I Am That Girl Now

Friday, September 07, 2007

Some stuff we already knew

I mentioned Wesabe in my last post, and I may or may not have mentioned the blog that goes with it, Wheaties For Your Wallet. If I didn't, I apologize, because these are some chipper, delightful folks, and they've introduced me to a new brand of geek: the social-software creators. These people don't just use stuff like Flickr and del.icio.us, they make it, and they love it, and they think about how it works and why it works a lot. Which means that they talk about, and link to, some real brain-bustingly awesome talks on the natural behavior of groups on the internet (I knew groups operated that way, but it never occurred to me to actually think about it, you know?), and-- this being the whole point of the post-- the role of self-awareness and monitoring in staying engaged in working toward a goal.

The post in question (which was off of 43 Folders, a life-hacking site) says some things that I think we can all relate to:

...Any idea that helps you to become more self-aware can usually help you to reach a goal or affect a favorable solution. That’s pretty much the entire bag of doughnuts right there.

Self-improvement juju works not because of magic beans or the stones in your soup pot; it works because a smart “system” can become a satisfying cipher for framing a problem and making yourself think about solutions in an ordered way. Systems help you minimize certain kinds of feedback while amplifying others.

Also, when you’ve undertaken most any kind of program, there’s usually a built-in incentive to watch for change, monitor growth, and iterate small improvements (think: morning weigh-in). While I don’t doubt that some systems empirically work better than others, I suspect that success with any of them has much to do with how we each think, behave, and respond to our environment.

His basic guide to having a good operating system for self-improvment:

  • action almost always trumps inaction

  • planning is crucial; even if you don’t follow a given plan

  • things are easier to do when you understand why you’re doing them

  • your brain likes it when you make things as simple as possible

  • I read that and thought, "Dude. He has just given us a roadmap to success."

    In the post on the Wesabe blog, Marc linked that post to a number of other things:

    Cars equipped with displays that show gas mileage, when compared to cars without the mileage display, get better gas mileage. That little bit of knowledge helps the driver drive more economically. More visible energy meter displays in the home have a similar effect... people use less energy when they’re often reminded of how much energy they use. Weighing yourself daily or keep track of everything you eat, and you’ll find yourself eating less. In the same way, using a program like Quicken to track your finances might compel you to spend less, at least in areas of your life where you may be spending too much.

    Which, yeah. Where things diverge between the gas milage meter and a diet or Quicken, however, is what Marc calls "Tamagotchi Software" syndrome: you work on this thing, and you get changes and results which are cool, BUT a) to keep things moving, you have to expend an excruciating amount of work, b) after a certain amount of time (longer for the stubborn and bloody-minded), the reward is not enough to convince you that doing this excruciating amount of work is worth it, and c) if you stop doing the work, your Tamagotchi/personal finance/diet will fall over and die. He doesn't add what dieters would automatically add as d) once stopped, it's even more painful to get back on board than to start in the first place, because OH MY GOD ALL THE LOST EFFORT FROM LAST TIME.

    I'll add another geek note: anyone else play Animal Crossing on the GameCube? When we first got that game, my Hub and I played it for hours every night. We built little houses, made animal friends, planted trees, collected fruit, fished, saved money, traded codes online for new fun things at the store, and breathlessly awaited the nightly arrival of the little dog with the guitar who would sing a new song every night. There was a certain point at which the game sort of peaked, though; there was no new world to conquer, no new rewards, BUT, as we discovered, if we didn't keep working in our little Animal Crossing towns, we'd lose our stuff because it knew how long we'd been gone, and it would punish us. Grass would grow, mail would stack up, food would go back, houses would fall to ruin, animals would be mad because we hadn't been around to talk to them in forever. We felt like we were just being forced to do upkeep, in spite of the fact that our interest had flagged. This was no longer fun. And, in the era before pretty much everything game-wise was online and would eventually offer more content for download, there was nothing coming down the line except more work. We abandoned the thing.

    The main point here is that as time goes by, the higher the workload, the more likely people are to abandon the project. This can be cancelled out if the returns continue to be high (results, money, pounds lost, compliments gathered) or even increase, but if the returns for all one's hard work is to maintain the status quo, it's quite discouraging, and any bump in the road becomes a justified reason to throw up your hands and say "to hell with this, I would rather go broke/be fat/lose the game than have to spend all my time doing this shit."

    So, to review: Anything is better than nothing. Simple is better than complex.

    It's nice to know that weight-loss is not unusual in this, you know?

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    • Hi,

      I'm Jason Knight CEO of Wesabe (we were talking about your great post today). I disagree with your closing comments about people abandoning projects because of a "bump in the road." It is actually the road that causes them to abandon the goal. I first really understood this when I was talking to people interested in living with diabetes.

      People get serious about treating their disease, and then over time resent the work, stop, and decrease their life expectancy dramatically.

      Money, diet, exercise...on some levels it is all the same. At some point resisting what you really want becomes exhausting, and you succumb.

      The only thing that I have found that works is to get people to want different things: to enjoy rather than being unhappy with the road.

      Stakes are high.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:00 PM  

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