What Do Our Choices Mean?

This summer I indulged in the things that I loved to do – spend time with my family, spend time in the beautiful outdoors of Victoria, coffee with close friends and colleagues, work at a reasonable pace, start this blog, …. Now September has hit and I am trying to figure out where I can possibly fit the things that I love to do in with my responsibilities – the things I should be doing like producing more research papers, organizing course materials for teaching, organizing and supporting my family in their activities and ‘homework’, cooking healthy meals, ect.   And I know that I am not the only family member that has this issue.  My husband and daughter also feel overwhelmed and over-scheduled.   For the third day in the row, my four (and a half) year old daughter has asked me “When I can I have my Art Sale”?  (She created a number of pieces of “ART” this past weekend and wants to set up a table to ‘sell’ or ‘give away’.

I am willing to bet that you also have experienced these feelings of being overwhelmed.  Perhaps it doesn’t come up with a ‘change’ in the larger activity routine (that comes with the start of the school year).  Maybe you feel overwhelmed when major shifts in your training occurs, like when you move from pre-season to regular season play.  Have you done enough preparation for the competitive season? How are you going to keep up the physical training with the technical and tactical training that is required during this time?

From my perspective, these feelings of overwhelmness (is that a word?) has more to do with motivation than it does about time management or stress management.  Let me tell you why I think this in my usual fashion of breaking things down.

First, time is finite.  We only have 24 hours in our day.  Good health necessitates that we spend approximately 8 hours sleeping, 1 hour being physically active, and some time eating.  That leaves approximately 14 (or so) hours to fill according to how we CHOOSE.

Second, when we get to CHOOSE to DO an ACTIVITY, this is a motivation issue.

Our motivation is reflected in the content of the activity (i.e., homework versus playing with dolls), the effort put forth in carrying out the activity, and our persistence or willingness to come back to repeat the activity.  A clever psychologist by the name of Dr. Roy Baumeister suggested that humans have three basic needs:  (a) the need to feel competent, (b) the need to feel autonomous, and (c) the need to belong and connect to others.  According to Dr. Baumeister, each person has a different tolerance towards these needs and the extent that an activity fulfills these fundamental needs is reflected in a self-determined (or intrinsic) motivation.  That is, if I have comparatively a very strong need to belong and a weaker need to being competent and autonomous, then I am likely attracted to choose and pursue the activities such as “going for coffee with friends and colleagues” and  “playing with dolls” with a vigorous effort and persistence.  Other activities such as writing in solitary (which is required for me to produce more research papers) is not as attractive to me in the sense of fulfilling my strong need for belonging.  As a consequence, I am less self-determined in my motivation towards this activity.  In fact, chances are that I require some type of incentive (extrinsic reward) to complete the activity.

According to this perspective if I want to change my feelings of overscheduled and overwhelmed feelings associated with the shift in my routine to feelings of excitement and curiosity, it is necessary to align my ‘responsibility’ activities more closely to my basic human motivation needs.  For example, I could have my belonging needs met by turning the time I spend cooking healthy meals and packing lunches into a family activity.  Or I could develop a writing group with my colleagues where we spend a couple of hours of our writing hours doing it together.  In other words, I should construct a more favorable motivation environment for myself.

TAKE HOME MESSAGE:  School assignments, sport classes, and dance lessons can be just as much fun as ‘spending time with dolls’ when these activities are placed in a favorable motivation environment.  A more favorable motivation environment is that which is aligned with the individual’s tolerance towards the three basic human needs.

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