Thursday, February 19, 2009

Packaging Human Motivation

Whenever someone figures this one out, license it because it's worth a bundle!

Human motivation is not objective. It is about as predictable and controllable as the weather! Individual personalities, preferences, ground-in lifestyle habits (both conscious & unconscious), hormonal fluctuations (men, too)...all affect our daily, and at times, hourly motivation to accomplish our goals. Think about it: you start with a planned day at work - a list of accomplishable goals for the day. Invariably, one or two items get pushed off to tomorrow because they either weren't important enough to complete today or because you just didn't feel like tackling that task today...not necessarily because you didn't have time to complete it/them. It's funny how yesterday when you planned today's list, that task was more important then than now. And why? Perhaps yesterday you were motivated to have that task off your list and today you changed your mind. There was a different motivation when you came to that item today. I do it all the time: my schedule indicates several things to address or do today, and those I don't get to, I "slide" to the next day with the touch of a finger...Apple makes it so easy to procrastinate!

Now, I know that there are a thousand - OK, well maybe just hundreds - of terms to describe the phenomenon I just illustrated, but I like human motivation, or the occasional lack thereof. A friend of our family's who happens to be an accomplished orthopaedic surgeon and entrepreneur tipped me off to the problems associated with human motivation as he worked diligently to perfect a home exercise program for patients with post-op total knee replacements - not that the program wasn't perfect, but patient compliance with the program was always the variable and that which could not be predicted. Patients are being instructed on the importance of this type of program from medical professionals. They are being told that the degree of their recovery, specifically how much they can bend and straighten their knee, pain and stiffness levels and overall daily functionality, is dependent on their compliance with the program. But, everyday patients rationalize within their own little brains why they just didn't have the 10 minutes to complete their exercise this morning and/or this evening. And now they wonder why they don't have the outcome that their physician predicted and that they expected...and they probably blame their doctor. Human motivation. Personal responsibility? Connecting intention with execution. We can't predict outcomes if the subject is non-compliant. It was this specific orthopaedist who stated "If you figure out how to package human motivation, it's worth a million".

I also remember several years ago after attending a seminar on Fat Cells and Disease - I approached a friend with all of the facts I'd acquired. I told her how excited I was to communicate these facts to potential clients, friends and family, because once they knew the health-related consequences of how metabolically destructive fat cells are (in excess), they'd surely WANT to change their behavior patterns, exercise and eat right. Her response, though crushing, was an eye opener. "Knowledge does not equate to behavior change. How many nurses do you know that smoke?". She was right, but I just couldn't fathom why. And I still can't. Although, our occasional trip to Hooters for wings and beer still thrills me, and I indulge, even though I know the potential effects of the deep fried wings on the health of my arteries. I also still harbor ill-will toward people who've wronged me in the past, even though I know that type of stress is dangerous. I still don't get enough sleep, even though I know it's critical to my health. And I still occasionally avoid hard workouts, even though I know they are what will take me to next level. Why? Lack of motivation to progress or to do the things I know are right? Naaah - why would I lack motivation for those things? Why would anyone? Rather, perhaps, I lack motivation to do those things because I can.

This all remains a mystery and a highly studied topic in the realm of behavior modification. The only conclusion I can make is that we lack motivation in certain areas because we can. If the US was not democratic, but rather socialistic or totalitarian, we may be more "motivated" to do certain things, as there would be mandates and government control, not just oversight. Health has begun to be patrolled in some less democratic countries such as Japan, as the government began measuring waistlines and enforcing mandatory nutritional counseling to manage their rising obesity problem (partially created by our "western" fast food infiltration of their society). I bring this up with caution, and will be brief in ending. With the state of health in the US where people are allowed to make poor lifestyle choices related to nutrition and physical activity, and where taxpayers who make good choices in those areas end up paying higher taxes due to rising insurance, medical and pharmaceutical costs (among other things) as a result of the poor health of those who chose poorly (long sentence! whew!...and drum roll...I can't believe I'm going to say this:)...would it be so bad to have more government involvement in "motivating people" to make the right choices? Human motivation to be we have a right to choose not to be healthy?

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