Thursday, September 06, 2012

Tinkering with my engine

Discontent is the source of all trouble, but also of all progress, in individuals and nations.--Berthold Auerbach

     I've been thinking lately about what motivates me. Not what motivates me to make grand and sweeping life changes with eternal, praiseworthy implications, just what motivates me in the practical and ordinary sense. It is a less than impressive list.

  • Desire to avoid shame and/or humiliation
  • Discomfort that can no longer be ignored
  • Fear of "getting in trouble" 
  • Recognition that neglect of a thing has turned into a stressor

Now, obviously I'm not talking about serious major stuff like paying bills or obeying the law or child-rearing that manages not to send sociopaths into the world. I'm talking about things like housework. Cooking. Organization. Remembering to go places you are supposed to go to do things you are supposed to do. I'd love to be able to put out a list like this:

  • Concern for my fellow humans and a desire to improve their lives (before anyone argues that this is something I AM motivated by, okay, it is, but that isn't to say I always or even mostly do it willingly. If I'm going to lift up the rug instead of just sweeping around the edges there is a fair amount of internal dissent, grumbling, and selfishness at play here.)
  • Delight in organizing and executing the many small things over which I have governance
  • Enjoyment in serving others with no thought of what's in it for me, particularly at home (okay, most of the time. No one is June Cleaver all the time. If they are I'm afraid of them.)

I have come to the conclusion that any effort of improvement has to start with an honest appraisal of what has precipitated it. And I'm not saying that the less glamorous list of motivators is any less effective than the shiny bright altruistic one. What I do believe is key to making sensible improvements is a realistic admission of why, who, and what for. Is it sensible to make improvements to yourself to benefit others? Absolutely. The insanity (and, ultimately, failure) lies here:

  • Doing things to shut someone up
  • Doing things out of self loathing that has been cultivated either by yourself or others
  • Proving someone right or wrong for the simple 'In your face' experience
  • Concluding that there is only one right way because someone else says so
  • Acting on the assessment of someone whose opinion you do not value who has decided you are 'less than'. 
  • Acting against your own intuition to become someone you know you are not
  • Making a grand declaration of self-revolution complete with outrageous goals in the secret hope that the support and encouragement from others will magically hoist you on their shoulders and carry you to victory easily and without effort. (This one is most specific because it was my MO for a long time. Note that the declaration isn't the problem, the notion of  effortless surfing to victory is.)

All this to say, I am working on myself. Working on some things that bother me, both efforts that need to be increased and neglects that need to be, well, less neglected. I am recognizing that I am not always good at tackling a problem logically and breaking it down into tasks. (Oddly, I can help other people with this, I just don't do it for myself very well.) I don't entertain the idea that by such and such a time I will be and do such and such a thing; this is an ongoing exercise with no definitive terminus and there is nothing discouraging about that. I am just beginning to recognize that there are much better expenditures of my time and energy than repeatedly disappointing myself, and that a lot of joy and contentment lies in simply diminishing the amount of time I spend doing so.

I'll try to make all this mental, physical, and emotional housecleaning as fun as possible. I promise.