Stacking Functions Garden



It occurred to me some time ago that virtue is not enough to motivate me.  For example, one of the reasons I care so much about nutrition is that I’ve been trying to lose weight for years now (with only slow and modest success).  If I could eat junk food and stay thin, I would have a much harder time motivating myself to eat healthy.

I keep applying this idea to different areas of my life, asking myself:

How I can tweak situations so that doing something unhealthy is more difficult than doing something healthy?

Two examples:

Bike commuting
I’ve been bike commuting for about 10 years now.  People are always saying things to me like “wow, I admire your dedication!”  But the truth is, I’ve created a situation where biking is my preferred way to get to work.  We only own one car, and Adam uses it to get to his job.  On weekday mornings, I’m faced with two choices: ride bike (free), or take the bus ($5).  I also never bothered to buy a parking spot at my job, so even on days when Adam doesn’t need the car, I know that if I drive I will have to pay $4 to park.  That adds up quickly.

mybikeIn the summertime this is a no-brainer.  I live in the city, so biking is faster than taking the bus.  Actually, this summer, because road construction is so out of control in south Minneapolis, biking is now also faster than driving.  In the winter it’s a different story.

We’ve discussed getting a second car many times.  I’ve resisted because I know that if I have my own car, and buy my own parking spot downtown, I’d have to rely solely upon my own sense of virtue to keep biking every day.  Although at this point, it has really become an ingrained habit and way of life, more than just something I’d like to do.

Other people I know have found other ways to motivate themselves to ride.  My friend Ginny, for example, has set a goal of biking 500 miles this summer.

If you bike, what are some of the things that motivate you?

When Adam and I first got married we had two televisions — one in the living room and one in our bedroom.  We watched a lot of really bad TV (so did our dog).  Eventually one of them broke down and we decided not to replace it.  But we still had one TV front and center in our living room, easily viewable from our dining room.

I don’t think I realized how much time TV was eating up until we moved into our second (current) home.  We decided early on that the TV would be in the basement.  I hoped that by creating a situation where I had to make more of an effort to watch it, I could help myself cut back a little bit.  No longer was it convenient to watch during meals, or at bedtime.  Also, our basement is freezing cold in the winter.

It worked like a charm.  I was able to cut way back.  Add in two kids, two blogs, and a really crappy digital signal converter, and I am now watching it only once or twice a week.  I don’t feel deprived at all.  We’ve never had cable, but we still see HBO shows and movies on Netflix.  It’s enough to make me feel still somewhat in touch, but it frees up a lot more of my time for making things.  (Like tonight, I made pickles!)

I’d really like to apply this concept to a lot of other areas in my life, such as a rule that I will only allow myself to eat a dessert that I’ve made from scratch.

Then again, there are also several “convenience” items without which we’d never be able to cook and eat the way we do, including our Kitchenaid mixer, our food processor, and our bread machine (although Adam has recently become disenchanted with the bread machine).

What do you think of this concept of helping yourself change by making the healthy choice the most convenient?  Can it really work for ideas beyong the couple I’ve mentioned here?

I’m filing this under Community Planning because I think this definitely has an application there; for example if people had to pay $X amount per pound of garbage created but were refunded $X amount per pound of items recycled, well… get my drift?

5 thoughts on “[In]convenience

  1. I was thinking about the topic of motivation on my bike ride to work today. In addition to setting a goal, I gave myself some pretty generous parameters at the beginning of the season. If it’s raining/snowing, cold (under 45 f.), super windy, or I have a daytime appointment requiring a car – I won’t bike. (Yeah – I’m a fair weather biker.) Otherwise, there’s really no excuse. This eliminates the daily decision-making (“do I really FEEL like it today?”). I (mostly) do what I need to do based on Meteorologist Keith Marler’s daily forecast.

    Money is also a motivator. I gave up my parking spot in April, which saves me $45/month. For every day I drive, I have to pay $4 to park, cutting into that savings.

    The biggest motivator for me, though, is joy. It took awhile to move from “this is hard” to “pretty easy” to “fun” to “intoxicating”. Mindful riding – allowing myself to really feel the joy of the morning breeze, the sights, the sounds, the movement of muscles, the afternoon sun on my skin – makes me crave it the next day.

  2. i signed up for (through metro transit– and no, i can’t win the prizes since i work there) to track my commutes. it tells you how many miles you have done total, how many gallons of gas you have saved and how much carbon was saved based on my milleage. it kind of makes me accountable (much like a food diary or something) and it is really satisfying so see the miles (and saved gallons) add up! you and ginny should sign up! they send you a nice bike map of the city, a leg band and some other stuff.

    • I signed up and logged my trips retroactively. Good thing I was keeping track on another calendar. I have reduced CO2 by 278 lbs so far this year! Cool.

  3. also totally agree about charging for garbage and getting a credit per pound of recycling! although maybe people would be unmotivated to recycle plastic then.

    • Oh, that bike2benefits thing sounds really cool. I am definitely going to sign up. The only thing that I don’t like about giving a credit per pound of recycling is that it might discourage those other two all-important R’s: reducing and re-using. In some ways, those are more important than recycling, y’know?

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