On motivation

I’ve just started going to the gym again – after a break of more than a year. The reasons why I stopped were numerous, a combination of demands on time, travel and illness meant I was away from it for several months, then my membership lapsed, at a time when cash flow was a bit tight. But then I got over the illness, had more money, wasn’t travelling anywhere, so the only reason for not going was laziness. I’d keep on thinking I should go out and start again, but it was easier to do nothing, so I didn’t.

The thing is … it’s always easier to do nothing, the trick is, how do you persuade yourself to do the things that aren’t easiest? The motivation is there for me. Anyone who saw the #jiscexperts14 photos on twitter this week will see I’ve put on weight. One of my jobs is at Loughborough, which is a campus designed with sports science students in mind, so moving from building to building always meant me being out of breath. So increasing the motivation isn’t the answer. It’s maxed out already. I think the mistake made with encouraging change isn’t to find reasons to motivate, the solution is to find ways to reduce the factors that prevent action. The advice often given me was “find something you love doing and do that”. Well that didn’t work. There isn’t anything. Exercise is a painful, boring, uncomfortable experience.

So figuring out how to get myself to actually start doing exercise again, and reflecting what actually worked, I think has some useful lessons in general in how to get something done. So here are a few tips:

1) Exploit your weaknesses more than your strengths.
I’ve switched the time I go from the evenings, to the mornings. One of the advantages of working at home is that mostly I have the freedom to plan my days as I like. Beforehand my schedule was to start work about 9 or 10, then go to the gym about 7 pm. The thing is … I am not a morning person. I find the transition from sleep to awake a really difficult one, to the extent that people rarely expect me to form a sentence before about 11 am. Pushing myself to start work before my brain was up to the challenge was actually counterproductive. Also, I am a procrastinator, once I start I focus and keep going, but it can take me an hour or so of looking at what I have to do, getting up, making a cup of tea, sitting down again, reading news reports, before I start work. I cannot work on a laptop unless Facebook is blocked on it. Planning on going in the evening was therefore a huge disincentive, because going to the gym then puts off the time I can start relaxing. Going first thing in the morning puts off the time I start working. Which is far more appealing. I start later (so my brain is working) and once working I can keep it up until I’ve finished whatever I’ve started, and whether that’s 8 or 9 or 10 pm doesn’t matter, since I’ve already been to the gym. This also means the membership is cheaper. So … bonus.

2) Optimise your environment.
Gyms are awful, depressing places. They’re work, not fun. There’s no way round that. However, they’re made worse by the terrible music played there. So I make sure I’ve got plenty of music loaded on my phone to listen to. It’s surprised me how much easier it is to be in the place if I’m listening to .. say Frankenstein Drag Queens from Planet 13 rather than Lily Allen. Plus my discovery this morning is that the track “Shouldn’t do that” is about the perfect one for the treadmill.

3) Have a system.
It’s very easy to go easy on yourself if you’re making it up as you go along. Thinking at any point, “what shall I do next?” can always be a prompt to the answer “Go home”. But with a set sequence of activities, treadmill, this bit of equipment, that bit, then that, in a certain order, there’s never any point at which you exercise exercise choices. I mean, apply choices about what exercise to do.

4) Build in slacking off into the system.
Having said that, doing the same thing every day or every other day is dull. Plus there’s nothing more motivating then feeling you’ve got away with not doing something. My problem is that if it’s up to me, I’d always get away with not doing something. Yryo Engestrom was a visiting professor at Warwick while I was a student there, and I attended a few of his seminars. In one of these he talked about handing over the decision to an external factor. So instead of saying “we’ve waited long enough, and going” if someone’s not showing, people tend to say “we’ll wait until 20 to, then go” – the clock then makes the decision. So, if someone’s on the equipment that’s next on my schedule, I’ll skip it. It’s a guilt-free way of slacking, but I’ve found really reduces the displeasure of going every day, because, randomly, sometimes the sessions are shorter. But I’m then not tempted to cut it short myself, which would just be the thin end of the wedge. I have found myself doing reps twice as quickly because the next bit of equipment is occupied and if I get to the end of the current one before the next one becomes empty I won’t have to do it, but it’s good to push yourself sometimes.

5) Have simple feedback.
It’s obvious the extent to which feedback is motivating. You get a bit better, it encourages you to do more. But I started off making this way too complex. 75kg weights on this bit, 25 on this, 30 on that. I needed a spreadsheet to keep track of where I’m at. Simpler is to just have one figure and calculate the rest as fractions of that. So at the moment it’s 70kg on the leg push, half that for some equipment, a third for others. Hopefully as I get better that’ll go up. It’s limited by the one I’m worst at, but I’ve been able to ditch the spreadsheet and I just have one number to keep in my head each week, and at some point, surpass.

6) Have appropriate rewards.
I’d sometimes reward myself with a takeaway for having gone to the gym, which is really counterproductive because that would just mean the weight would go back on. Now it’s music, I reward myself with some more stuff downloaded or another CD, so I always have something different to listen to if I want it.

7) Know your limits.
I keep track of my heart rate throughout, at 51 years and 83kg I’m supposed to get my heart rate to 135 bbm. If it goes above 145 I stop. I’ve noticed above 10 bbm over I can actually feel really sick – so I make sure I’m never really that bad afterwards. There’s no way I’d keep going back if I felt that bad after every workout.

8) Push yourself, but only occasionally.
Increasing the amount I’m moving feels like I’ve accomplished something, but really, if I felt I had to accomplish something all the time, I’d soon feel under too much pressure, and that’s going to get me to quit pretty quickly.

9) Look for signs it’s having a beneficial effect
I can’t really say there are many of these. Losing weight is good (about a kilo a week so far). The only positive mental effect is that, whereas before going to the gym when I’d feel stiff and ache while moving around it was evident that this was purely because I’m in my fifties, now I can tell myself I feel like that because I’ve been to the gym. When I move and there’s pain I think “hah workout” rather than “agh I’m so old”. It’s probably a lie, but it’s one I can (almost) believe when I tell myself it.

How does this apply to education?
The key with all of these is to make sure I never end up hating it too much to go back, which is partly what happened last time. I think this is the central message. Unfortunately, the people who encourage others to take exercise are people who like it. These are the worst people to be encouraging others. You hear things like, “once you’re into it, you won’t be able to get enough”. This is a lie. Before I lapsed I went to the gym regularly for about five years. I hated it as much in year 5 as I did in year 1. It is always an unpleasant awful, soul-numbing experience. It can never be good. I resent my cardiovascular system for requiring me to do it. The trick is to reduce how depressing it is.

And out there, there are plenty of people who resent having to be educated. It’s soul-destroying for them. They haven’t found anything that switches them onto it. I’ve worked with NEETs on previous projects and have struggled to find ways to connect to them. Thinking about exercise, and how much I loathe that, but that I’m doing it, has started me rethinking how to address those who don’t like education. Perhaps people like me, who love being educated, aren’t carrying the right message to get through to them, because we assume at some point they’ll love it too. Maybe we shouldn’t be looking at making education more appealing for those who don’t like it, we should be looking at ways to get students through how depressing they find it.

Acts of conscience

This possibly isn’t the right place to post this, as it’s mainly a work blog, but then, most of my clients ask for a statement on my commitment to equality and diversity, so the general consensus is that the two are intertwined. And this seems like the best place to vent.

What has me riled is this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-28206581 the “gay cake row”. OK discrimination is bad enough, but what has tipped me over the edge is the description of the bakery’s actions as an “act of conscience” as if somehow they are being punished for holding themselves to a higher moral standard than everyone else, rather than a lower one. Besides it really quite demeans the people who do act out of genuine acts of conscience.

No. That is not what conscience is. Conscience is refusing to do something (or setting out to do something) because it has a demonstrable and provable harmful impact on someone else (or, you know, the converse). And it usually demands some sacrifice on your own part. Without that evidential base what you are doing is actually blind prejudice.

The mistake they are making (and 30 mins giving a quick read round of anything on moral philosophy would have told them) is that purely using their faith as a guideline to their interactions with others is not on. People have a right to their beliefs, even to express them, and the world is a better place with people who have a range of worldviews and opinions, but those should only influence behaviour that has an impact on yourself. When you interact with others, the basis for that behaviour has to be something credible, i.e. evidence-based. And sorry to be the one to inform you of this if you weren’t aware of it, but religion doesn’t cut it. That’s pretty much the definition of faith – it’s evidence-free. So, if you want to campaign against gay marriage, go ahead, but first you need to do the research that actually indicates it’s harmful. Without that you can despise it all you like, but as a responsible adult in a rational world, you have to learn to STFU about it.

“The law is really clear. You cannot pick and choose which sides of the law apply to you.” one commentator has said. True enough. If you think the law is unjust, prove it. Then be prepared to suffer for opposing it. Don’t expect others to suffer on your behalf. That’s what acting from conscience demands. Which is another reason to be really sure you’ve picked the right side. Morality is like maths. You have to show your workings out. Otherwise you get no marks.

Media and AMORES

Elsewhere on this site you can read more about the AMORES project – it’s an EU project about encouraging a love of literature in students through content creation. I’ve not really worked with learner-generated content before, but after putting together a literature review on the pedagogy of it, have become really excited about the potential (I know – that’s entirely nerdy of me, becoming excited because of the theory rather than by actually seeing some examples of people actually doing stuff). Creation sits at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy, the higher order learning skills it encourages build on and therefore incorporate all the others (I’m talking about the revised taxonomy now – the original one seems horribly dated to me – I like this: http://www.techlearning.com/showArticle.php?articleID=196605124) Seeing the videos the children are creating to introduce their schools is also a lot of fun. I’m feeling the urge to join in, although compared to the pool tables, gyms, saunas, concert halls etc. in their videos I’m not sure what I could show them. “This is the sofa-bed I work on – it’s in bed mode at the moment to provide enough room for me and all my notes to lie on. These are my cats. You will hear them if you ever do a phoneconference with me because they take it on themselves to purr down the receiver. Here is my coffee machine. This is the closest thing I have to a deity in my life.” Not quite so enthralling.

From a media point of view this post http://bblat.se/nyheter/koping/1.2496576-amores-ska-oka-elevers-lust-att-lasa shows how effective getting local media interested in your project can be – it’s a great photo, and also some excellent quotes from the teachers involved (thank you Chrome translate). Hopefully the other four schools involved in the project can do a similar thing and I can post those here too. I suppose I could go through Coventry Uni (my employer on the project) and do something similar, but I don’t think a photo of me on the sofa-bed would carry the same weight somehow.

First sight

This weekend’s Daily Post is called “First Sight” (Whether a person, a pet, an object, or a place, write about something or someone you connected with from the very first second) http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/first-sight/
I have two cats – one is a Russian Blue called Sina, the other an Egyptian Mau called Pasht. I’d had pets before, but not really deliberately gone out and chosen one. We had a family pet for a while when I was young, a dog when I lived in Seychelles who adopted me (she was a stray who lived around the block of flats I lived in and after I fed her she moved in, bringing her puppies with her), and a cat that I inherited when my friend emigrated to New Zealand. Meeting Sina was the first time I’d actually gone out and sought a pet. The idea of getting a cat was my ex’s. We’d split up and she’d known how much I’d loved my cat Gizmo (even though she died a few within a year of me owning her). I think she thought if I got a cat as a companion I’d be less inclined to relapse into needing her as a companion again. I went through lists of cat breeds and decided that Russian Blue was the one for me, found some breeders in the GCCF website and checked which ones near me had a litter due in the next few months.

I was the first of the people who’d booked a cat to go round there. Some people had been further up the waiting list than me, and had already said what sexes and how many they wanted, but they hadn’t chosen specific cats. I wanted to pick one out. Arriving there I thought maybe I was being overly anthropomorphosising – surely as long as it was a cat of a particular breed it wouldn’t matter.

I turned up at the house where the breeder had the cats and there they all were, six tiny little balls of grey fur, all identical, which just underlined how ridiculous I was being. I was sitting on the floor taking notes from the breeder about caring for them, registering them and so on, when one tottered over towards me and sat on my notepad. In the most annoying, awkward, imposing way possible and looked up at me. Richard, the breeder, who did seem to be able to tell them apart told me she was the one who liked to sit and watch TV. It was an instant connection. I wanted this one.

The breeder said that only two of the three females had gone, and so I could have this one. He put a small white collar on her so he could make sure she was the one I got when they were old enough to be weaned about 6 weeks later.

That was eight years ago. Two years later I got the second cat but the bond between the two of us has always been stronger. If I go away for a while my parents look after my cats. When I come back she runs to me and stays within a few feet of me for the next few days. She falls asleep on me. If I’m not in the room when she wakes up she starts crying and if I yell her name she runs up to me. When I’m away for the weekend after about a day I miss them both, but – like now – I’m looking forward to her curling up next to me while I read a book, or watch a DVD. And she’s there, watching it too, or getting in the way by sitting on the book.sina 060222

The Only Way is Ethics Ep 2

The second issue brought up was that of online harassment and the balance that needs to be struck between censorship and freedom of speech. The causes of cyberbullying were seen as the cyberdisinhibition that comes with being online, particularly when people are anonymous. However, there is still some bewilderment at the mentality of people who do harass others online, and there was seen to be a need to understand more the reasons why people do it. Steve raised the phenomena of harshtagging and tweckling, that there is a kind of feeding frenzy that occurs when people begin to criticise others and we recounted occasions where we had seen this take place in conferences, where because everyone sees a criticism, there are sufficient numbers in the room who agree that join in and others outside the room also then become involved. Previous experiences of cyberbullying are another reason why some students may be reticent to participate, and this can expose them to renewed harassment or cyberstalking. Confronting the behaviour can be counterproductive – feeding the trolls – but sometimes there can be a desire to address it. There are pros and cons to both. The problem of harassment can be constrained by removing anonymity, but then this runs counter to the needs of pseudonymity stated in the previous post. These two conflicting needs driving the nymwars we’ve seen in many social media.

3. Intellectual Property. The third ethical issue discussed was that of IP of content in social media. Who owns anything placed in social media and how do we protect the intellectual property of students who use it? There is the precedence of shareware within online interactions, and creative commons, and perhaps IP is not as big a deal as it used to be, because we are more accepting of the concept that ideas are free. We all noted that it’s the colleagues who are more reticent to share that are the weaker ones, the fewer ideas you have, the more jealously you guard them. Accrediting ideas in social media is also more difficult, and it’s more likely to fail, but it was noted that people are more forgiving of accidental misuse and inadvertent plagiarism in social media.

4. Authenticity of voice. There were also issues about knowing who is whom online. There is spoofing of identities, sometimes inadvertent, and false claims of experience, sometimes for fraudulent reasons, sometimes to be part of a group, sometimes because of a syndrome known as Munchausen’s by Internet (a version of Münchausen‘s by proxy) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCnchausen_by_Internet,  nearly named after the fictional character Baron Münchhausen who was prone to lying, but for some reason people have dropped one of the aitches (although kept the umlaut). I noted however that actually for many people having an online identity that is different than their offline one can mean it’s more authentic, not less. Many people only feel they can be themselves when online because their sense of self is at odds with their physical form, or because their immediate peer group cannot accept their true nature. Again another reason for protecting pseudonymity. In the discussion later, it came up that there are a range of cultural reasons why people may need to perform in a particular way online (not using their real names, not using their image) and we should not enforce particular behaviours, since it’s impossible to anticipate what all of these issues may be.

The Only Way is Ethics Ep. 1

A year or so ago I was involved in the Ethics of Web 2.0 roadshow, led by John Traxler, which we took to ALT-C, Educa and one or two other places. Steve Wheeler attended those too, and today we got to revisit some of those issues in the final session at the seminar. The plan was that the people who attended the session get into groups of three, identify the top three ethical issue of using social media, then report back to the group. We went round the table and each group came up with their top one that hadn’t already been taken. This is what we got:

1. Code of conduct or legislation – People felt exposed as educators without guidelines for how to use social media. With a code of conduct then, even if problems occurred then they would have the safety net of a code of conduct to point to and say, well we abided by that, so it’s not really our fault. Steve brought up the idea of a digital tattoo, rather than a digital footprint, since our digital trail is something we’re stuck with and are inscribed with, it’s not something that just washes away next time there’s a high tide. I suppose we could have digital laser treatment to remove it, or is that over-extending the metaphor? The potential of being permanently tagged with our digital trace is the reason why some people resist the use of social media, and therefore is it fair to impose interaction with social media on our students, as there is the risk of them being exposed. I raised the possibility that society will respond to repeated exposure by social media, and that we will be more accepting of behaviour that we all commit, but prefer to pretend that society doesn’t. The teaching profession is particularly bad at this, primary school teachers are supposedly not allowed to fall down drunk on a Saturday night, as if this out of school behaviour reflects badly on their ability to do their job. My suggestion that we may see a reduction in hypocrisy was deemed to be optimistic (although everyone was kind enough not to point out my inability to spell it). The other suggestion was that actually if we become more accepting of outlier behaviour, then people may respond by becoming more extreme, and so perpetuate the issue, a sort of conservation of deviancy. Alternatively, as technology becomes better at tailoring our social networks and our internet searches to the types of things it’s already identified us as being interested in, we become more and more subject to a filter bubble, and anything that doesn’t adhere to our very select peer group as far as behaviour goes, is considered to be inappropriate. These issues therefore raise the importance of pseudonymity in online interactions and presents the importance of balancing our representations of professional identities versus authentic identities.