Rajesh Kumar

Optimizing life, one day after the next

The House Effect

04 Oct 2009

I've been waiting to write about this topic for almost 1.5 years now. What have I been waiting for? I've been waiting for confirmation. Confirmation from at least one friend that I'm not a mad guy who makes up mad observations. The good part is that confirmation from even one friend is good enough for me. Because usually, if one person agrees with an idea of mine, I find that there are always many more who will also agree with it given adequate description. I can make this claim because whenever I've been wrong about something in the past, I've always received confirmation from exactly zero people, nothing more.

In today's world of rock-bottom levels of motivation, any trick you can conjure to boost motivation is a huge win. People today are less willing to do things they don't like than people were 5 years ago. Especially us youngsters. You'd have to work very very hard to get me to do something that I don't particularly enjoy or get any value out of. My parents probably hate me for this, but such is reality.

Sometimes the distinction between success and failure is the same as those who can conjure motivation out of thin air and those who can't. There's just too many people out there with the same skill set as you. Voluntarily generated motivation is often times the only thing that will put you ahead of the race. The goal is to be able to generate arbitrary amounts of motivation at the flick of a wand and a simple incantation of the Accio charm.

Unfortunately, the truth is that there is a ton of stuff that just needs to be done, regardless of whether you like it or not. Especially in University, you might actually enjoy or derive value out of 10% of everything you do. The remaining 90% is simply to get a degree or to continue being able to do the other 10% that you do enjoy. If you're from Waterloo engineering, I hope you're thinking of work term reports, lab reports and PDENG as part of that 90%.

This problem of insufficient motivation to do things I don't particularly enjoy has been a very strong subject of focus for me over the past 3-4 years. But I feel I have a reasonable level of command over the problem now. The solutions are truly elegant because from the outside, it just seems like I'm crazily excited and motivated about everything I do, but the truth is that I've just been able to figure out what works and what doesn't after several years of experimentation, thorough analysis and trial and error. But I still have trouble motivating myself to do a lot of things everyday — I just hide them really well.

I've been able to get the list to about 20-25 things that I have to do to keep my motivation levels high throughout the day. Now of course I won't share all of them with you because that's my competitive advantage, but even if I did share them with you, not all of them would work for you since you're probably quite different from me. But I'll agree to tell you the obvious ones since you probably know them already. Like listen to good music as you work. Or eliminate alarm clocks from your life.

So sure, there's quite a few of these tricks you could use to keep your motivation levels high. But occasionally, you'll need an IV (intravenous) injection of motivation to get a particularly nasty task done. And finding these IVs is really what's been keeping me busy the last little while. It doesn't matter to me why these IVs work or how they work. All I care is that they work, and that they work effectively and reliably. Motivation is such a scarce resource these days that any short-cut that will help me even mildly increase it will be instantly added to my repertoire of ninja tricks.

This blog post is about one such IV that I like to call the House Effect. Last week during a drug formulation lab, I casually happened to ask my friend Tony what TV shows he watches. He replied that he doesn't watch any shows except for House. "Just one?" I asked. "Just one" he said.

That got me really intrigued. Just one? That's not possible. Now Tony is a special friend of mine because he was the guy who got me hooked to sunny-side-ups when we lived at the same residence in 1st year. In fact, he had the whole sunny-side-up game figured out so well that he showed me how to eat a good sunny-side-up properly to ensure maximal satisfaction.

Fast forward four years, and here was someone telling me that he watched exactly one TV show. Virtually everyone I've met either watches 0 shows or 3 or more shows. Nothing in between. Watching exactly one show was the strangest thing ever. So if Tony watches exactly one show, it had to have meant that he had made that decision very consciously. He was actually making time for House, not just watching it because his friends were watching it or because he had nothing better to do with his time, because then he'd probably end up watching more than one show, not exactly one.

So since he had picked that one show, House, out of the 25 to 30 other shows he could've picked from, I thought I'd seek out confirmation of my "House Effect" idea from him. And the idea is that the first 2-3 minutes of House, the intro scene until the end of the title song, is the conceptual IV injection I've been looking for, for almost three to four years now.

I described the idea to Tony, and he instantly knew what I was talking about. And bam! I had gotten my confirmation. And within moments, I had already penned the first 3 paragraphs of this essay in my head.


A couple of months ago, I vaguely referred to this "House Effect" idea in a tweet. No response. I tried again a couple months later. Still no response. Maybe I was, after all, wrong about my conjecture. Maybe it was a special case true only for me, not a generalizable one.

I get a huge kick out of highly creative works. And certain episodes of House have some of the most amazing opening scenes, it's just so mind-boggling. I usually pride myself at being able to control my emotions quite well, but for some reason, the ending of each opening scene sparks this huge and uncontrollable flux of emotion inside me that I virtually end up losing total control of myself. But regardless, 30 seconds later, I'm hard-core into my next assignment, report, or blog post with a focus sharper than the best clinical laser out there.

In fact, the opening scenes are so good, I'd be willing to pay $40 for a DVD that amalgamates all these opening scenes, including the title song that follows. That's $40 for high-quality 3-minute AVI files, one per episode.

I know these opening scenes are amazing because I have tried to come up with my own screenplay for these opening scenes everyday for almost a year now. And my best screenplay so far is still far less exciting than the least exciting opening scene that (presumably) David Shore came up with. That's one year, my friends. One whole year. Even if my creativity was that poor, I refuse to believe I can't do better even after a year.

Whenever my friends and I randomly get into a conversation about House, we almost always end up into a heated argument about House's character, his personality, or at the very least, about how the show is total BS, medically speaking. But no one so far has mentioned the opening scene. Not a single one. Which is great for me since it means no one else has discovered what an emotional spike these 3-minutes can achieve. One episode, 3 minutes, and about 2 hours of excellent work accomplished thereafter. Quite the sweet deal, wouldn't you agree?

Sometimes I get the feeling that all my friends are guarding their little House IV secret the same way I used to. Or maybe they're waiting for confirmation much in the same way I was until last week. If that's the case, then here you go, here's your confirmation. You're indeed right about the effect.

The point I'm trying to make is that you too should try to find these motivation IVs in your life. I got a head-start so I already have four to five of these IVs in my treasure chest. But how many can you say you've got? One? Two? Zero? You might think music might be your IV, and it might, but unless you do unconventional things with music like preventing yourself from listening to your favorite song for many months and then listening to it once you've achieved a goal you've set for yourself, I wouldn't quite call it an IV.

In a somewhat odd combination of meta-ness and voluntary co-incidence, I wrote this essay after promptly giving myself a shot of House IV, administered over a duration of 2 minutes and 13 seconds. Explains how the post got so freakishly long.

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