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.


NYEMT said...

I'm sorry. Did you just say "housecleaning" and "fun" in the same sentence? I'm pretty sure that's against some law of nature, whether it's literal or figurative.


meleah rebeccah said...

Good for you, Kim. Seriously.

Carol Craley said...

Someone once said, "No matter where you are, that is where you are supposed to be at that particular point in time." I wish you could believe you can be whoever and whatever YOU want to be as much as I believe in the power of you. Love Ya.

Lin said...

I have a "Just do it" mentality when it comes to the dull and boring things that need to be done in my life. Once it's done, I can go on with the fun stuff. Makes it easier for me, I guess. I hope you figure it out for yourself. :)

Jocelyn said...

I must say this about your first two sets of bullet points: the first set is very real and human, and I identify with it; the second set is what too many people, particularly suburban housewives, declare to be their motivating life list, and I want to slap my hands onto their chests and shove them very hard for it.

In other words, I like you better when the first set of bullet points is what motivates you. After that, it becomes too "tra-la-la" and Pollyanna.

Was this maybe not what you were expecting for a reaction? Arghgh. I'm sorry, if so. Every time I come to this blog, I like you so much that I don't want you to change.

Shieldmaiden96 said...

Actually, Jocelyn, you raise a very interesting point that I think I need to consider. Is there such a thing as degree of virtue in motivation? Maybe simply being aware of motivation of any kind, and actually following through, is enough. Does it matter that one person cleans their house because gleaming order and pleasantness makes their little heart sing while another does it because they were bending over to pick something out of the closet and are pretty sure they inhaled a spider? (Not that I have ANY experience with the latter...ahem.....)

Murr Brewster said...

It's interesting. In this house, which remains relatively tidy, most of the cleaning happens because it is a response to anxiety. Not mine. Sometimes when I see a white tornado of housecleaning going on, I cringe. Because it's going to be one of those days when someone is trying to keep anxiety at bay. And irritability is not far gone.

On the other hand, my house is clean.

I usually tidy up when I'm avoiding doing something else. My writing room looks like a cyclone hit it. Four years now, since retirement, I thought I'd hang up pictures and put in a sensible desk and line up my reference books, but I've been WRITING instead. If the sucker ever does get clean, you'll know I'm blocked.

Jocelyn said...

I'm back to say I'm eager for more posts from you, as you are the rarest of sightings in the blogosphere: a talented writer who makes me think.

How's THAT for motivation? Heh.