Wednesday, July 20, 2011

change, motivation, faith, feedback, and contrast

I read an article (okay, part of an article) in Wired magazine about using feedback loops for motivation. They start with an illustrative story about a California town that had a speeding problem. So they installed those "YOUR SPEED" signs (the kind that reflects your speed back to you and blinks if you're speeding). And the problem pretty much stopped. Which is strange, because the signs weren't giving any new information (a driver can look at their speedometer to see how fast they're going), and they didn't have any "punitive follow-up" - nobody was going to punish you if you made it blink. It's just straight-up feedback. (The article doesn't address the idea of shame, or fear of the judgment of those around you who might also see your speed on the sign, which might be a problem.)

I've been chewing on this thought, and I realized that may be one reason why my postnatal weight loss efforts were so much more effective the first time than the second; the first time, I weighed myself on the Wii Fit every day, and it fed a nice graph of my daily progress back to me. So when I did poorly, I had something more than just my own mental nags to tell me so, and when I did well I had something concrete to feel good about. I could see patterns and change my behavior accordingly. This time around, though, I've been weighing myself sporadically. And I think that, until recently, it's taken a toll on my motivation. I'm actually doing really well on exercising right now - doing at least 40 minutes every day, often more, with a good balance of cardio and strength training. But now there's a whole mess of motivations involved, including vanity, mental health, and trying to exhaust myself enough every day to fight off the insomnia that's been plaguing me for the past ten months.

What I crave is contrast. If I'm a run-down old shack today, I want to be a dazzling mansion tomorrow. Or at least by the end of the weekend. Isn't that the charm of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition? Or any makeover show? Before and after pictures? The big change, the contrast: it's thrilling. It's motivating. If I knew I could become a super svelte athlete tomorrow by putting in one day's torturously hard work, I'd totally do it.  Or an accomplished illustrator, a perfect mom, a whatever. Or a spiritual giant. If I could have one Alma the Younger moment, or Saul on the Road to Damascus...if I could have one life-changing, enlightening, soul-bending moment of contrast and clarity...

But, of course, life doesn't work like that for the ninety and nine percent of us.

But in a way, that's kind of what a feedback system is. It's showing you the little contrasts. If I can make that small change, I can make the next one. There are reality shows that play on this, too - The Biggest Loser. That show is based on slow progress, though there's a series of miniature "big reveals" throughout to give you your contrast fix.

This is exactly what we're taught about faith, isn't it? Everything comes line by line and precept by precept. I've found that it works in reverse, too - regression, like progress, happens slowly, so gradually you don't notice it. Remember Esiotrot? That Roald Dahl story where the protagonist replaces his neighbor's tortoise with a slightly bigger one once a week, so she doesn't even notice that the tortoise is "growing" until she weighs him months later? Anyway, while I believe that daily scripture study and prayer will help me to get the spirit I want, and I believe that daily exercise and moderate eating habits will help me to get the body I want, I sometimes have trouble with the faith that it takes to do these repetitive, lackluster tasks. Is that a way I can define those words? Sure.

One thing I love about the Church is that we sit down and talk about things. I realized I don't get as much of that now that I'm not in school any more. But I do go to three hours of church meetings every Sunday, plus calling meetings and daily personal study and daily family study and weekly Family Home Evening and monthly activities and sometimes more. And it's repetitive. But I think I'd be lost without it. My two-year-old learns on the fly that it's not okay to hit other people; he learns by my reaction and the sudden, harsh consequence of a time-out. Then the next week, he learns in FHE when we sit down and teach him, "It's not okay to hit people." And then I hear him reflecting back to me the things that we sat and talked about weeks ago, and I'm shocked.

I think what I'm trying to say is this: I wish it was more sparkly, but repetition and gradual change is growing on me.

6 reason(s) to click here:

ashley. said...

"What I crave is contrast. If I'm a run-down old shack today, I want to be a dazzling mansion tomorrow."

really rang true to me. i like your brain.

Megan said...

You really nailed it. I feel the same way so often, and this gave me some hope! Now I want to look for ways I can incorporate more feedback, and stop trying to have black-and-white contrast all the time.

Megan said...

Oh, and I love your blog design!

Uffish Thought said...

I feel like I harp on this a lot, but it's been one of my big discoveries. I do much better with the spiritual stuff when I keep a journal. It gives contrast to my incremental growth, when I sit down and can connect my good scripture study with my composure, and my stress with my inability to make time for what's really important. And then when I look back a month or a year or several, I see how much I've grown, and it makes it all feel worth it.

Anyway, that's my plug. But I think keeping some kind of a record allows you to feel contrasty about the necessary stuff that generally is so bland-seeming.

Sarah said...

Nice. Well put. Thank you.

Keri said...

It sounds like you're doing better than I am at getting rid of baby weight.

Also, I'm so jealous that my sister got to see you! Wish we could hang out.