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Motorcycles, Freedom and Productivity

'' I know, I know — what do motorcycles have to do with productivity? Bear with me for a moment.

This morning I am beholden to my iGoogle gadget for Mother Earth News. Mother Earth News ran a press release for the American Motorcycle Association on why “Every day is Earth Day on a motorcycle.” It was about how good it is for the environment to ride a motorcycle rather than use a car.

It reminded me of something I’ve often used as an example of how connections between experiences and behaviors can be unexpected and “offbeat.” I used to tell a story about that to my students in a class I taught in “Psychology of Learning.”

Most of your learning is by association. That is, you learn and remember new things best by being able to compare them with something you already know. We even have common expressions with associations built in. You might say “His face lit up,” to describe the appearance of someone who gets a feeling of happiness and it shows in his face as if a light were shining from within.

Associations are emotional as well as intellectual. When you make mental comparisons to help yourself remember, there are feelings that go with whatever you’re making the comparison to. If you meet someone you find to be similar to an old friend, you attach some of the positive feelings to the new person. You are prepared to like him because he reminds you of the friend.

An expansion of that is associating experiences that happen close together in time. Forgive the over-used comparison, but the ultimate example is Pavlov’s dogs associating food with the sound of a bell.
So, starting to tie all that together with motorcycles and productivity, let me tell you a short story.

This is the story I used to tell my students. When I was young, I had a day job and went to school at night. I didn’t have much money to spare for a car, and public transportation left much to be desired. But I could afford a motorcycle. It was inexpensive to purchase and run. Gas mileage was wonderful, and I could save parking expenses by sharing one spot with other cyclists. It made getting to work and to school a great deal easier and more efficient.

However, it had a wondrous side effect that I hadn’t anticipated, since I’d never ridden one before I bought my own. Riding a motorcycle is an amazing experience. It is what I imagine it would feel like to be able to fly. That is, to fly personally, rather than to fly an airplane. Image that you could lift yourself — by willpower — a few feet off the ground and fly like Superman, albeit flying low. It is one of the feelings of freedom.

Riding that bike gave me such a feeling of freedom and power that it spilled over into my job. I’d ride to work and feel ready to tackle whatever came next. My performance and productivity rose. I feel more stimulated in my work and my studies. Just because I arrived at the locations of my work or studies by “flying.”

The work hadn’t changed. The studies hadn’t changed. But the association of the work and the studies with freedom and power had changed my attitudes toward the work and studies.

Remember how I began this article? I started by saying that something I happened to read about motorcycles reminded me of an experience. Like Pavlov’s dogs and the bell, I associate motorcycles with feelings freedom and power. Feelings of freedom and power lead me to confidence, and unstressed motivation to perform and produce.

What do you do that makes you feel that good? How can you incorporate that into your work day to associate those good feelings with your job? What other “good feeling” associations can you bring into problem situations to lower your stress and resolve your difficulties quickly?