Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dial M for Motivation

Sharon Wildwind

How’s it going with those New Year’s resolutions?

Mine are going just fine, thanks for asking. They’re going fine because I didn’t make any. My husband and I decided a long time ago that instead of pegging resolutions to one day a year, we’d let them come along naturally. If I suddenly realized, in the middle of a bath on the evening of June 12th that my life needed to go in a different direction, well, why not?

If I did have a resolution right now, it would be to end daylight savings time. Of course, that would be a rant, not a resolution. So, here goes the rant:

The original purpose of DST (during both World Wars) was to save electricity. Here are some characteristics of the U.S. society that existed at those times, (more during World War I, than World War II), and made the savings from daylight savings time feasible.

~ society was primarily rural. It was the setting and rising of the sun that determined when a work day began or ended.

~ there were very few uses for electricity other than to provide lighting, telephone service, radio, limited electric trolley service, and run industrial machines.

~Telephone service was self-limiting. No one would even think of making a call between the hours of nine PM and nine AM, except in emergencies.

~Ditto, radio. Other than the clear channel stations with a huge output, radio signed off the air immediately after the ten o’clock news.

~Except when they were on a war footing, factories did not run three shifts a day. The majority of workers went to work between the hours of five and eight AM (Monday to Saturday) and they came home between three and six PM (Monday to Friday) and usually around noon on Saturday. Businesses were closed on Sunday. Really closed. All of them, except for farmers, fire fighters, police, and hospital workers, who were considered a little odd.

Times have changed. It’s six-thirty on a Monday evening. In my office alone I have a potential to be using six desk lamps and an overhead light; a computer, printer, and assorted peripherals; a telephone and answering machine; an iron and sewing machine; and a CD-player. I can hear the dishwasher running in the apartment below us, and since the temperature is hovering at minus twenty, our electric baseboard heating is going full throttle. Consuming electricity to run these things won’t matter one whit if it is 6:30 God’s Time or 6:30 Mountain DST, other than maybe I’ll use fewer of the lights if it’s still daylight outside. However, since my office tends to be darkish, and always in need of additional illumination, maybe not.

We are a 24/7 world and we are paying huge penalties for springing forward and falling back.

This time last year a University of California-Santa Barbara economics professor did a study that showed the switch to and from daylight savings time cost residential electricity users in Indiana $8.6 million dollars extra each year. One survey, one state, and focused only on costs to residential users.

Here are a few other stats that have shown up in recent studies:
~the rate of heart attacks soars in the two weeks after we go to DST and decreases in the two weeks after we come off of it.
~the switch may be making significant contributions to our chronic sleep deprivation epidemic.
~the rate for traffic accidents goes up 8.6% on the Monday after going to DST.
~the rate for pedestrian deaths in the few days after the switch goes up 186%.

Which brings me to what motivates people to change. I read a nursing article last week that I still haven’t resolved itself in my head. The topic was what motivates people to change their health behaviors.

In health care, we have been conditioned to emphasize positive, non-judgmental messages: You can do this. You are a strong person. You have the ability to work through this. You’re a good problem-solver. You are doing something good for yourself. And so on.

As writers, we follow the same idea. It makes sense that we will keep more friends by saying, “You’re on the right track here, it just needs work,” than by saying, “This is the worst chapter I’ve ever read, and you don’t have a hope in heck of making it as a writer.”

Except, maybe we have been wrong all along.

The article I read said was that it is negative messages that—at least in the short run—motivate people more strongly. The test group, all of whom needed to change a health habit, was divided into three sub-groups. All groups received their usual care from their primary health provider. Group One (the control group) received only that. Group Two was given a pamphlet written in very positive language: You can do this, you’re a strong person, etc. Group Three was given the same information, but written in negative language: You’re failing to make this change; if you don’t change you are likely to become very ill and maybe even die.

Guess what? Four months later, more people in Group Three had moved toward change than had the people in Groups One and Two.

But I think just in case this was a fluke, I’m going to go on giving positive messages. Except, perhaps about daylight savings time.

Writing quote for the week:

Priorities are not written in granite. They need to be flexible and change as we do. I find it helpful to think of priorities as the wooden frame upon which we stretch the canvas of our days so that we may apply color and form to the work of art we are creating without the entire painting collapsing in the middle.
~Sarah Ban Breathnach, author


Kathryn Lilley said...

I forgot what my resolution was! Isn't that typical! I'm not sure what motivates me better. I seem to respond only to my own internal circadian cycles, but it takes a lot of information and understanding of consequences if I don't take action. So probably a combination of negative and positive inputs would work for me, if such a thing is possible. Like, you CAN do this, and if you don't, you will die!

Susan D said...

Yup. I know that the time my dentist yelled at me for not flossing, I flossed like mad every day for months and months. My current dentist and hygenist make encouraging remarks that flossing would be good for me. You can guess the results.

And as for DST, that would be Daylight Shifting Time, because of course you can't "save" it. Let kids go to school in the dark so they can come home in the light, or vice versa.

And Saskatchewan has forever ignored DST, because the cows just don't get it.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Ah, flossing! My dentist's "good" hygienist yelled at me every time, and it never made me floss. Then she left, and he hired a hygienist just out of school. She had a heavy hand, and she made my gums bleed. I've been flossing ever since.

Sandra Parshall said...

Negative messages always work best for me. Scare me and I'll do anything you want. :-)