Monday, August 23, 2010

The moment of pleasure.

I remember a psychological experiment (or example) where one leaves a candy in the table and tells to the child that he can either eat it today or if he is patient enough and not eat it he can have twice the number of candies the next day. This is supposed to measure things like ones ability to discipline and go for long term goals, resist ones desires for the greater good, or some say it's a short of means for evaluating the emotional intelligence factor (EQ).

Then there is the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. One would agree that intrinsic motivation is the most desirable one if possible to have. It results into working with great focus on something because you love the process or the subject. Extrinsic motivation from the other side is usually focused on the final result. One could rather go through the process of working hard in a subject just for some good grades, passing a lesson, pleasing his parents or himself or anything else that is not directly connected to the actual experience of the creative process.

Of course one cannot always explain human behavior so easily with these distinctions. First of all the double candy reward experiment. Who tells me that every child who doesn't eat the candy for the first day can control his emotions easier than those who eat it at the very first watch? What if one child really likes candies (say because he is addicted to carbs) and the other doesn't care so much? Of course the second child still wouldn't dismiss a candy so easily, but since he isn't much depended on it and maybe he is more dependent on showing that he has control and understands the concept, will prefer the second solution. Or a third child who also doesn't care much about candies but doesn't trust the leader of this test, chooses to take it now because there might be no candy tomorrow. He might be emotionally depending in showing how clever he is and he might define cleverness as "grab now what you can, don't trust people that are over 20 years old" :)

Take for example the university experience. We might agree that if you study just for the grades, for taking a fucking piece of paper or pleasing your parents, it might just not work well. You would say that one is more successful if he is really interested in the subject and that rote learning just for taking grades is not enough. Yet you can observe so many people who have finished their studies with good marks and they just seem to be obsessed with... getting good grades. You can meet people with a far better marks than you who though don't show real interest for their subject and only view it as their future job and not their hobby. And yet, I am a personal living subject of the paradox, one who is really involved in computer graphics programming for several years because of his passionate hobby and still does it, yet he failed somehow miserably in a master with the same subject. Of course there is much more than loving your subject to succeed in studying and I will come back to this later.

I would like now to focus on one fact. It might help us to better understand the problem of finding inner motivation (especially those who suffer from procrastination) and trying to solve it if we actually dismiss the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and realize that there is only one thing that motivates oneself: The moment of pleasure

I will try to explain myself here. In my view, there is no distinction between people who can easily motivated by extrinsic motivation like magic. Don't you wonder how can some people just sit down there and work on some university project you find senseless or boring and you would still struggle working on it even if they tied you on your chair and forced you to do so? And then you wonder, how can these people do it? How do they live? How does their personality not react? Are they robots or something?

I will tell you what I believe after so many years of observing myself and wondered about those who can do stuff. They DO have an intrinsic motivation for the task that is usually not clear enough.

What kind of motivation could this be? Many of them sound like extrinsic motivations but they are based on someone's inner desires. There might be no strong interest in the subject or part of the process. What might be there could be a sense of self-actualization, accomplishment, increasing self-esteem, feeling powerful even pleasing yourself or your relatives if you manage to reach the desire results by insisting on working on a project that doesn't particularly motivates you alone. Grades, Rewards, Praising would be just the tip of the iceberg of your attempt, but they could still work as a justification of your achievements. One might just need to constantly see that he is successful in real life and that gives him the fuel to work and focus toward that direction even if all that he cares is grades, distinctions and a respected career rather than being interested in the subject itself. If this is what fulfills him in life then this self-determination will be his intrinsic motivation. I see this as a neat way of internalizing the seemingly extrinsic motivations when there is no actual interest in the subject itself.

One would say that the same happened with my demoscene activity. It's not that I did it purely because I purely enjoyed coding demos just for the sake of it. As I noted several times in the past, my journey into the demoscene was really the means to fulfill some basic needs as my desire to belong and excel in something in order to boost my self-esteem and give purpose to my life. Maybe I wasn't very happy or successful with real-life and I saw potential in something that was closer to my interests at that time. The relevant fact is that a hidden intrinsic motivation was playing the big role here. It's not that I didn't enjoy the creative process, there were some positive moments into it, but the primary force was insisting working hard in order to release a demo that is great enough to give me some kind of status and boost my self-esteem.

It's still some kind of a seemingly external motivation internalized. I see people trying to be very successful in anything they do in life, even if they don't necessary identify themselves with the subject they work with. You can see people who can just start studying any subject, be it Physics, Computer Science or Ancient Philosophy and can outperform someone who is interested in the subject but lacks the determination. People like these are greatly motivated by a single pleasure, the pleasure of being successful students, researchers, workers, lovers, etc.. But this pleasure I believe, manifests during the creative process, a psychological beliefs that says "The amount of work I do is the amount of success".

I do believe this and actually only today I had this revelation, when in a relaxing moment I delved again into my current burden since the last week. How the hell will I motivate myself to actually finish writing my final project? I am strongly making inquiry these days on the matter and radically try to find some good sources of inner motivation to somehow make the process more desirable. I compared my motivation with the project (and the repulsive forces of procrastination) to my evolved motivation with the demoscene.

There is one simple rule that I found at first. It's similar to what I said before that even seemingly extrinsic motivations can really be intrinsic in nature especially when they seem to work well. It's when I wrote that the only thing that can motivate oneself at the specific time (and that time is NOW) is the present moment of pleasure.

The moment of pleasure is NOW. When extrinsic motivation is needed, it works when you can envision the desired results related to your current effort (NOW). When intrinsic motivation is enough, the moment of pleasure is easier to achieve and it is the creative process itself, which you are truly enjoying at the present moment (NOW).

Of course, a truly intrinsic motivating factor is the best for you. Internalized extrinsic motivations (effort in conjunction to results) are good alternatives in case of lack of intrinsic motivation. Sometimes extrinsic motivations might weaken by the time for various reasons.

I have resolved this in the demoscene. I might have felt the frustration and also procrastination followed (which I couldn't understand since I thought that I shouldn't procrastinate if I love this hobby) because of some of the initial primary motives for being involved in the creative process not working anymore. For example, today I am quite a different person and I am quite more confident with myself. I don't need to prove to anyone or even myself that I am good or great or intelligent or self-worthy because I can program demos. This way though, my determination with the demoscene hobby has also faded away.

Yet I couldn't throw away this great hobby and everything I have learned from it. When I come back to it I see that I still love watching and making demos and being part of the scene, and the pure creative experience after abolishing any ideas about the external motivators and focusing on the process can be not only quite rewarding but more productive and satisfying. Some people, when they loose the meaning in that vain search for acceptance, recognition or any other semi-extrinsic reasons that faded away, they decided that the knowledge at least will help them in their careers and they can just forget everything about the scene. But in my case I saw that there is still magic and there is a magic when one can just be creative with only the intrinsic motivation being active.

I have really reprogrammed myself concerning that. It wasn't that hard at the end, although after ten years of living in a vicious circle. My triptych (what a word) in the demoscene is simple:

Creativity for Creativity (NOW)
Releasing for the Scene (Demoparties)
Comments are Irrelevant (Pouet, etc)

  • In a nutshell, I will be truly working on any programming activity when I feel like enjoying the process, if for any reasons I procrastinate or don't feel like working with that then I can easily leave it for the day (since I am not dependent any more on an obsessive need to work on something and finish it just for the result, my motivational process is not any more the release or the deadline or the people).

  • If it happens that because of the creative process I have random chunks of code, unreleased effects that fit well together, some half-finished idea or anything that could be tampered for few days/weeks or how much time I wish to dedicate for the completion of a full demo and I wish to contribute my work to some demoparty I might be/or not visiting then it will do just fine to work with it before the deadline if I am motivated enough. It's just feels nice to release your creative stuff for people to see and to contribute to demoparties just for supporting the scene. It works well only if one does not become obsessed with the release DURING the creative process but only focus on the realization of it when he has something to show.

  • It's only an aftereffect and shouldn't be the focus that one might get plenty of comments at sites like Pouet or other scene web resources. Some of these might be positive or even so admiration and love for the kind of work one has done. One can be content at the present moment of reading these comments as it coincides that the think one actually does, be it oldschool prods, pure effect demos, abstract stuff, 3d flyebyes, story demos, noise demos, etc. have it's own special audience that happens to like the specific kind of demos one produces. If one doesn't like your style of demos and gives a negative comment for whatever reason then you should ignore that since there will be always few individuals out there that happen to like your style of demos. This however is just an aftereffect of doing what you like to do and one shouldn't let his feelings during the creative process be related to his audience. You create purely for your own enjoyment and people who happen to either like or dislike your demos will always be there.

It only pleases me how nicely I have resolve my demoscene hobby in my mind and I know this worked well and made the creative process during my last two recent demos more great than ever before. I am not looking here whether it made it more successful, whether those releases were crap or not, whether I achieved anything with it. Things just flew so nicely, procrastination was absent mainly as an aftereffect of not focusing on negative feelings associated with my old motives, and I now believe solidly that if one does what he truly loves without being distracted by external motives then productivity can rise since there is true motivation directly connected to the creative process. One enjoys every simple moment of it and so he is greatly compelled to work on a project no matter the outcome.

And now the main question and new challenge for me is: What happens for work that one HAS to do but DOESN'T WANT to?

What happens when there are no true intrinsic motivations? When one would take a good excuse as a way to abandon this work? When he would give anything to not have to do yet not completing the task also means something negative that he wishes to avoid?

Welcome to my final project master thesis. I am trying to do a very big scary change to myself since the night before yesterday because of this. I am trying to make me believe that I have pleasure during the productive process (Ha,. I didn't even used "creative") when trying to write my final thesis. The code was not so bad experience and still I procrastinated because I was flooded by anxiety and emotion concerning something that HAS to be done whether I like it or not. The same process "helped" me so nicely to procrastinate deadly even during the completion of several courseworks, even those who were related with things that I like in graphics or found quite interesting. It's amazing how counter-productive can the studying-system be for some individuals.

And now I am angry and want to retaliate. My focus is this, the biggest enemy is not the educational system but myself. Isn't this the greatest and hardest thing to challenge, your own passions, desires and habits that makes you be the same as the one you were ten years ago?

Before you say that I am kinda harsh on myself, yes, and that was my initial thought. That night I was angry with myself for not trying a bit more with my master and somehow I got the determination I needed to allow myself attempting something that I never did before in my life. To overcome myself. To become better than me.

Of course my second thought was that I will forget this the next morning and that I will go back to my old habits of doing anything else rather than the work that has to be done. And since I knew that from several older attempts to change something in myself (e.g. weight) and I knew how especially harder it would be to actually fight procrastination (which in two words is actually displeasure avoidance) I insisted into both inquiring harder into the reasons (asking myself rhetorical and tricky questions) and promise to not let the subject fade away during the next days. My final project, which will be one of my hardest struggles I guess, is a perfect battlefield for this effort and I still have fourteen days to give my best and possibly evolve.

This will be internalized extrinsic motivator that I believe it fits my personality at the present moment. I think this is a single good shoot opportunity to do something I have never done before. This is what I finally came with after stressing the subject, being angry at myself, observing how my task-avoidance repulsive force works and what excuses it finds to not do stuff, thinking over it again, having some good intuitive moments upon the subject and then struggling again with it. I started writing good enough text yesterday (after a full week of procrastination and imagine it's a final project that you SHOULDN'T procrastinate with, not a simple coursework) and hopefully I will continue today.

And the (external) focus here is not finishing the project, I could even work very hard for it and yet fail to submit for other reasons but then I would at least know that I have tried. The (external internalized) focus is a feat of self-accomplishment, a challenge against your worse addictive habits, of maybe going against your nature and overcoming yourself.

My biggest fear was that this goes against my personality, my beliefs, my ego really. Everybody was telling me that I have to change, that I should be studying, that I should not be lazy, that I am not trying enough. I was telling myself that if I don't have a great need for something and at the same time don't feel like going through the struggle and don't see any pleasure on it then maybe it's because it doesn't fit my nature. I said that you can't just oppress someone into doing something. And all these things are connected so negatively to things that people said and I hate that it's too hard to accept it and even force it with great pressure to yourself right now. This is the shit!

But then there is something that nobody told me. That to do this task one has to be determined, understand the reasons behind it, believe. One has to clear his mind from all negative emotions, accept the good reasons for still doing it and also accept his possible failures during the attempt and find some good motives for forcing this to himself, that still fit his personality.

p.s. It's that really hard to accept and finally decide doing this for once and for all! But now I have believed with full reason. Discipline is not bad when it's applied with a conscious mind for good reasons. Sometimes some things we have to do in our lives are things that we don't want to do. There just isn't any good intrinsic motivation in studies for me. I still don't deny pleasure. But I think conscious (with a true understanding in mind) deprivation of pleasure would be another good challenge to myself (might help losing weight once and for all). I have to learn to live in balance. I might know the following days because there is still the possibility I will forget everything after a few days. I already procrastinated a lot by writting this but it was worth the effort..

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