Consequences and Motivation

Being satisfied with good outcomes is a bad way of keeping oneself motivated. Satisfaction is a reward, it feels good, it is the very meaning of the word. Good outcomes feel good, otherwise I could not use the word good to describe them. So why should you not feel good about a good outcome?

Lets look at concrete examples and see if we can derive a general truth.

Fitness and health

This is an endeavor in which there are a lot of people which are very dissatisfied. I think this because of the sheer bulk of advertisements for gyms, diets, equipment, and supplements.

A good outcome in fitness and health is something like getting the body you want, lifting the amount of weight you want, or having the clear skin you want. These vary in difficulty, but those fitness and health goals that are especially valued by our culture are those which are hard, part of why we value them is because they are hard and not many people can acheive them.

Think about those advertisements and their content, the message they broadcast. These products are easy to use, work quickly, and “you will see results.” A gym equipment infomercial, in my experience, does not say that its product requires commitment, hard work, and will lead to countless failures.

And yet that is exactly what it is.

If you want to achieve a difficult goal in fitness and health, I find it likely that you should seperate your satisfaction from outcomes. You should not be satisfied when you look in the mirror and see the traits you want to have, you should attach satisfaction to the types of activities which give rise to having the traits you want.

If you find the process of becoming healthier and more fit rewarding, the intuitive psychological conclusion I draw is that you are then more likely to engage in the process more often, and thus, get the conclusion you want.

That’s right. In order to get something you want, you must first stop yourself from wanting it for the sake of getting it.

Productivity and programming

One of the many reasons I came to like computer programming is for the reward circuit. The first program you write is mysterious and you do not really understand what is at play, but your teacher guides you, you hit run, and sure enough, on the screen you see the words

Hello World!

And you think, I did that. And you find other things to do, more complicated, and by extension, more rewarding. But it takes more time to do, and more mental power, and you make more mistakes. There are an increasing number of times that you do not get that satisfaction like that first program, when you hit run and you get catastrophic failure and you do not know WHY.

So you hack away, running through every instruction set of your large, complicated program, and you see some errors and you fix them. You have less and less errors being printed out, and you are hunting down bugs when all of sudden you hit run and

Hello World!

It works. Your brain’s reward centers light up. You feel very satisfied.

I think this is young man’s style of programming. It is one of which encourages hacking together a set of instructions to see if it works, and then hitting run to get your fix.

The more desirable alternative is that you come to be satisfied with the process of programming. The really interesting problems are solved and understanding computer science happens by attaching your satisfaction to planning in advance your program’s structure, to reading about new concepts, and to coding every day.

The problems worth solving are likely not done in 24 hours binges, but instead, in consistently applying and honing your skillset. It is not that it is impossible, people do amazing work at hackathons all the time.

But being able to do amazing work at a hackathon comes from the process. The laudible outcomes in computer programming do not come from a series of binges, but in the process of programming, of taking your classes seriously, of learning something every day, of writing something every day.

What does this mean?

Self-improvement is not an outcome. There are outcomes that are in self-improvement, but self-improvement is a process. To be satisfied with an outcome in self-improvement is to separate the reward from the activity which gives rise to the outcome.

Those activities that are hard and worthwhile are going to make you fail. To be satified with outcomes is going to lead to a frustrating existence and make you more likely to give up. Love the process and find satisfaction in it, and you will be able to steadfastly endure failure after failure, which is the only way to meaningful success.