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Purpose Oriented Resolutions, Part Two, and 7 Years of Developer Tea!

Published 1/5/2022

First off, thank you for an incredible 7 years! Our listeners and sponsors make it possible to do this show, and I'm incredibly grateful for every one of you.

In this episode, we continue our discussion with two more exercises for making meaningful and purpose driven behavior change resolutions.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
It's hard for me to believe that today, whenever this episode airs, I will have been doing Developer Tea recording episodes for this podcast for seven years. Seven years. It doesn't feel that long in some ways and in other ways it certainly does. A lot has happened in seven years. One of the most important cornerstones in my professional life is this podcast, the ability to come back here in front of this microphone and talk with you. At this point, I do mean with because we have a Discord community. We used to have a Slack community a long time ago. Discord is significantly better for what we do. You can join that for free at developer.t.com slash discord. But to talk with you about finding clarity, perspective, and purpose in your career, this is something that I care deeply about. This isn't just a professional voice. This isn't just my radio voice. If you had a conversation with me in person, my wife, my family, my coworkers, my friends, well, all a test, but the topics that I talk about on the show very often come up just in our regular conversation. This is an important place for me. It is in many ways the place I go to work out my ideas, to work out how I feel and how I want to approach my work. It is a place where I give advice that I want to follow. I hope that as you listen to this show today and in the future, or maybe you're working your way through the back catalog, maybe you're listening to this in five years from now. I hope you find it helpful. I hope you, most importantly, change your mind about something. That is the kind of most difficult way, but most important way that we measure success on this show. Are you, in some way, changing, growing, shifting, moving in one direction or another? That is the ultimate measure of success, whether this show is doing its intended purpose. If that is actually happening for you, I desperately want to hear that from you. You can leave me a review on iTunes. You can also send me a message directly in that Discord community or you can send me an email developerateatgmail.com. You can reach out to me on Twitter. I've tried to have almost as many avenues as possible for you to reach out to me and talk about your career and what this show is doing for you or things that you've heard on Developer Tea.E. that have peaked your interest. I'd love to hear from you. Thank you so much for seven years. Let's get into the meat of today's discussion. We've been talking about resolutions and more specifically purpose-driven resolutions. In today's episode, I'm going to give you two more exercises for you to do to create those purpose-driven resolutions. Your resolution is most often, it is most often some kind of change, and that change is typically a behavioral change. This isn't always true. It might be a mindset shift, but your mindset is likely going to cascade into your behaviors. As you look at your list of resolutions that perhaps you've made since the beginning of the year, or maybe you have a list that you've wanted to improve on for a long time, and the beginning of the year is just yet another reminder that the list is sitting there waiting for you to take action. Whatever your situation is, the goal of today's episode is to help you refine that list into something that is actually useful, something that is important to you. I want to give you two exercises. The only requirement here is that you come in with some idea, some idea of what you want to change. We're going to define change very quickly here. You're going to either start something new. You're going to stop something that you've been doing, or you're going to change something about something you are already doing. You're not necessarily going to stop or start something different with it. You're going to shift something about it. Maybe the frequency, maybe the intensity, some characteristic about something that you're already doing. It's important with that list to make sure that you have refined the list not only to avoid it being a list of results. In other words, a lot of people might say my New Year's resolution is to get healthy. The problems are numerous with this kind of resolution. The most important one being that there's nothing obvious to do to become healthy. Getting healthy is an individual problem. It's an individual journey depending on where you are with yourself. That's not to say that you shouldn't have these goals. It's not to say that you shouldn't have results in mind. But rather, it is to say that you should take those goals and break them down into certain behaviors. Those behaviors, especially habitual behaviors, are what you want to focus on for your resolutions. It shouldn't be taken for granted that the process of figuring out what those activities are is pretty difficult. This is a very intensive thing to figure out. How do you become healthy? There's a lot of people who can sell you a lot of advice on how to do that. How do you become a better software engineer? There's a lot of people who can sell you a lot of advice on how to do that. Take some time to actually refine that list. This is not one of the exercises that we're talking about today, but it is a prerequisite because we're going to refine it another two steps in today's episode. If you don't have that list, that's okay. It's not a hard prerequisite. You can still listen to today's episode to help you backfill some of that information about what are the actions, the kinds of actions I should be thinking about when it comes to resolution making. But it is necessary for what we're talking about today to actually walk through the exercises. As you go back and fill that list out, whatever it is, you can consider what we're talking about today in order to make that list more effective. Let's get into the two exercises. In the first exercise, we are going to identify two things. One is your momentum behavior. This is one behavior we're going to talk about. This second is your drag behavior, momentum behavior, and drag behavior. What are these? Your momentum behavior, a lot of different people have different names for this. Tempher is called the lead domino. James Clear calls this the keystone habit. The basic idea is that you have a stacking effect. You have one particular behavior that if you stay consistent with that behavior, a lot of other things naturally fall in line. For example, your team may have a commitment, which results in a collective habit, to always have two reviewers on a given pull request. This might be worded as a restriction or a rule for your team, but it becomes a habit as a result. This behavior of requiring two reviews provides a bunch of other behaviors. For example, you might provide better comments as a result of this. You didn't set out as a team to have better comments in your code. You didn't set out as a team to double check your code before you push it up. Instead, having the two reviewers requiring these two reviews on a given pull request, it creates these other effects, these side effects of having those two reviewers. There are social effects, there are some technical effects, whatever you want to call it, this single behavior that you are committed to as a team creates secondary good behaviors. It may also create secondary bad behaviors, and that should be taken into account. The important thing to note here is that when you find a momentum habit, it takes the place of setting multiple resolutions. If you set a resolution to follow that one momentum habit, then other things naturally will fall in line. If you are struggling to understand this concept, some good examples of momentum habits, one might be having consistent one-on-ones. If you are a manager, setting those consistent one-on-ones and being on time and being present for each and every one of them. Another good momentum habit is exercise. The biggest momentum habit for me is reading. This is one that I frankly struggle with. I try to read more and more, and I have a hard time actually keeping this habit up. But I know that this habit creates momentum for me. There are so many good positive effects that reading has on me. The second type of habit, the second kind of behavior is the drag behavior. Another word for this might be a distraction behavior. This wording coming from near IAL who differentiates traction behaviors and distraction behaviors. The idea here is that you probably have behaviors that are kind of the opposite of momentum behaviors. You engage in this particular behavior and it drags you down. It has multiple other negative effects. Some very simple kind of small examples of a distraction behavior or a drag behavior might be opening your phone the first thing in the morning. This could cause a cascade of other negative actions and if you were to create a new habit to remove that distraction or dragging behavior and replace it with a momentum behavior. Not only are you getting the benefit of the momentum, but you're also getting the removal of the negative. Every good behavior, especially behavior change design, is heavily focused on replacement, not just implementing something new, but questioning what is this behavior actually going to replace? What needs are being filled currently by a bad behavior and how do we replace that behavior so that those needs are getting filled in a better way? So instead of purely trying to fight the urge to open your phone in the morning, try to find a better replacement. For example, and this is my kind of novice neuroscience coming out here. But if you imagine that opening your phone in the morning provides you a hit of dopamine and it gives you a reward or a sense of reward, then you might do something else that gives you a hit of dopamine, like making your bed or doing a little bit of exercise, doing 10 Jumping Jacks every morning. This is a silly example and it's silly on purpose because it illustrates the bigger principle at play. The idea here is to take something that you know is a dragging behavior, something that creates a kind of spiraling effect, a negative spiral or a negative kind of cloud of behaviors, and replace it with something that creates a positive attracting cloud of behaviors. Now, an easy way to identify this is to look at your list of behaviors or resolutions and try to identify one that if you were to do that one, then multiples on that list may improve naturally. They might just naturally become better. You can think of this as kind of resolving your various resolutions. That's kind of a weird wording, but to kind of simplify your resolutions into only a few that carry you towards the effects that you wanted from the many. This is the whole idea of a momentum resolution, something, some activity that you take apart and some behavior that you engage in that carries a lot of weight with it and brings along other behaviors. Now here's the second and perhaps the most important behavior based exercise that we've done in a long time on this show. That's because it's about you having some sense of influence over your own behavior. Here's what often unfortunately happens. Happens to me and everyone else that I know basically. I imagine it has happened to you. You set some kind of goal, some resolution, some choice to become better, to change something about your life, to change something about your work, and it requires a lot of gumption, a lot of grit and a lot of commitment. You start out on the right foot, you start out with a lot of energy to make that happen. But you fail at some point or at least based on your own prescription, you fail. And at that moment, because that failure feels like a complete and utter failure, a binary switch has been flipped from succeeding to unsuccessful as a state that is considered kind of a judgment point in the past. You stop moving forward on that particular behavior change. Here's the underlying principle. All expectations create brittle behavior change. Inflexible expectations create brittle behavior change. What this means is that if you create an expectation for yourself that has no flexibility, for example, you're going to exercise seven days a week every single day. That's your commitment, that's your resolution, the moment that you go to sleep. If you didn't exercise that day, that resolution has been broken. This is an extreme example of an inflexible resolution. What you're doing is you're giving more power to the dogma. You're giving more power to the rule set. You're giving more agency to that one point in time decision than you are to yourself. Now yes, there is absolutely some psychology to the kind of unbroken chain mentality, the idea that if you continuously do something every single day, that there's some power in the repetitive kind of commitment that you will feel some pressure to not break that chain, the chain will mean something to you, but there's also a negative pressure to that. The negative pressure being, once you have broken the chain, you can't mend it. There's no way to unbreak the chain. When you give your resolution more power, then the stakes become higher and your likelihood for failure increases with very little upside. The downside is once you feel that sense of failure, once you accept the idea that you have failed, you're more likely to just quit on that resolution to quit on that commitment than you are to get back up and do something different, make an adjustment. The second exercise that I want to give you today is to look at your list of resolutions and change them so that you have more power over them. What does this mean? It sounds kind of fluffy on the face of it, but what I want you to do is look at your resolutions and instead of creating inflexible resolutions, in other words, absolute commitments, change your absolute commitments to a range. So in other words, I'm going to exercise three to four days per week. Here's the important point here because you could look at this and say, well, that's just as inflexible just in a different way. The important point for you here is to create Slack and the amount of Slack that you create into your resolution process for each of these behaviors, the amount of Slack is going to be dependent on your situation. The important point here is that if you don't have Slack, then you don't have any room for responding to failures. Fathers for your resolutions and your behavior changes shouldn't be final points. Instead, if you had planned for that failure to occur, if you had created some kind of fail-safe situation so that if you do only have time for three workouts this week, it doesn't totally break that commitment that you've made. If you give yourself a chance to fail and do something about it, then now you have given yourself more agency, more power over those behavior change resolutions. Here's another way to give yourself more agency over your resolutions. Commit to reviewing and revising them on a regular basis. This could be monthly, it could be quarterly, it could be at the half year mark, it could even be weekly. Your kind of cadence is going to be specific to you. But the important thing here is that your resolutions, your commitments shouldn't grow stale with your goals. If you don't have power over your commitments, over your resolutions, then you are very likely to fail. They're going to take control over your sense of accomplishment. And you won't get anything meaningful done anyway. Inflexible expectations. And remember, these are expectations that you're setting for yourself. This goes for other people as well, for what it's worth. This lesson extends well beyond your resolutions for yourself and into your expectations for other people. Inflexible expectations create brittle behavior change. So find a way to make all of your very important momentum behaviors. Those commitments must be flexible. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. And the last seven years of episodes of this show, perhaps you haven't been listening for seven years. Maybe this is the very first episode you've ever heard. If that's the case, welcome. I have no expectations on you to go back and listen to all seven years worth of this podcast. It's not necessary. We say it all the time, if you don't want to listen to a specific episode, you don't have to. There's no pressure to listen to any episodes. There's no narrative here. We might reference them, but it's very loose. So you can jump in whenever there's a topic that suits you and you can skip the ones that don't. The sincerest of thank yous for your listenership for the people who have taken the time to go and leave reviews and iTunes. For people who have listened for years on end to this show, thank you so much. And of course, a huge thank you to our many sponsors over the years. The combination of these two factors, having people listening to the show and having sponsors who are willing to support the show, that has allowed us to continue doing this for seven years without hesitation. Thanks so much for listening. And until next time, enjoy your tea.