During lunch today, I had a conversation with my mother about the lives of my younger brothers.  She mentioned to me that my brother, who is taking an SAT class, found the practice test he took to be extremely boring.  I replied that I was sorry for my brother and that I felt very privileged not to find standardized tests boring.  I went on to express my sorrow that I do not know how to inculcate in others the sublime joy I take in solving particularly interesting problems.  Much later, I decided to spend an hour exercising, something that I very rarely do.  It wasn't until about 45 minutes in that I realized the proper implication of what I had said to my mother - I have the natural advantage in test taking, but my brother has the natural advantage in exercise.  The obvious solution was to find a way to find a similar sense of sublime joy in exercise, and make myself remember that I can find it in exercise.  I played around with a few things I could do while on the treadmill, and found that rolling my head while walking felt awesome.  I'm definitely going to do more of that in the future.  It took me far too long to realize it, but when ever you wish you could help someone in some way, ask yourself if you could benefit from the same sort of thing.

New Comment
18 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:19 AM

It might be beneficial for people to articulate what it is about the things they like to do that makes them like it. Perhaps one person's motivation can spark something similar in others.

I enjoy cooking, and the act of taking ingredients and turning them into food is pleasurable, especially when I cook for others. It seems almost magical even though I know exactly how it's done, possibly even because I know. My motivations are the anticipation of the taste of the food at the end, and when cooking for others the feedback I get on my cooking.

Edit - please disregard this post

It might be beneficial for people to articulate what it is about the things they like to do that makes them like it. Perhaps one person's motivation can spark something similar in others.

This strikes me as quite likely - analogous to how the best criticism can successfully explain a work of art, turning noise into music.

I've done my best to like exercise before, but never got into the gym. I'd only get by with not having a car and so walking places, but that's not great exercise.

Recently I've been doing indoor climbing, and it's a lot of fun! I'm much more motivated to stay fit, because I want to get better at it. When I consider eating something that's very energy dense, I try to imagine carrying it with me when I'm trying to get up that wall I've been struggling with.

A friend had a similar experience with soccer, and another with tennis. I think it's not surprising that most people have trouble getting enthusiastic about moving your body purposelessly.

agreed. I recommend people go hiking, biking, rock climbing, play a game of some sort etc. you get the much much greater motivation of social interaction (finding or forming groups to do activities like this isn't very hard) and the negative reinforcement of letting others down if you don't show up.

I recently stumbled on a form of exercise I enjoy a lot: rock climbing. Rock climbing feels a lot like solving math problems, you have to figure out a set of moves that work well for a particular route. Because routes have different difficulty levels, its easy to find a problem at your skill level.

I concur. Rock climbing for me is physical problem solving.

I have this problem for being motivated at day jobs. Rationality and de-compatmentalization actually make it worse, not better.

I've yet to find anybody whose personal answer to "why work any harder than the minimum to avoid getting fired?" (industry: embedded programming) works for me:

  • Hoping for raises or promotions: Those are so nebulous, and dependent on external factors, the expected ROI is small or nonexistent.
  • Pride in product: Experience has taught me that taking pride in quality work will put you at odds with your employer quite often; usually they just want something that, if you squint a bit and don't exercise it very hard, can sort-of be called "shippable".
  • Growing skillz: Seems better done on one's own time.
  • Paychecks: Great for that minimal level of motivation.

Or maybe I just hate The Man more than most and am being motivatedly skeptical.

Full disclosure: I misjudged this minimum and got canned a couple months ago.

Growing skillz: Seems better done on one's own time.

If your job allows you to grow skillz, and you are not doing so, and you are not doing anything else with your time beyond relaxing a bit, I think you're wasting time, which is a limited resource.

(Not all jobs allow you to grow skills, and some may allow you to accomplish things you care about while getting the minimum done, so this isn't always applicable.)


This is also a good argument for finding a job that does let you grow skillz. If you have a full-time job, you spend a lot of your time working, much more than you're likely to spend growing skillz "on your own time". Since you generally get better at what you practice, you may as well find a job that involves practicing skills you want to improve.

Good point, thanks.

Yeah; your "full disclosure" gets at what my answer would be... one reason to target more than the absolute minimum to avoid failure is to give myself a margin for error.

Yeah rationality has helped me realize just how foolish my workplace is.(how irrational it is, actually)

For me, motivation came from doing a cost-benefit analysis on what I do at work.

Firstly, I love most of my colleagues, so I don't want to let them down, so any work associated with them must meet or exceed their expectations and not harm them.

Secondly, I do what I commit to do, so integrity motivates me. That being said, doing extra tends to be wasted on those I do it for. So I don't. it's like 'bare minimum' but in the sense that I do the bare minimum, very well, because thats what I said I'd do. Extra mile stuff doesn't bring enough benefit to anyone to be worth doing.

So instead, when I find myself with more time on my hands than I know what to do with, i re-invest it in myself. Growing skills, namely in Office programs, email etc, because that also serves the company in that it improves my utility. Better than if I drew up a report that no one would read.

That analysis is updated as the nature of my job changes. Currently it remains there, although that is likely to change, as people have noticed my skillset improving, and the quality of the work that I do to meet expectations is of high quality.

anyway, just my two cents, if anyone finds that useful.

Excellent, thanks!

What does "rolling my head while walking" mean?

Imagine trying to trace the largest circle possible with the top of your head. I think.

Such a thing would disrupt your inner ear balance, and since your body knows it has to maintain the dextrous feat of not falling off the treadmill, this sends a variety of 'falling off a cliff' or 'tripping on a stairwell' surge of attention.

I agree completely. Exercise is not something that I enjoy intrinsically. It often comes down to sheer willpower to delay slowing down on the treadmill or finish the last set of reps, and willpower is sometimes lacking, even though I can rationally foresee the benefits of having a ripped, jacked body. Yes, endorphins are supposed to kick in and provide a positive feedback loop, but apparently not one strong enough to make me feel happy about going to the gym. I would be very interested in being able to make all of this less miserable.

Try out different kinds of exercise! Soccer, rock climbing, weight lifting, swimming?