Saturday, December 3, 2011

activating myself

Watching a presentation on habits that lead to happiness, I saw a clip of Shawn Achor on YouTube.  He spoke of "activation energy", a concept borrowed from chemistry and biology.  Basically, it is the needed build-up of energy before there is enough to trigger a reaction.  Achor used the example of his desire to play his guitar more frequently.  He realized the 20 seconds needed to go to the closet, get out the cased guitar and be ready to play were an obstacle that kept him from playing.  He decided to keep it out of the case and handy and found he played 28 of the next 30 days.

I have been thinking about a similar concept.  You may have heard of the paradoxes of Zeno, the ancient Greek who said the hare could not ever catch the tortoise with a head start.  Zeno said that no matter how fast the hare was, while he was covering part of the tortoise's lead, that beast would use his time to get further ahead.  Zeno could see how the hare might lessen the distance between but argued the tortoise would always be an infinitesimal amount in front.  Ever one knows the hare can and does catch and surpass the shelled one but they had a problem explaining the flaw in Zeno's statement.

When I was doing lots of online teaching, I often caught myself avoiding something I should do with my keyboard keys because I could imagine how many steps the system needed to take before my goal would be reached.  It was like sending an email to China in a very short time but if I let myself imagine the electronic packet reaching the next state, then the next, moving later across the ocean, reaching Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, Kazakhstan, western China and finally eastern China, I might hesitate to send something I should.  My little human brain is not really equipped to accurately imagine inner electronics.  Email works quickly as does all sorts of things in my computer and on the internet.  I am better off not letting the physics I have experienced with my body guiding me in areas that are quite different.

Concepts can slow me down and require more activation energy than I want to spend.  Getting on with it while keeping an experimental eye open for helpful shortcuts can move me into areas I have been unwisely avoiding.

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