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Suffering, Fear and Safety

Published 8/29/2018

It's the middle of the week and if you're like most people, you go into auto-pilot to get from the beginning of your day to the end of your day. In today's episode, we're reflecting on how we acted yesterday and exploring our opportunities ahead of us.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone, before we get started today, I just want to remind you about our partnership with Breaker, Breaker released upstream, which is a way for you as the listeners to support podcast creators like Developer Tealike myself by directly subscribing to special versions of podcast feeds for Developer Tea. This is an ad free version of our show. You can check it out on Breaker's app, which is available for iOS right now and is coming soon for Android. Just go to the app store, download Breaker and search for Developer Tea. You subscribe for $4.99 a month and that is a direct support line to the show. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell. My goal on the show is to help driven developers connect their career purpose so they can do better work and have a positive impact on the people around them. It's the middle of the week. It's Wednesday. And if you're like most people, most of the time you wake up and you kind of put your brain on autopilot. You go to work, you solve perhaps interesting problems, but then you finish with work. You come home, run through your normal routine. Maybe you exercise or maybe you spend time with your family or maybe you go out with friends. But the reality is if you were to snapshot today or snapshot tomorrow or yesterday, many of those days look quite similar. Now, there's nothing particularly wrong with these days looking similar. And today's episode, we're going to talk about kind of taking a step back and looking at a modified version of your day. How would things feel if they were different? So I want you to think about yesterday just for a moment. And I don't often tell people to think about anything but the present on this show because so much of our mindset is caught up in trying to respond to things that happened yesterday right now, rather than respond to things that are happening now right now. But I do want you to intentionally take a few minutes. And hopefully you can do this, you know, dedicate some time to this rather than trying to do this while you're doing another task. But take a few moments and think about yesterday or perhaps the last handful of days. Write down the commonalities or think about the commonalities between those days. What things stay the same? What things were different? What things stand out? What parts of those days seem very consistent? You can include things like time or actual behaviors, certain patterns that you have, maybe even the way that you treat particular people or the types of relationships that you have. Once you've identified some of those commonalities, I want you to think about taking one of those most stable characteristics and changing it. Let's say for example that one of your stable characteristics is that you go to work sometime between seven and eight in the morning. Maybe you leave your house at seven and eight in the morning. And then you return home around four o'clock in the afternoon. Maybe you have a slightly earlier shifted work day. And what I want you to do is imagine what life would be like if you shifted that work day to a different time. I'd say you went to work at 10 and you came back home at six. Now this is a minor shift in the grand scheme of things. You're not really changing a lot, you're changing a little bit about your timing, but everything else can remain constant. And yet you can see and perhaps even feel right now the anxiety of that change. You can imagine how many things you would have to rearrange in your life. So there's kind of this strange juxtaposition between the smallness of the change, the kind of microscopic nature of that change and the effect that it has on your brain. Now you may be listening and you might be thinking that well no actually that wouldn't have really much of an effect on my brain and that's fair. Different things affects different people in different ways. There's almost certainly something that we could change about your daily habits only slightly that would have a kind of a rationally large effect on your anxiety level. So we've kind of observed our thoughts so far about a relatively small change. But now I want you to do some mental gymnastics to change things pretty drastically. Imagine that you lose your job. If you have a job currently as a developer you lose your job tomorrow that your income goes away. And as a result you also lose whatever your current living situation is. Maybe you have to move out of your house or your apartment. And then let's imagine that some things are stolen from you as you're moving out. So now you don't even have a computer anymore, maybe you've lost some of your clothes. And you're slowly being minimized. The things that were steady and were stable are going away. Now let me be clear. Before your mind kind of goes wild and ruminates on this possibility of this happening and you go into emergency mode, this is only a mental exercise to point out the way that our brains respond. Because the truth is your anxiety level may be higher than the first thing that we mentioned. But if you take a few kind of mental steps to decide what you would do next, very often the anxiety that we have about smaller things is somewhat similar to the anxiety that we have about bigger things. Our body doesn't regulate by the magnitude of that particular danger. And in fact, we can even manage our anxiety and our fear as we go through exercises like this. We can think about worst case scenarios. And we can even imagine what is the absolute worst that could happen in this particular scenario. I lose my job. I lose my house. Well, maybe I have friends that I can move in with or family until I find a job. And you know, the things that I lost that somebody stole from me, those are just things. And eventually I can replace them. And if it really comes down to it, I almost always have a way of coping with my situation. Humans are remarkably resilient in the face of difficulty. And when we think about difficulty, that we believe that we're not resilient. The well-known stoic philosopher and writer, Seneca, who wrote letters from stoic, had this to say about anxiety. He said, we suffer more in our imagination than in reality. And this is very true. In fact, we've even kind of practiced suffering in today's episode. We've practiced this idea of pain by imagining these painful situations, even small amounts of pain. But perhaps by finding that we can induce this, by actually thinking about something that is, you know, anxiety inducing, maybe we can understand that a lot of our pain or our fear is simply caught up in our thoughts. It's simply a result of us ruminating or anticipating what may happen, the pain we might experience. And this is incredibly important for developers and non-developers alike. And particularly for developers, we have a large amount of mental stress and strain on a daily basis. Usually this is not social stress. A lot of the time, this is internal stress. It's stress about our own abilities, our own cognition. Stress about not being able to figure out a difficult problem. We have a lot of phomosphere missing out. We have a lot of imposter syndrome to deal with. And the reality is we have a lot of competition to deal with. We have a lot of learning to do. We have to become better, you know. Just because we have imposter syndrome doesn't mean that we can lay down our learning habits that we can just stop progressing. But the truth is, the things that we fear, very often, our minds expand those things to larger than reality. We have irrationally kind of blown those fears out of proportion. And so I want to encourage you, as the listener of this show, to take a few moments to really consider what your worst fears are. One of the most important things you can do with fear is face it. If your fear is that you're not a competent developer, well face that fear. Determine what happens if that's true. Do you not get the job that you're applying for? Do you lose your current job? If that's the case, then what next? People have gone through much worse things. And you could go through much worse things. If you're fearing some professional interaction, think about the worst things that could happen as a result of that professional interaction. And by preparing yourself and thinking through and facing some of these fears, you kind of disarm those fears. You kind of take the kind of the wind out of the sails, so to speak. And when you actually experience something that's adverse, the likelihood that it's as extreme as the fears that you're prepared to face is much less. On the average, you're preparing for much worse than you'll experience, even if you experience something bad. Of course, take everything I have to say about this topic with a grain of salt. I highly encourage seeking therapy, even for people who are relatively mentally healthy. People who can do wonders for understanding yourself and understanding how you interact with the world. And of course, I am not a licensed therapist, but talking about these things with other people, talking about this with other developers, this is important. It's important that we raise these discussions about not only mental health, but how we kind of interact with a seemingly dangerous environment. And we're in a professional environment as developers. We have to constantly work to shift those environments from something that feels hostile to something that feels safe. This is partly the job of managers, and I kind of plead with all the managers who listen to the show to make that a priority. Do not cultivate a hostile work environment. This is going to lead to not only unhappy workers, but also a huge drain on productivity. So even from a business sense, promoting a hostile work environment is not a good idea. But beyond that, the effect that you have on people, on their state of mind, as you work to cultivate a safe environment, you can actually build a more rational place to work. As a developer, if you cultivate for yourself a sense of safety in your work, instead of allocating a bunch of your mental energy to trying to mitigate all the risks around you and trying to figure out all the hidden motives or play politics. Instead of doing those things, if you cultivate a sense of safety, you can focus on more creative output. You can focus on more novel output. You can learn better. And this all starts by recognizing the reality that very often our perception warps reality, our understanding of our own experiences can even be untrue. They don't line up with what's real. And ultimately, when you temper your fears by facing them and by actually taking the next step, go through the fear, rather than avoiding it, face it and then take the following step, the now what step. Once you can do this, you have a much better mental tool set and ultimately a much better approach when adverse things occur. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. It was a little bit of a different episode stylistically than we do on the show. But I think this stuff is very important to talk about. And I appreciate you listening to this episode. If you haven't subscribed yet and whatever podcasting app you're using, I encourage you to do so before the end of the episode. We release three episodes a week and it's easy to forget and fall behind. So I encourage you to go ahead and subscribe. Thank you so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.