05 February 2010

Extrinsic Motivation

This picture makes me so happy. I just love things rendered in incongruous sizes!

Extrinsic motivation is a new term I learned from a student paper today. It "refers to doing something as a means to an end," and thus is precisely my motivation for writing my book. What I find interesting is that intrinsic motivation, which "refers to doing something for enjoyment or interest," is my motivation for doing my teaching.

So. It's also quite interesting, from a psychological and perhaps social experimental point of view, to discover precisely how long one can continue under extrinsic motivation, and what the result is. Which is a fancy way of saying, it's quite interesting to me to see exactly how long I can continue grinding away on this book without a break, and how that affects me. I am about to enter my last week of book production, and for the past three weeks I have been doing nothing in my daylight hours but writing the book and supervising. In the course of a day I will take perhaps four hours off, including two hours to eat, and eight to sleep. Other than that, using this week as an example, here is my weekly schedule. For the purposes of this exercise, "book" means actual writing revision, which includes cutting up the manuscript and scotch taping bits of it back together to increase lucidity.

On Mondays I supervise three hours of Practical Criticism and three hours of Writing or Study Skills. Then there's roughly forty minutes of cycling (exercise, so good for endorphin levels), and about an hour of essay marking. So: 7 hours supervision time (including marking), plus roughly 3 hours book. Tuesdays: three hours Prac Crit plus 1.5 hours 1688-1847, plus 1 hour Writing or Study Skills, and forty minutes cycling. So: 5.5 supervision plus about 2 hours book (I'm more tired on Tuesday, because it's preceded by Monday). Wednesday is all book (about 5 hours). Thursday is my champion book day, because on Wednesdays I have therapy, but on Thursdays I have a whole uninterrupted day, so let's say 6 hours book, plus 2 to 3 hours reading student undergrad dissertations in the evening. Then Fridays I have somewhere between 2 and 3 hours of dissertation supervisions, plus about 6 hours of book. Saturday I do miscellaneous book work (let's say 3 hours), but I also have tango class and dinner, which is a nice break of, say, four hours. Sunday I do book (let's say another three hours), plus about an hour's marking. Somewhere in there I also go to the gym for half an hour and give myself a barre (let's say 1 hour. Raises the endorphin levels).

I disregard the supervision hours, because I love them. The reading, though, I dislike and thus consider work. With these parameters in mind (how hard sciences am I!), I thus conclude that I perform 5 hours of work for Cambridge per week, plus 28 hours of book (plus 14.5 hours of fun supervising). But there is about seven hours of purely social time in there.

This has been my schedule, as I said, for three weeks. As the subject of this study, how would I say I feel? I would say I feel like a large stone is pressing on me. I do not feel this physically, but this is precisely how my spirit feels. I would also say that I feel weary, not in the sense of tired but in the sense of simply feeling that all of life is rather wearying: nothing much is interesting, and if it is interesting it isn't interesting for very long. I'm no fool; I know I'm suffering from anxiety and a mild form of depression. Actually, as the researcher conducting this study I'd say that from someone who works 47.5 hours a week, working every day, and who for the four months before that worked about 40 hours a week, working every day, and whose work has been accompanied by various employment concerns, a bit of mild depression is par for the course (although now that I've added it up, I see that's really not very much work time. My uncle Thelawyerwhobelievesallacademicshaveiteasy would be proven right here).

What's interesting, though, is that you would think that such schedule, if experienced consistently, would finally break you: like, I'd run amok through the halls of my college. But that's not what's happened. In fact, I've just gone on every week, gruelled but managing. I doubt this is a revelation in social science, since it just proves "people adapt," which is hardly hot news.

Equally interesting, though, you'd expect such a feeling would be uniform. That is, if you feel wearied and endless, you wouldn't think you would feel much variation in your level of weariness or endless, or could feel much more on top of that: people adapt. But you'd be wrong! Because today I woke up with a nice feeling of low-level panic, and this evening I wanted to cry essentially all evening. Also, my friend D. was being mildly irritating all through coffee, and rather than managing it I wanted to smack him. (side note: what is with me and the wanting to cry? This has not usually been my response to a heavy workload or stress in my life, but for the past 2.5 years...). I have no doubt that all this is because the project is drawing to its end. In one more week I'll have to hand it in, and of course that induces the panicked fear that it won't be ready, that it will drag on further...

I wonder, though, if part of what's making me so panicky and sorrowful now is the sense (knowledge?) that nothing will really change after I hand in. I won't go to the Seychelles for a holiday, and although I'm considering checking into a hotel for a night to sleep in a different bed and watch TV on a proper screen, when I check into that hotel it'll be on my own, so I'll effectively be doing something I've done many times before. Or I could go out to dinner with friends, but I can go out to dinner with friends pretty much any time I want.

O. would say that this is all a matter of attitude: if I chose to view this dinner with friends as a celebration of handing in my book, it would be different from all other such dinners. And she'd be right! But I'm not sure that, after working 28 hours a week on my book, I have the energy to change my attitude.

So I have decided to change not my attitude about dinners, etc., but my attitude about life after I finish. There is a 50% chance that my life will take a turn upward after I finish, so I've decided to assume 50% of the time that that will happen (let's face it: I can't manage 100% of the time). And I've also decided that after I finish I will, for the first time in about ten years, take a genuine intellectual holiday. I'll supervise, of course, but I'm not going to work on any other articles or do anything to do with academic publication for at least two months, and maybe four. Gad, sir, I will be happy!

This summer when I was visiting my parents I spent an evening with Jennifer. We were driving around in the car, and the talk turned to the book (not yet then The Book), which was at that time expected to come out in February. We were agreeing that it was exciting, and a big step, and I said to her, "I'm still sad, though, that I won't have a partner to share this life step with." And Jennifer said, "Emily...by February you could have a partner." "Yes," I said thoughtfully and seriously, "or I could get a boyfriend, share the experience with him, and then have him dump me anyway." Jennifer laughed and laughed, and I see now that what she was laughing over was the total predictability of our responses: she comforting me by being optimistic and hopeful for me, and me not just comforting me by pointing out to myself that my wish was as likely to go wrong as cause happiness, but foreseeing a way in which even the happy outcome could go wrong.

Well well well. At some point it has to go better than wrong, now doesn't it?

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