Monday, October 6, 2008

How A Dishwasher May Determine Your Success

As I sit here writing this, listening to our new dishwasher shoot, splosh, and steam our dishes to cleanliness, I'm forced to contemplate why our dishes used to pile up at our old place -- despite our best intentions.

Previously our dish washing foo was less than stellar.

In the old place we didn't have a dishwasher machine -- other than our own hands. We'd go through periods of keeping up on the dishes. It usually persisted through the first few days (rarely weeks) of clean house euphoria that resulted from spending a day cleaning the entire house or kitchen. Then, we'd fall off the wagon and dishes would pile up. Rinse repeat. Same thing every time.

Our behavior never changed despite our interest in keeping the dishes from piling up.

It was pretty frustrating. Each time we'd discuss it and get up the courage again, telling ourselves we'd do better this time. Then we'd fail. It became pretty stressful in and of itself.

Stress is usually the result of missed expectations. And our expectations were pretty shot to hell the millionth time around.

Now, throughout all this, one of us might pop in and pound some dishes out in random bursts but there was no consistency. And, usually, this was out of frustration over our falling off of the wagon versus a genuine desire to keep things clean. In an ironic twist, this actually added to the frustration -- because it seemed to be a demonstration to ourselves that we could do it when we chose to. So what the heck was our problem?

There had to be something that we were missing. The solution couldn't be that easy (just choosing to do it).

Sure, we could say it was because we just "didn't have the time" but really that was just a convenient excuse.

Our productivity, or lack thereof, was really driven entirely by our mood. We liked the idea of having a clean house and no dishes piling up. But, somehow, we just weren't totally getting it. Why were we committed to the idea but not the action? And what else was really going on?

  • What mental hurdle does it take to turn an idea into an action?
  • How do you know when you are failing because of, in fact, time (or an unrealistic goal) versus when you are failing because you are approaching things the wrong way?
  • How do you determine the difference between persistence (often a good thing when aiming towards a goal or dream) versus banging your head against the wall?
  • How do you effectively develop new habits (or change old ones) when you are "focused" on achieving a million other things in your life as well?
  • How do you coordinate this process across a household of different family members all with different time, energy, and stress tolerances and responsibilities?
How indeed.

Well, in our case, we got a dishwasher. :-)

But, the (more useful) explanation is of course more than that.

Yes, perhaps there were other things we could have done to motivate ourselves, penalize ourselves, etc. Perhaps we were too undisciplined. But sometimes a completely different approach is what is actually most effectively. Especially when there's no downside to doing something completely different.

Just because we could have found a way to achieve our aim, doesn't make it the best approach. I had no big deep down desire to prove to myself (and especially not anyone else) that we were the manual labor dish washing motivation experts. In fact, I just wanted clean dishes -- I didn't care how we got 'em as long as it didn't take much time, energy, or money.

I even only half jokingly mentioned to my wife that maybe we ought to hire someone to come in and do the dishes (and a few other things while they were at it). That thought stayed in my mind for a month or two but we never did pursue it.

In any case, sometimes tweaking the goal makes sense. The idea of hiring somebody actually was closer to where we should have been thinking even if it didn't end up being our ultimate solution. In our case, we were too focused on the goal of "how do we get -- and keep -- ourselves in the habit of washing the dishes?". It sounds simple now, but a lot of solutions do -- in hindsight.

Sometimes we get so caught up in a solution that we've been attempting that we become convinced that we "can beat it". That's not an un-admirable attribute, but we have to remember it can work against us to. Awareness of this problem is probably the best means of sorting out those situations where it is occurring from the others where raw persistence really is what's needed.

How we frame our problems (or goals) makes a big difference in our approach to them. In my case, caught up in the daily tasks and lots of other goals and dreams, I routinely frame seemingly less important issues (such as keeping the dishes from piling up) the wrong way. Most likely because I don't put enough energy upfront in pondering them. I am continually dumbfounded by how easily I can solve a stressful problem that's been lingering by simply re-evaluating the entire premise.

Often I'm stressing not because something isn't done but because I'm not yet sure how I'm going to get there. Or, the goal isn't really all that clear to begin with. Once I realize that something is not right, I mentally pull back and reboot. That takes some energy but far less than it would to persist down the wrong path -- or no path at all.

We're all pretty good problem solvers. That doesn't mean that we're always solving the right problems.


No comments: