Knocked to the Bottom of the Pyramid

Knocked to the Bottom of the PyramidI had big plans this week. I was going to log some major running miles, get ahead of my blog posting, run all manner of errands, and possibly try my hand at a cake NPR warned was a “pain in the butt” to make (a glance at the recipe suggests no one at NPR has ever baked before). None of this happened.

Instead of carrying out these grand plans, I picked up an unpleasant cold. My most impressive accomplishment this week was a four hour nap (it was glorious). I didn’t get my Monday long run in. By today, Wednesday, I’d decided to just focus on feeling better and altered my to-do list accordingly.

I was thinking about all of this in the context of psychology and behavior change and the things that I ask other people to do as users of the programs I work on. As much as this week’s cold is minor in the scheme of illnesses, it distracts me from being able to focus on goals unrelated to my immediate comfort. Basically, I’ve been knocked down on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to a place where I’m hyper-focused on my physical well-being at the cost of any higher-order concerns. Or, if you’re more of a Herzberg fan, my hygiene factors are impaired at the current moment, preventing ideal motivation.

I know that in a few days I’ll feel better and be back on track with my to-do list. But what about people whose bottom-of-the-hierarchy worries are more enduring? What about people who are financially troubled, live in unsafe situations, or cope with chronic health conditions whose symptoms affect them daily? Is it fair to ask them to focus on health behavior changes, likely at least partially shaped by an external force, before addressing these serious underlying situations?

I don’t know the answer to that, but it’s something I’ve struggled with and certainly something I’m thinking about as I measure out what today’s limited energy can be spent to do. It makes sense to me to pair work for social good alongside work for health behavior change, so that we might be alleviating some serious needs even as we urge people to take steps toward better health. And it also makes sense to me to cut people a break sometimes; we can’t expect everyone to share the same type of goals when we all have a different set of burdens to bear.