Friday, April 15, 2011

Research and Sprats

When I was a kid, I hated food. All and any kinds of food. The mere smell of food would make me gag. I spent more time dry heaving when I was a child than doing pretty much anything else. You wouldn't guess this if you met me today, but that's how it was. The only kind of food that I loved were these Baltic sprats that you can see on the picture. So whenever I was served a plate of food that included the sprats, I would think to myself, "OK, so I will first force myself to eat all this nasty stuff so that it doesn't cloud my enjoyment of the lovely sprats. When I'm finally done with the food I hate, I will be able to dedicate myself fully to the delightful food that I like."

Of course, after I managed to force down the food that I hated, all I felt like doing was throwing up and couldn't eat the sprats. "This is very strange," my mother would say. "I gave you the sprats because I know you love them but you ate everything else and left them behind."

The reason why I'm telling you this otherwise boring story is that I still have a severe case of sprats when it comes to doing research. To give an example, this week I had some writing planned that I've been dying to do. Thinking about how I would finally sit down and dedicate myself to this truly enjoyable piece of work was the highlight of my week. I simply couldn't wait to get started. Of course, I decided that first I needed to get all the other, boring stuff out of the way so that I would be able to proceed to do my research undisturbed by the unpleasant tasks I needed to perform. So I started on the unpleasant tasks, hating them passionately for keeping me from the enjoyable research. A lot of time was spent on complaining and moaning to everybody in and out of sight about how these nasty tasks were getting in the way of me doing what I really wanted to do. In the meanwhile, more of these little unpleasant assignments kept cropping up. 

When I finally finished the unpleasant assignments and sat down to my writing, I discovered that I was so drained that I could make no sense of what my own text was saying. 

I blame the sprats.


Natasha from Russia said...

And remember what jars were with sprats? Round, oil, and what taste????
In Russia already there is no sprat with such taste as were in the childhood when together with a tail you put on black bread with a cucumber.

Rimi said...

It's not just the boring work that I *always* think is helpful to finish with first that exhausts me and puts me off work. Try socialising or dining out. You'll be knocked off your feet for the next day. All you'll want to do is be on the net and loll about.

This is why, when I was very young, my aunt taught me to eat my favourite food first. I thought this silly in the extreme, for after the succulent prawns I'd have to eat the bitter gourd -- absolute torture! But since I loved prawns I ate till I was full, and thereby avoided the bitter gourd. Wisdom lurks in unlikely places.

GMP said...

I have read about this as a concept of "delayed gratification." It's actually one of the characteristics of grownups versus kids: when you ask an average kids whether he/she eats first -- cake or frosting -- the average kid says "frosting" (instant gratification), whereas an average adult will delay gratification and eat cake first to be able to enjoy the frosting in peace at the end. I am trying to remember where I read about this... Anyway, the ability to delay gratification is supposed to have been connected to higher productivity overall (even if not all the productivity is on the fun stuff), so you have been doing the right thing... But I totally get what you are saying: all the menial stuff leaves you completely drained when the time finally comes to do the fun stuff. C'est la vie, I suppose.

Clarissa said...

I think that a person who voluntarily delays gratification has all the makings of a masochist. :-)