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Applying Systems Thinking for Better Thoughts

Published 7/13/2022

The systems that play a role in producing your thoughts are a huge leverage opportunity in your work and life. If you pause and examine those systems through a lens of systems-thinking, you are likely to identify opportunities for improvement, even if only as a byproduct of that investigation.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Perhaps the most important tool that you have as a human being, what sets you apart and gives you the opportunity to improve is the ability to inspect the ability to think about your thoughts. That's what we're talking about in today's episode. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and you're listening to Developer Tea. So much of your experience and so many of your actions are dependent on the quality of your thoughts. This is not a new concept, Marcus Raleigh has said it this way, that your soul becomes died the color of your thoughts. Your thoughts drive so much about your perception and your perception drive so much about how you experience reality. Now, this doesn't mean that your positive thoughts are going to land money in your pocket. We're going to reject that outright before we get down this road. But instead, what I want to adopt, what I want you to adopt, what I want you to consider is two parts. That's what we've already said, that thoughts are important, that the quality of your thoughts has a profound impact on the quality of your life and your experience of reality. The second thing I want you to grasp today is that you can change the systems that produce thoughts. You can affect the systems that produce your thoughts. Now I do want to make a disclaimer here before we get down the road. That disclaimer is very simple, I am not a professional when it comes to neuroscience. I'm certainly not a professional when it comes to neurodivergence. Everything I'm saying here should be taken with a grain of salt. Everybody's experience is different. All of the systems that produce your thoughts are not necessarily directly in your control. It would be absolutely incorrect to assume that that would be the case. Many of the systems for all of us are out of our direct control. The context that we're talking about in this episode is the context that you do have control over. Whatever context that is for you might be different than the next person. We're going to do a little bit of systems thinking in today's episode. Some are going to apply that systems thinking to our systems of thought. These are two different concepts. Systems thinking is really just that meta level analysis. What is going on to produce the thoughts that I'm having? The second piece of that is actually applying that to your particular scenario. Let's talk a little bit about systems thinking. The very extremely dumbed down version of systems thinking involves some core pieces. These are the stock, the flow, and variables. Stocks, flows, and variables. You can think about stocks as something that would accumulate some kind of material or some kind of value, a bucket. You can think about flows as something that is either going into or out of a stock. Those of course can have different rates and different things might affect those rates. The rate of something else may affect that rate or a variable may affect that rate. These may seem like abstract concepts, but we're going to make them as concrete and practical as we can in this episode. But first, let's talk about today's spot. This episode of Developer Tea is brought to you by Square. There are millions of sellers across the globe using Square to run every aspect of their business. Many of those sellers are looking for customized solutions that are deeply connected and easy to use. The problem is they'd have to go and hire a developer to custom build that for them usually. Well this is where you as a developer come in. You can grow your business by extending or integrating with Square using their free APIs and SDKs to build tools for sellers. And more by going to developer.com slash square. That's developer.com slash square. Thanks again to Square for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. Let's talk a little bit about how systems thinking can apply to our way of thinking, our habits and thought patterns themselves. This meta thinking can help you improve your systems that trigger various types of thoughts. Something you may not expect is that the thoughts themselves are not what we're trying to change. When you have a raw thought, you can think about this as incoming flow. This is something that we can't really control. And in fact, if we tried to control it, we might actually have a negative feedback loop causing more of the same types of thoughts. Instead what we want to do is create situations that are conducive to, number one, dealing with the kinds of thoughts that we don't necessarily want to act on or that we don't necessarily want to multiply. And secondly, creating a system that is conducive to better thought patterns and thoughts that we do want to act on. For the sake of the exercise, we're going to make this extremely simple. And of course, your actual systems of thought are much more likely to be more complex than this. But let's imagine that we have three stocks, three stocks that we're going to have varying amounts of unitless value. We'll call this time spent on these stocks. And the variable in this system is, well, what percentage of time you're going to spend investing in each of these stocks? The first one is exercise. The second one is social media consumption. And the third one is reading books. Now you can imagine adding many more of these, all of the different things that you spend your time on, maybe spending time with a close friend or spending time with a mentor. You might add sleep as another bucket here, right? So there's a lot of things that you could model out. But we're going to focus on these three, spending time with social media, spending time reading books, and then spending time exercising. And we can imagine these stocks can act as secondary variables to another set of flows. Those flows might be positive thoughts or healthy thoughts. And another kind of, and we're being very binary here. Of course, there's a lot more that could go into this, but healthy thoughts and unhealthy thoughts, right? These are thoughts that are useful or desired and then thoughts that are not useful or not desired. And it's important to recognize that without hard data, it's hard to build a proper system. One that actually represents a true reality. And so building system models that are kind of representing these abstract concepts that are very personal to you requires some introspection, requires some guessing. This is not a pure science. Rather, it's a way of thinking about these different inputs more clearly. So you can imagine asking yourself, what level of positive effect does consuming social media have on my healthy thoughts? This is a very kind of important question that is only really examined if you think about this system. What level of positive effect does consuming social media have on the rate of healthy, desirable, positive thoughts? And if you ask this question about exercise, you ask this question about reading a book you could probably come up with a model that hopefully encourages you to spend a little less time on social media and instead allocate that same time towards more exercise or reading a book. Now, I do want to provide a word of caution and that is that in a naive version of this model, the optimal amount of time exercising might be 24 hours a day or the optimal amount of time spent reading a book might be 24 hours a day or you're supposed to spend 12 hours reading and 12 hours exercising. This is obviously not optimal for real health and in fact, the optimal amount of social media may not actually be zero. Here's the important point that I'm trying to make with this. By becoming aware of the systems that produce thought, by becoming aware of that kind of action, reaction, loop, by becoming aware of where you are putting your time or your effort in your life, what kinds of stocks are you trying to stock pile? If you begin to ask these questions, then you are doing the critical exercise of that meta-thinking. You are thinking about your thinking, you are thinking about the system that produces thoughts. For time, you can refine these systems. You begin to learn more about yourself. Try to take an outside view. Try to inform your systems modeling or you're thinking about thinking based off of behavioral science and based off of the best available information. This is a way of designing the context where your thoughts arise from. The alternative here, if you don't do this, if you don't spend the time thinking about thinking, then you'll be subject to thinking in an environment that is not designed and in an environment that's haphazard. This doesn't mean that it's necessarily unhealthy, but it does mean that it's very likely that you have an opportunity sitting in front of you, an opportunity to improve. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. Thanks again to today's sponsor, SquareHeadover2developertea.com slash Square to get started with the SDKs and APIs that Square has provided for free for you to go and make money by selling awesome integrations to the millions of sellers that use SquareWorldWide. Thanks so much for listening to this episode. If you enjoyed this discussion, encourage you to join the Developer Tea Discord community, head over to developertea.com slash discord to join that today. It's totally free. Thanks so much and until next time, enjoy your tea.