Sunday, May 18, 2008

There's Something You Should Know

After nearly 27 years of getting to know myself, I have come to the resounding conclusion that I am simply incapable of carrying on 'as usual' if I know I am being watched or observed. Positively, utterly incapable. Reams of data, yielded from informal studies conducted since 1981 reveal that I, in fact, am a prime example of what psychologists like to call the 'observer effect'.

As our dear Wikipedia points out, "the effect refers to how people change their behaviour when aware of being watched". Yes, my friends, if I know I am being watched, or more importantly if I suspect I am being monitored or evaluated, I will transform into the best possible version of myself, so as to score the most points, 'A' grades, kudos, or whatever it is that is being handed out. I can't help it. I fear failing at something like I fear being mauled by bears in the remote Alaskan wilderness. It's genetic.

The problem is that this observer-effect thing easily turns into a vicious circle, in which I-- by default and unfortunate human conditioning-- instantly change my behaviour but am simultaneously aware that I am changing my behaviour because of this thing called the observer effect. Then the academic side of me tells myself not to change my behaviour even though I am being observed, and then I become hypervigilant about my behaviour and change it anyway, and then whoever is observing me thinks 'wow, that Dana L. sure is neurotic and sketchy', and then I become even more neurotic and sketchy and wonder just how I used to behave before I knew I was being watched. It's exhausting.

On the flip side, though, the observer effect can also lead to great things in my life. If I know I'm going to be watched or evaluated, and I know I'm going to modify my behaviour because of it, I can use the opportunity to change for the better. So when my (wonderful) doctor told me to keep a diet and exercise diary for two weeks, and to 'not modify anything' just for the sake of looking good in my diary, I decided that since me not changing anything was about as likely as me going hiking in the remote Alaskan wilderness with an outfit made of raw meat and juicy berries, I was going to take full advantage of the observer effect and become Super Fabulous Dana L.

Before starting my diet diary, I was eating rather well during the week but letting everything fall apart on the weekends. Since I started writing things down, though, unnecessary sweets and treats (and other things like coffee and cheese) have simply been eliminated from my diet. Likewise, before making notes of the exercise I was doing, sure I was walking to and from work everyday, but I was also taking an unfortunate (and extended) break from the gym and felt my lungs burn every time I had to ride my bike. Lo and behold, since starting my diet and exercise diary, I have made it to the gym 3 times each week (and liked it!), plus I've also taken to the outdoors with Marty much more than usual. Just yesterday, we cycled 40 km on the Galloping Goose trail! (The sunshine helps. A lot.)

These images are both part of a mural that is found along the Galloping Goose trail. Incredible.

I don't omit things in my diary or lie about what I've eaten or the exercise I've done. So if I have to eat out or if I skip a workout, that will get noted in my diary. However, the odds of me eating something crappy or deciding I just don't feel like a workout now are much, much slimmer. This is a good thing, no?

I figure my doctor is an educated man who knows all about the observer effect and that I will change my behaviour even though he has told me not to. I also figure that even if I miraculously managed to keep everything exactly the same, my doctor would look at my diary and tell me to omit things like coffee and cheese and to exercise more, anyway. By modifying my behaviour, I figure, I'm actually jumping ahead a step and making it unnecessary for him to waste an appointment by pointing out the obvious. So it's like I'm doing us both a favour.


Valerie said...

I really enjoyed this post. Thanks for the 'raw meat and berry' outfit visual on a trail o' fear!! Mom

thinking about difference said...

you are like the shy particle: you shy away when observed. so, on a different scale, you are subjected to the laws of quantum physics :))