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Rollercoasters of Emotions

Published 7/16/2018

It's important that we remember ourselves as humans with emotions and recognize how our emotions affect our behavior and decisions. In this episode, we're talking about understanding our emotions and using that understanding to help us communicate and empathize with the people around us.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
What are my favorite games when I was growing up? Rollercoaster Tycoon. This was a game where you build a theme park and in that theme park you create various attractions. You create stalls like bathrooms or hot dog stalls or cotton candy, of course information he asks, Marty nerding out again and then of course every roller coaster Tycoon enthusiast dream is to build incredible roller coasters. And the whole point of the game was to play these various parks and achieve certain goals like having a certain amount of money or having a certain number of guests attracted to your park. A programmer may actually know a little bit about this game because it is famously written in C directly in C by the game's creator Chris Sawyer. But as a result of this game I ended up really enjoying roller coasters and I would go to six flags or to Cedar Point and the roller coasters were a lot of fun. Now this is kind of strange, it's strange behavior that humans engage in where we do something that is thrilling and it's thrilling because we're going to talk about why it's thrilling and then we're going to talk about how this can apply to our careers as well. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and you're listening to developers. He and my goal on this show is to help driven developers connect to their career purpose and do better work so they can have a positive influence on the people around them. A lot of what we do on the show is we explore these strange ways of behaving that we have and really specifically to developers how those behaviors have the play out in our careers. We do this very often on the show we explore biases and those kinds of things. In today's episode we're going to explore this idea of the roller coaster just for a brief moment and then apply this to how we see our careers and how we see code for example. Now it may seem obvious roller coasters are fun because you get to go fast or because you get to go inverted it may feel kind of like you're flying in an aerobatic airplane. And certainly there are a variety of reasons that we love roller coasters. Sometimes it's because of the memory, the experience of the memory of riding that roller coaster maybe with our friends or significant others. But one of the theories of why we love roller coasters is because it provides a thrill. And this thrill is the same kind of emotional feeling that you would get when you're in danger. This is kind of an odd thing that humans do, a strange behavior where we kind of test the limits. We know that we're not in danger even though we have the feeling of being in danger. It's kind of like a simulated danger. What's interesting is we also get the same feeling when watching thrilling movies when we watch a psychological thriller for example or a horror film. And not all of these thrilling things are in the same taste category for everyone. Not everyone enjoys roller coasters and not everyone enjoys horror movies. But the underlying truth here is that our emotions play a huge role in how we make choices. This is obvious, right? Of course we're going to make different choices when we are at lethargic or when we're otherwise unmotivated. Our emotions play major roles in the larger decisions that we make. But very few people that are standing in line at a roller coaster are actively thinking I'm very excited because I know I'm getting ready to trick my body into believing that it's in danger. But I know that I'm not. In other words, our emotions are maybe difficult to describe. Our processing of the world, we may have a cognitive processing that doesn't really pay attention to the underlying processing. The idea here is that there are things, ways that we may make decisions, things that influence our decisions in ways that we don't really understand that we can't really articulate. Because again, very few people would say that they enjoy roller coasters because it feels like danger even though it's not. So what are some ways that this concept can apply to our careers and to our coding behaviors? One of the ways that we can think about pretty immediately is how we choose our tooling. And there's a lot of different heuristics we use for this. For example, the concept of the zeitgeist or the kind of the meta community around a given tool. We can immediately accept the idea that a tool is good. If we hear that it's good, a lot. The example that comes to mind most immediately is react. Now you may be trained on what parts of react are good, why it's good, why it exists, why it's better than the next best thing. But perhaps we choose some other tooling because a lot of other people chose it because we want to conform to some social norm or maybe because we're excited about change, about dynamic tool sets. Maybe part of why we don't want to keep one tool set is because we don't want to become bored. Maybe we fear the idea that we're stagnating. At the same time, perhaps we reject choosing tools. We reject changing tools because we have a sense of safety and the new tool brings along with it the unknown. Another example of this is the attitudes that we take in the workplace. Let's say for example that you speak up in a meeting and you speak up in a way that is somewhat contrarian. You're disagreeing with somebody and it's pretty clear that you're disagreeing with them. Maybe you're being kind and agreeable in terms of your tone but what you're saying is in direct opposition to that person. Now, let's imagine that after that meeting occurred, other people praised you for what you said. They appreciated that you brought up a counterpoint and that the counterpoint was valid and so you have this experience where you are rewarded for speaking out against another person. All of this is totally valid. Of course, someone may say something in a meeting and you may have the opportunity to say something in opposition to what they say and what you say may be illuminating. Now, I can't prove everything that I'm saying here. Of course, I'm not a psychologist and I tell you always to take what I have to say with a grain of salt but it's possible just based on the concept of conditioning that if you do this kind of thing and you're rewarded often enough, then perhaps your default behavior will change towards being contrarian regularly. In other words, you may seek a way of disagreeing because for whatever reason you've been conditioned to believe that you'll be rewarded for that. Now, of course, this is a very simplified view into why we make decisions that we make and the factors that go into decision-making are often incredibly complex and can't be singled out in the way that we're doing kind of theoretically on today's episode. But it is important to notice this because, well, it may be difficult or maybe even impossible to identify what exact feeling is kind of playing into your judgment for a given decision or given behavior. What you can do is be aware that your emotions change the way that you behave. When you may not be able to nail down exactly which emotion and exactly what behavior and exactly what threshold of that emotion changes that behavior to be different than it would be without that emotion, we aren't science experiments in this way. It's very difficult to separate these things out. But what you can do is recognize this on a regular basis. Remind yourself of this. Write it down on a piece of paper. We are going into your next meeting, for example. Write down just the letter E. This could be a single signifier. You don't even have to tell anyone else. This could be a signifier to remind you that your emotions exist. Now why would we do this? If we can't really diagnose further or maybe we can only diagnose to a limited extent, then why would we remind ourselves of our faults? Perhaps ignorance is bliss, right? We remind ourselves of this reality because when we lean on other people, we get a different mix of emotion. We get a different perspective that may not be as affected by a given emotion. For example, a non-programmer may not understand the value of switching to a given tool. Perhaps they don't have the social norms to adhere to that you do as a developer. Perhaps another person doesn't have the same kind of conditioning that you have. So when you are acting a particular way by default, maybe they can help you see that you act that way by default and help you come up with strategies to address that. The whole point of this is that we have to rely on others and that we have to stay aware of our own humanity, of our own faults, our own fallibility. Because we're always going to have emotions and our emotions are always going to change. And because our emotions are always with us, they will always have an effect on us. They will always have an effect on our behavior, and on our perception, and ultimately on our decision making, and very often to a non-trivial degree. Very often our emotions are perhaps the biggest effect of our decisions and of our behavior. So lean on other people. Lean on other people when you're collaborating. Lean on systematic ways to evaluate, to measure. Don't lean on your own perspectives. Now notice that I'm not saying to try to get rid of emotion or dampen emotion. It's important that you experience life as a human and humans have emotions. It's very important that humans have emotions. It's how we got to where we are. And it turns out that emotions are incredibly important for collaboration. It's important to understand how another person feels in order to collaborate with them while. So the advice that I have is not to try to ignore your emotions or to become cold, but instead to recognize how those emotions affect your behavior and your decisions. Thank you so much for listening to Developer Tea. If you haven't yet subscribed, I encourage you to do so in whatever podcasting app you're using right now. The reason you would subscribe. If you thought that this episode was valuable at all, just a quick reminder, these episodes are totally free, and there's going to be more. So even if it was only kind of useful, then maybe the next one is going to be kind of useful as well. So I encourage you to subscribe in whatever podcasting app you use so you don't miss out on future episodes of Developer Tea. Thank you so much for listening, and until next time, enjoy your tea.