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Internal Motivation & the Inconvenience of Undoing

June 3, 2018

Author: Bianca Yang
Email: ipacifics@gmail.com

Today, I was thinking about how to create a better “waking up” experience. I’ve recently been having an extremely difficult time motivating myself to stay out of bed, let alone get out of bed. I think part of my reluctance comes with the mental exhaustion that accompanies the end of term. I had much fewer problems getting out of bed for 9 am classes a few weeks ago. Another part of my reluctance must have to do with my poor sleep habits. One problem I can easily identify is my tendency to go to sleep late. The tiredness that comes with lack of sleep certainly draws me back into the bed and under the covers for “just another five minutes”. Another problem is that I don’t have a good routine to get me going in the morning. What do I do first upon waking? Drink water? Use the bathroom? Then what? I’ve got to find that routine which will prevent me from wasting most of my morning idly browsing the Internet.

One tool which seems to have helped many people with their early morning lethargy is a “dawn simulator”. I think a tool like this would be exceedingly helpful, especially since my sleep schedule is not so aligned with the sun that I can just leave the blinds open. An embellishment that I think would be useful is a speaker system. As the fake dawn starts filling the room, sounds of nature (birds chirping, water running in a stream, wind through the leaves) should also start playing. Some aromatherpy or smells would also be nice. Coffee is a trigger for many. Bacon may be another trigger. All of these sensations combine to give your body a reason to get up. By the time the dawn simulator + sounds + smells reach their peak intensity, you will want to be up and out of bed. That’s exactly the mental state I want to induce.

The key to causing such a change is to realize that you are eventually going to have to make a conscious choice to stick with the change. You must be internally motivated to create a different life. You have to get started on this path somehow, so it’s best to begin the change by just forcing yourself to make the change. If you build discipline and routinely make the change, you will give yourself more chances to be internally motivated to live with that change than if you weren’t disciplined. If you stick with the discipline, you will probably come to realize that you can’t live without the change and will then be interally motivated to continue living that way. Then comes the inconvenience of undoing. When the change is internally motivated and morphs into a habit, it is more inconvenient to undo the change than it is to maintain it.

I want to change topics and bring up the original context in which I thought about the inconvenience of undoing. I was thinking about my difficulty waking up and wanted to install speakers by my bedside that would play stimulating music and help my body be motivated to move. It seems that the optimal way to build this setup would be to embed the speakers in the walls next to my bed. Of course, this setup comes with major inconvenience of undoing. If I decide to move my bed to a new position or repurpose the room, then I will probably need to reinstall the speakers. At this point, I could undo my decision and tear down the drywall to move the speakers or I could just give up on this idea and set up portable speakers on my bedside table. Regardless, it is a hassle to undo my original decision.

Another situation in which inconvenience of undoing comes up is in home automation. Let’s say you have set up your shades to raise or lower themselves halfway when you clap your hands. It is a hassle to have to get up to manually change the height of the shades if you want them only a quarter of the way down. Another situation of inconvenience could be if you set up your smart locks to lock the house whenever you close the front door. What if you just ran outside to lock the car door and forgot your home keys? Now you’re locked outside of your house. What if you also forgot your phone inside the house so you can’t access that handy dandy app which controls the smart locks? Not so smart after all, huh?

We just need one of those instances to occur for us to throw our hands up and give up smart home technology. The hassle of undoing the automation so we can do things manually is so frustrating and likely will occur too many times again in the future for us to want to stick with the tool. But, there are many times when automation doesn’t really get in the way. For example, consider the automatic brightness feature on your smartphone. When was the last time you really put thought into the brightness of your phone? I don’t have statistics, but my thought is that most people haven’t really thought seriously about it, let along thought about it, in a long, long time. Or, what about smart thermostats that adjust your home AC temperature to be closer to the outside temperature? You probably wouldn’t think much about that, except when you realize that your electricity bill has gone down this month. Or what about the smart shower that keeps the water temperature exactly where you like it, so you can jump right into the water? You probably don’t think much about it, except when you want to express gratitude for the geniuses who came up with such a smart device. These are the cases where the inconvenience of living the standard, analog life is tedious and there is little inconvenience of undoing. You don’t like the brightness? Well, it’s just a quick swipe to change it. Room too cold or hot? Just a quick tap on your smart thermostat to change that. Water too cool? Again, just a quick tap on your smart shower to change that. And you know that the systems will learn or that the minor inconvenience you experienced this time is not worth jumping out of your pants for.

I want to make some smart comment about automation and routines, but I don’t really have cohesive thoughts about this space yet. Some routines, like dieting and exercise, really could be enforced with smart devices. For example, you could have your food dispensed through a smart fridge or pantry that keeps track of nutritional content of your food. If you eat more than your calorie count, either you can’t get more food or your fridge will tell your watch to bug you until you jump on that treadmill. If you haven’t hit your macronutrient goals for the day, the pantry will only feed you foods that help you hit that goal. If you haven’t hit your exercise goal, your smart bedroom won’t let you go to sleep (unless you’re sleep deprived, of course). These kinds of routines are painful to enforce, with or without smart devices, which is perhaps why automation in this area has gotten less attention than things like smart thermostats (or I’m just behind on the times). There’s a lot of potential for automation, but we’re just on the cusp of understanding human routines and the potential for human- smart device interactions. I look forward to the next generation of smart home and smart assistant devices that come out. There’s so much we have to learn and about psychology and the degree to which we can hand off our cognitive loads to automatic devices. It’s such an exciting time to be alive.