A Partially Quantified Life: (Hawthorne) Effecting Myself

 

The journey of self-improvement leads me to this, a task is given then expanded, accountability beyond refutability, what I have begun to do is track, and quantify as many moments of my life as possible.

In the 20th century, with psychology in its infancy so much wanted to be learned about the world and the workforce. Factories and manual labor were at an all-time high and factory owners and managers wanted to boost the efficiency of their workers to maximize the bottom line. Thus began a series of studies to monitor and record how much time it took for workers to complete certain tasks in telephone equipment production facilities. A strange thing occurred though, as the workers were being recorded by these new researchers their productivity went up. Initially thought to be the result of changes in the lighting conditions but when the researchers left so did this new boost in productivity. By simply recording what the workers were doing they become more productive. This was phenomenon was eventually named the Hawthorne Effect.

XXX years late I found myself speaking with my mentor about productivity. The conversation started as he wanted me to start tracking how much time a week I spend working on research as a mechanism to ramp up the productivity in the lab. Now through my struggles as of late it donned on me that I could even take this a step further.  I could track my whole life and how I spend my time to see where my inefficiencies are and why it seems that I can spend hours at work but never get done as much as I would like. Where were these distractions coming from, what was keeping me from fulfilling my purpose? Was I really doing as much as I thought I was doing in the first place?

Information is my tool, my mechanism for work and play but without data, I have no place to start and nothing to learn. I think we all feel that way, we seek out patterns in ourselves and others to understand our world and figure out what makes us happy (or at least figure out what keeps us from hurting). It’s in the investigation of those patterns that we come to a certain truth of which way to live optimally.  I’ve heard about life tracking before but never took the step to actually step into the void and allow myself to see the potentially uncomfortable truth about my life. I’ve been told doing this is akin to eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, that I will become aware myself and the unsettling prospect of hours of my life I’ve been wasting. Of course, that is a bit hyperbolic but imagine the insight about these ugly moments of our lives we spend letting us by, making ourselves accountable to them. Those moments we spend scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter knowing full well that we shouldn’t be. Taking all those moments we take to watch, read, work, and play and putting them on a calendar for everyone to see.

These might be extreme measures in some regard as it requires a lot of extra effort to continue to plug away the activities in my life as they are happening but for the potential results I can put up with the extra unease and effort. My hope is that I can be both the researcher and worker in this situation, watching over myself so that I too can increase my productivity. See where I have time and where I don’t.  It will be a learning process but it’s the step I need to take to understand where I can be better. It’s another gaze into the mirror but one I hope will do me some good.

Inside Pandora’s Box

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I’ve always been fascinated with ancient myths and legends, not just for their tales of magic and adventure but with each myth comes with it a belief about how we see humanity and human nature. Tales of valor and weakness, people, overcoming challenges and succumbing to temptation highlight these beliefs. These stories really give us insight in the best and worst of us and what we believe humans are ultimately capable of. I’ve been thinking about them a lot recently, but each time I do I seem to always come back to the story of Pandora’s box.  The story, for the most part, is meant to explain all the evil and terrible things in the world and why humanity is expected to struggle against these terrible evils.  In thinking though, the story shows us something else entirely, the only thing we have to push forward.  Without it, we have been lost long ago.

You see, Pandora herself was created by Zeus as recompense for Prometheus giving humanity the power of fire. The gods were angry that humans could wield this awesome power customarily reserved just for the greater beings that Zeus had a box forged and placed within it all the evils that humanity had never known. The like the evils of war, discord, famine, and sickness.  Zeus gave this box to his new human creation and sent her out into the world with only one command “Never open the box.”  Being human, she was naturally curious, but a while she left the box alone, even at some point burying it in the ground. Day after day, she found herself thinking about the box, “What was inside?” she wondered. That’s when she found herself, overcome with a single desire to uncover this great mystery that was shrouded inside.  She unlatched the box and opened it up to discover she set free all these great evils to forever torment humanity.  Before all of the evils were released, she slammed closed the box saving humanity from the greatest of these evils, total despair – the opposite of hope.

The reason I like this story so much it that it speaks to this belief we have, that as long as we have hope, not all is lost.  I mean sure, I would love not to get sick, or to have arguments, but the one thing that pushes us forward is that belief that things can be better, that a better outcome can come to us if we persist.  Sometimes this hope is misleading or causes us to behave naively, but ultimately it allows us to see a future that is better than the past.  It allows us to see a tragedy in a new light,  to implement change and not accept things as they are. Where there is evil, we have hope, and hope is the catalyst for the change we need to make this world a better place. Without hope, we are nothing.

The reason I keep coming to this story is that I’ve been running a study for my thesis, one I really love and want to work. But pilot study after pilot study, I can’t seem to make my paradigm do what it needs to.   Some sort of unpredictable element exists within it, and I simply don’t understand yet what is keeping it from functioning properly.  I have hope though, that if I keep trying I will make this work, and have something serious to show for my efforts.  Even if I doesn’t, all I learn today will help me for tomorrow, as long as I am persistent enough something will happen.  I have hope and that’s what makes make me strong because I have hope I can keep pushing forward into the deep.

3 Year Research Aniversary

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I didn’t realize until notified by Facebook that three years ago today I presented my first academic poster.  Interestingly enough, today was also the first time I gave a research talk in front of an audience.  The strange part is the difference between who I was back then, and who I am now.  It was a world of change, and the journey is the most interesting part.

I was in my final year of my undergrad, conducting my own research project under the tutelage of a professor who gave me the opportunity to work for them.  There I was, at the culmination of a year’s worth of work, standing in front of a poster, presenting all that could. The time I spent, over and over crafting that paper and ink was extreme. I wanted it to be the best thing it could be. I had undercut myself, didn’t think big.  I did a poster, and yet through it all was unsatisfied because it felt like it wasn’t enough.

I’m here now, having gone through this journey and come out the other side realizing that I didn’t do enough. I didn’t strive hard enough, like a chicken with its head cut off, I didn’t know which way was up or down, just that I needed to keep moving. I am a man fortunate enough to have second chances and recognize when I have the opportunity to correct something. To do more than I thought I could before.

But today I gave a talk and though I still feel that hunger from wanting to do more, I know where my next step is, and where to put in the effort. Today is like the second chance, a change and proof of growth.  I like the sound of that.

The Project

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Over 400 hours at this point, over the last 2 years.  400 hours of research that I have been doing since I got back from my trip after my graduation.  Every week, once a week going out to the lab and sitting down in front of a computer to do some sort of work towards my project.  Over 10,000 miles driven to and from home to Lab, adding up to hundreds of hours in the car.  I’ve never really questioned why I was doing it, I just knew I had to for both myself and my future. Hours now for a better life later.

It started as a project in my senior year of college, having gotten a fellowship I was allotted money to help fund my endeavors. Truth be told, it was more of a validation than a necessity to get the project off the ground.  That year flew by as I worked 12 hours a week to get it done and I did finish the preliminary project.

The real journey began after I graduated.  Expanding the project was a hassle, multiplying the work from 3 participants to 56 was no small thing.  I got help though, got to share the burden of this project with others as I both learned and fooled around with the numbers.  I didn’t realize how much of a novice I was until I was sitting in front of a computer, looking at a bunch of figures I didn’t know what to do with with a bunch of results that didn’t make sense except that I knew that I had to do them.

Wrapping my mind around these things, doing all this work outside of school, I’ve never really thought about what I would be doing instead of research.  I just knew I had to do it and so I did. I learned to ask for help. To admit when I was stuck and to bounce ideas off of others.  To stay positive even when things look bleak.

There has been a lot of self-learning, growing in ways along with frustration from lack of understanding.  Delving into areas unknown. I know that I have learned a lot from just being there, and it’s kept me going forward towards my dream.

I am nearing the end soon, the end of my time in this lab.  4 years in totality, 3 on my own project.  It will feel weird when I have gone and left, it been such a staple in my life. I’ve gone through a whole breadth of emotions there, kept coming even through depression because it was something I knew I had to do.  It will be strange when it was gone, and it feels weird now that I am reaching the finale.  I hope I leave on a high note, but at the very least I want to leave knowing that I at least did something.

My last day I imagine will be a quiet one, nothing big going on, with groups of Research Assistants working quietly in the lab.  They won’t know a thing about who I am, my generation has passed, and I will simply walk out that door, walk to my car, and drive away and maybe be remembered for what I did there one day.

I don’t know what the future holds, I just know not to waste it.