When everything around you is uncertain, the relationship with yourself can be a safe center of stability. On the other hand, if you do not have a good relationship with yourself, I believe that change is harder to face. So investing in how you relate to yourself is often a good thing. But how? Here are some things that help me.
You do not have to like things the way they are, but you can not act appropriately to a situation while pretending it to be another. Sometimes it can be hard to know what is really going on. But when you do know, try to see it for what it is. That is the first step towards changing it, or dealing with it otherwise. Sounds like sappy self help talk? But if it was your hard drive being full, you would not imagine that ignoring it would solve the problem. First when you acknowledge that you have a space issue you can either stop adding stuff, start deleting things you do not need, or look into options for more terabytes. Probably all three. Take the hard drive problem solving attitude with you into other, more sensitive, areas. The reality will give you a starting point to act from, the fantasy will not. If you want to look more into this you can search for “ACT, acceptance and commitment therapy”. It is really just about tools for dealing with your life the same way you would with a software problem. Find what is really going on and then fix it, or figure out how to live with it.
Think about how you think and feel. The symbolic interactionism of social psychology sees the self as a dialogue between the “I” and the “me”, where the “me” consist of what we think that other think about us. It is like writing code with the code review in mind. “I need to run the linter so that Ed sees that I care about the team”. But what we write is not code, but our identity. Meta cognition is to add another layer. “If I write the function like this, Ruby is going to say that I need better naming, and Ruby is someone I trust, so I should think some more about the name.” “This function could be broken up in two, and Tess at my old job would probably tell me to do that, but in this team we have longer functions, so I should probably not care about what Tess says right now, perhaps later. “ We can do the same thing with our thoughts and emotions. “I feel sad right now. That is ok. I could be sad since I am hungry, or since I felt misunderstood during that conversation I just had. If I get something to eat, at least I can rule that out. Still sad. What was so hurtful about that conversation? …” With a conscious relationships to the conversations in our head, we get power to change our (inner) lives.
One example is how we can use time to change our perspective. As a kid, when walking home through the cold and the dark, I focused on the feeling of finally getting home. Then I could use that sense of joy and relief as a shield against the nordic winter. I shifted my perception of time into the future, just enough to keep walking, but not enough to worry about tomorrows homework. The same trick helps me get some rest by focusing only on the present. If I let the past and the future fill my head there will be no break. But in the present, probably in a sofa with a cup of tea, there is relaxation. Even if it is only five minutes, they are fully mine if I shrink my reality to only be those five minutes of peace. Letting regrets or worries sabotage my moment will not solve anything. Rested I am better prepared to deal with the things that I can do something about.
Mindfulness is a good word to look for, if reading more about this. That is a tool for adding monitoring, orchestration and debugging into our own thoughts and emotions.
You are not done yet. As a software developer we learn new things all the time. Communication, regulation of emotions, self awareness, relationships and other things that make it easier to be a human, are also skills you can practise. If you believe that you can learn the new features in the next release of your favourite tool, you can learn this too. There are books. There are exercises. There are videos and podcasts. But just as coding, it takes practise. Life is unfair. Not all got put in front of a computer at a young age being encouraged to tinker with it. Not all are encouraged to talk about emotions or expected to take responsibility for their relationships. Luckily there is room to catch up. Just know that you can change. And learn. And grow. In all areas of life. Believe that failure is not a sign that you have reached your limit, but a clue for what to learn next.
These tools do not always work for me. I am still learning, growing. But they help often enough for me to want more of it. And I know that with practise it will make my life even easier. Also when my life gets harder in other ways. Keep growing!
Debugging your brain by Casey Watts is a concise book with practical advice on meta cognition. I highly recommend it. It is also available on audio!
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