on specific activities, as in some having more value than others, and some being actively good or bad. However, the question seems worded in the sense of activity vs. inactivity. We need a certain amount of activity to maintain our physical needs. Beyond that, it seems that each person develops their own personal value system that determines which activities have value or priority over others. These may be compatible or at odds with those of the greater society – those that are at odds with society being designated criminals or other pejorative terms. On a more benign level, how each person decides which “work” or “leisure” activities are chosen to pursue is something of a mystery and may be largely circumstantial.

What should be the relationship of people to each other? A loaded “should” question :) Different cultures do place different values on individualism vs. collectivism, which I am guessing is the context of the question. However, I personally feel toward this question much as the previous one. There is no activity or type of relationship that inherently “should” be of higher value than another, except to the extent that it makes a person feel fulfilled and happy within the context in which they exist (whatever that is – culturally or otherwise). It is a mystery to me why some cultures have self-organized along individual lines and others along community-oriented lines. That suggests that both are evolutionarily adapted for success. Perhaps those people that don’t fit within one or the other are less well adapted and are selected out, until there are entire communities that are more or less one way or the other.

Anyway, a set of odd thoughts for the day :)

The Power of Silence

I’m packing to head off the Reader’s Studio – an annual get-together of tarot professionals, readers, authors, deck creators, artists, and more. I can’t wait to get there. It’s going to be such a fun break from work as it’s been lately – an endless string of controversies, conference calls, angry public comments, conflicts, spreadsheets ad infinitum, document reviews, and, well, yuck. I can’t wait to get on that plane and just curl up with my Kindle and puzzle book :D I really thought about completely leaving my laptop behind this time, but since I’m taking most of next week off too, that just isn’t… in the cards.

One of the neat things about this conference is a pre-conference workshop Thursday evening called The Power of Silence. We have no idea what it’s going to be about, but the title was intriguing enough that I had to sign up for it. I’ve been thinking about what it might mean…

Could be, given the nature of the conference, that it’s all about silencing the noise of everyday life (see above) to be more in touch with your own intuition, the greater Universe, and the people you’re working with.

Could be that it’s about going within oneself with no particular purpose, simply to explore and see what there is to find, to better know oneself and take the time for inner personal reflection and growth. I don’t know how many of us consciously take time out for this in life.

Could be that it’s about observation, being in the now, and being silent so as to better see and experience what is going on around you, and what life has to offer.

Could be that it’s a tool, such as is often used in mediation, to allow one’s client the time to reflect and speak for herself, and for you, as the reader, to not impose your own views. This will be a useful reminder for me in many ways.

Could be that it’s more esoteric than all of these, that it links to the four principles of Western Mysticism – To Know, To Dare, To Will, To Keep Silent. Keeping silent being often associated with the High Priestess and the knowledge behind the veil, the collective unconscious.

Now it’s time for me to Keep Silent and make my way to New York :) See you, my friends, soon!

Life as an adventure, Part II

It all started to really come clear for me when I and some friends went up to Breitenbush for a few days – a wellness community in the mountains of Oregon with hot springs, their own geothermal and hydro energy, vegan food, yoga classes, etc :) This was a long-awaited trip, but difficult in some ways. None of us are great travellers – it was a long drive and right in the middle of a heat wave. It was 102 degrees in the mountains at 5pm when we arrived! It didn’t cool off until after 1am and in the meantime, Kelcey and I both had bad migraines from the heat. I was berating myself about what I had gotten myself into, and how I was ever going to get them home again (since the next day was supposed to be even hotter and they don’t drive much). I felt responsible, and that I had failed my friends (or my body had). Never mind that they weren’t in any better shape.

But we went out after dark and walked the labyrinth, and when I reached the center I prayed to the elemental gods for it to cool off, just a bit. I talked things over with Maureen all night, and sometime late, some part of me just let go. I said, “maybe I’ll just get some rest now and see how it is in the morning.” And in the morning… it was still hot, but just a little bit cooler. And I sat in the shade, and read tarot cards, and dipped in a warm tub then a cold tub, and cooled off. And ate some of the best vegan food I have ever had in my life, and listened to the wooden flute playing somewhere in the forest, and relaxed. And then we went out very late at night and sat in the hot springs, though it was still really too warm.

And then we drove home, and all was well. And Maureen said… “It’s all part of the journey.” Or I did, I can’t remember. Until now, that phrase hasn’t had much meaning for me, seeming like one of those new age things that people say. But if you look at life, it’s so full of difficulties with little moments of grace woven in, and joys with little elements of sadness intertwined, that each moment is a new discovery – and both the good and the bad are equal parts of the journey, each to be experienced on its own, and each only temporary. The next moment may be better, or worse – and there’s only one way to find out…

So, the adventure of life, like walking a trail. The days with migraines are like slogging up a steep trail in the heat of midday, exhausted and wondering why you are doing this and when the misery will end. Then even in the midst of this with aching feet and back – a gorgeous vista, glimpsed around a corner, or a rare bird flitting across one’s path. Like the flocks of orange butterflies at Breitenbush feeding on the sulfur springs. Accomplishments – reaching the summit of a trail – only to find there’s more to do and hills still to climb. The downward part of the trail into a lush, cool valley with springs and streams – the nap in my hammock with a cool breeze and my cat curled up at my side. Days of walking, picking out the plants along the trail and interesting geology along the way – being engaged in one’s life and work and having everything go relatively smoothly. Putting up the tent, rolling out the sleeping bag, packing up in the morning, all the little chores of life that are done, over and over and over again, but bring some measure of satisfaction in doing them well.

These are my philosophies now – living even more in the moment. Sometimes you just have to start up that trail, not knowing if you have the strength to finish, and see what the journey brings. Even if the worst happens there are new experiences to savor and memories you couldn’t have had any other way – and often, it works out great, and you would have sure missed those things if you hadn’t tried at all. And absolutely no point in worrying about how things will go or what will come next, because at least now, for a while, it seems utterly unpredictable.

Every day is an adventure…

Notice I didn’t say what KIND of adventure :D Because every day is different – heck, every hour is different. Life right now is so full of ups and downs, set-backs and challenges, things to look forward to, things to worry about, romance, frustration, technical difficulties, and immense amounts of work and stress, that things never seem to be the same from moment to moment. One minute I am strong, productive and capable, an hour later I am down with a migraine worrying about how I will ever meet all my work responsibilities this summer. Two hours later I am up again, puttering around the house doing chores, which makes me feel better again – to have everything in order and be able to take care of these basic things. The next morning, I may feel better – or worse. Who knows? Sometimes it depends on the weather (literally).

The latest things are a really mixed bag. My eyes have started to see double on the freeway, which sent me to the optometrist (where I haven’t been for more than 10 years, having had perfect eyesight pretty much most of my life). Two small astigmatisms and minor nearsightedness later, she thinks that’s the cause – so I am waiting for driving glasses, and in the meantime not able to see properly – not fun when you’re working on data constantly. That plus migraines is creating a real struggle for getting all my work done.

On the plus side, I’m starting an exciting new business (see below) and all kinds of synchronicities are popping up to support it. I have been asked to moderate a panel of speakers at a public conference in September, where we can publicly launch our business among just about the perfect audience – oddly enough at the same conference I launched my last successful business at 9 years ago. I am getting into the thick of the Hanford natural resource trustee mediation that is coming up in August, and that should be a good challenge.

My love life is looking up – I finally get to have a real relationship instead of a long-distance one. I’m enjoying it so much – and yet the timing couldn’t be worse, since I am busier with work than I have been in 10 years. It’s hard to have a retired friend who wants to take you sailing when you have to stay home and work :( Still, I’m not complaining. And even this is an adventure – having both just come out of long marriages, we’re not ready to define the boundaries of our relationship. But we sure are enjoying it :) And with all the talking and thinking we’ve done about relationships over the last several years (much of which is recorded on these pages), we’re OK with keeping it fluid.

Back on the not-so-great side of the ledger, my elderly grandparents are having a really difficult time health-wise since their move into a retirement home. The place is really nice, we are all happy with it. But their health has really taken a turn for the worse and it’s not clear that they can keep living on the independent side. My mom has been over there every day trying to help with medication, finances, etc., but there may be only so much we can do before they get moved into assisted living, if they can’t take care of themselves on a daily basis. This would be a huge blow for them, but the current situation is hard on my mom, and what limited time I have I am doing my best to give her a break. The good part is they are much closer now so if we can ever get them settled in and healthy, we’ll all get to visit a lot more.

I’ve been upgrading my computer – hardware and software, 10 years of projects moved on to a new machine with a different operating system. The less said about that the better. Except that it cost me a lot of needed time, at a time when I didn’t have it to spare – yet it had to be done to do my current work. And the good side – I solved all the problems myself, even if it did take 5 days to get them all. From what I’ve been reading about Vista online – that’s not bad. And it’s the first time I’ve been able to undertake and complete a project like that without help.

Wow. Is that enough or what? This is all leading to developing some kind of philosophy of life. More on that in Part 2.

How do you decide?

When to jump? When to make some major life decision whose outcome can’t be predicted, and afterwards your whole life will be different? We only get a few chances to make these changes, when all the events in our lives line up in such a way that we’re free to choose, or allow ourselves to be. Changing careers, making a choice to be married or single or married again, moving to another country. All possible, all with unanticipated endings. Sure, we can plan – make it easier or harder on ourselves by getting some idea what we’re in for. But in the end, it’s a leap of faith.

The questions are unanswerable. If I move to Central America, how much will I really need to live on? Can I make that much online? How will it feel when all the friends I know are here and I am there? Can I really learn the language quickly and make new friends? Will some of my friends and family actually visit, or not? Will I like the climate, be fascinated by the birds, love the slower pace of life, find enough to do? Will I really be in better shape and enjoy the walks into town to buy food, or will I hate the inconvenience? Will I die of loneliness, wish I had never left – or love it? How can I possibly know these things ahead of time?

I feel stuck in a cycle of expensive mortgage requiring endless work in a high-paying job. There’s no way to live decently as a single person in the US without spending too much money. But if I leave, I can’t make as much. Will I come out ahead, or will it just even out? Just looking at it from here, it looks like it would work. But if it doesn’t – then what? Start all over back in the US? Am I feeling stuck here for no reason? Lots of people write that it’s easier than it looks – of course, those are the ones for whom it worked out.

So many of my friends are going through similar dilemmas in other areas of their lives. Not the same issues at all – but the same problem of choosing without knowing, when the consequences are so great. What seems most likely is that it will be nothing at all like we expect – maybe much better, maybe worse. Paralyzed with indecision. But at least we’re trying to make a decision – then there are all the people who simply dismiss dreams or plans like this as impossible, not applying to them in any way.

And what about those who are just content? Will I ever be content, or am I one of these people that’s impossible to please? Am I justified in hating all that the US stands for in the world and not wanting my tax dollars to support that, or is that just a convenient justification for making changes, any changes, in my life? Am I missing some big issue that if I could resolve, I wouldn’t need to make all these other changes?

I don’t know. Questions without answers.