The Inconvenience Threshold

Jordan Barber introduces his concept of the inconvenience threshold, the point at which a person is so annoyed that it actually impels him/her to do something about it.

I am a person who is very tolerant of inconveniences. This is unfortunate, because until something truly unpleasant happens, I will take no action to fix the problem. Thus, I have a large number of moderately irksome things on my mind at any given point, none of which I resolve because I am not quite inconvenienced enough by any of them (read: lazy).

However, this past weekend I’ve become so inconvenienced to the point of physical and mental action. This is uncommon. I don’t know why, but I have a theory. Please, bear with me.

Let me start with a list of inconveniences that have accumulated over a period of a month or so:

  1. I only have a mattress for a bed. I am 23, with a full time job. A fucking mattress on the floor.
  2. I switch between a very small number of pants. This is unpleasant for everyone.
  3. The light in my room is out. This prevents activities like reading, or seeing anything.
  4. I should change the sheets on my bed; they’re past their expiration date.
  5. The hot water in the shower can only be turned on if you also turn on the bathroom sink full blast. The planet hates me.
  6. The wipers in my car just smudge the rain around. Since I live in Seattle, this mortally endangers everyone around me.
  7. The smelly lady on the bus makes me want to puke in my mouth.
  8. I hate everyone else on bus.
  9. The skeezy Haitian bar next door plays loud club music until ungodly hours.

This list has been building for about a month, but only recently have things crescendoed into a whirlwind of life-changing declaratives and achievements. After this weekend, I scratched the following deeds off the list:

  1. I only have a mattress for a bed. I am 23, with a full time job. A fucking mattress on the floor.
  2. I switch between a very small number of pants. This is unpleasant for everyone.
  3. The light in my room is out. This prevents activities like reading, or seeing anything.
  4. I should change the sheets on my bed; they’re past their expiration date.
  5. The hot water in the shower can only be turned on if you also turn on the bathroom sink full blast. The planet hates me.
  6. The wipers in my car just smudge the rain around. Since I live in Seattle, this mortally endangers everyone around me.
  7. The smelly lady on the bus makes me want to puke in my mouth.
  8. I hate everyone else on bus.
  9. The skeezy Haitian bar next door plays loud club music until ungodly hours.

Item number three, I can assure you, was completed in its totality. In any case, this changes my life entirely. Or does it? After I accomplished this task, I comfortably resettled into my typical routine like a fat girl waiting for the next Grey’s Anatomy. I have taken no further action to complete anything else on the list. This is both sad and frustrating, because I’d very much like to have these things gone from my life, yet they keep coming up.

Am I doomed to constantly have a host of vulture-like annoyances circling over me? I think I am. I theorize that everyone has what I call an inconvenience threshold (IT), a point at which something is so annoying that it actually galvanizes them into action. For myself, I think that point is quite high. See, the possibility of achieving any given thing works like this: I’m going to use MATHEMATICS (don’t freak out and have a period — stick with me for a second) to explain.

For any given inconvenience, there is a regularity of it occurring (R). For instance, I am reminded that I want to get a box-spring every time I sleep, or whenever I look at my stupid mattress on the floor. That is usually once a day, probably because I try to avoid it since it’s so ugly.

There is also the level of importance (M), which signifies how critical it is to resolve. Though my floor mattress is unsightly and is probably correlated with the level of action I’m getting (none), I’m still sleeping, so its delayed resolution is tolerable.

Finally, there is the work (W) required to alleviate the inconvenience. Buying a box-spring and bed frame is not only costly but time-consuming as well (shopping for it, managing to move them, etc), so the work level is quite high. Thus, we have our formula for discovering the inconvenience (N) of any given life problem:

(R+M)*W = N

I figure that the work required is the most important aspect here. If you’re a mathematician and would like to discuss my findings, please fuck yourself and refer to my contact information here.

Now that we have N, we may say that the sum of all N‘s is your total sum of all inconveniences in your life. That number must outweigh your inconvenience threshold for you to be spurred into action. Or in other words:

Ntotal > Inconvenience Threshold (IT)

So over the course of time your N will accumulate until it outweighs your IT, and then you’ll actually get off your sack-of-crap ass and do something useful. Let me draw you a chart.

Figure 1-1

Figure 1-1

Over time, a list of unpleasantries builds until it crosses your inconvenience threshold. At this point, you will do something to resolve one of those problems. But that action reduces your inconvenience level and takes you below the threshold. If it doesn’t, you’ll keep resolving things until it is, at which point you’ll wait until the next thing builds up and then take action again. Therefore, your state of equilibrium (and general happiness) is just below your threshold of tolerance.

This is how everyone else works, right? To barely hold shit together while tightly gripping to their sanity as problems slowly creep up like miasmic goo? That seems to be the trend for me. Then again, if this continues I may never resolve some inconveniences. Like getting an actual bed.

Jordan Barber is proud that the internet allows him to criticize, admonish, and irritate people from his own living room. And though this immense power only comes to the few, he promises to wield his hammer of judgment with a standoffish, thoughtful outlook.