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Fear, Change & Instincts

Published 4/25/2018

Think about the last 5....20 and 100 days. If you're like most people then most of those days had one thing in common that you can draw a line between and say you repeated. Today, we're talking about the daily things that we have control over, how we cultivate habit and how we can change our habits.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
I want you to think about the last five days, or maybe the last 20 days, even the last 100 days. If you are like most people, then all of those days probably had at least one thing in common, if not 20 or 30 or even 100 things in common, then you can draw a thread between each of those days and say that you repeated something every single day. At the very least, you almost certainly used the same language every day, but even more things that you have control over, like what you eat or that cup of coffee you have every morning, or the time that you wake up and the time that you go to sleep or your exercise habits. These are things that we cultivate as patterns in our lives, and I want to talk about why we resist changing those patterns in today's episode. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and you're listening to Developer Tea. My goal in the 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. In today's episode, we're exploring this idea of habitual patterns in a different light than we've talked about it in the past. Of course, we've established in the past that habits typically come as the result of laziness. More specifically, our brains are pretty lazy. We don't really like to expend a lot of energy to do something new, to process new information, because we don't really want to go out of our way if we don't have to. So it's much easier to make the decision, for example, to order the same thing that you know you like off of the menu. Some people are more adventurous than others, but even the most adventurous types of people typically have some place that they return to, something they commonly do, some kind of habit they continuously perpetuate. We're going to talk more about this in an upcoming interview of Developer Tea, specifically how these patterns and habits are created. It's a very interesting episode. I encourage you to subscribe if you want to miss out on that. Truly, that's going to be one of my favorite episodes, one of my favorite interviews for me personally that I've done in a long time. But I do want to talk about another side of this subject, not just our brains being lazy or why it is that we create these habits, but rather why we don't want to change. Our resistance to change comes from two parts, essentially from two parts of our makeup, our being, the way that we think, the way we behave. And really, these two things are two sides of the same coin. The first one is our inability to see the better option. In other words, if we were to change something, we very well could have a more positive outcome, a more positive scenario on the other side of that change than we currently have today. And so knowing exactly what that looks like, well, that turns out to be really hard. And in thinking fast and slow, Daniel Coneman calls this phenomenon, what you see is all there is. When we only have something to see, the only things that we see are what we focus on. And so it's very difficult for us to imagine an alternate reality. Not only are we having to imagine the future, which is already quite difficult, but we're also having to interpolate what we know about the past, the things that we've learned about our previous patterns and our previous habits, what those things have generated, and we're trying to interpolate what a change would do to us into the future. And we have the common misperception of the future as more of the same, more of the present. And this is really a kind of a fallacy of thinking as well, but our reticence to change is partially because we don't really have a good reason to change. We see our current situation as typically pretty good. Now, the flip side of this coin, this reticence to change, coin goes back to our basic survival instincts. Our basic survival instincts told us that when we find something that creates safety, log that away, continue moving down that path, return to that path, protect that path. If we find something that creates safety, we want to hold on to it because, well, we want to survive. And so our instincts tell us to find those things and continuously return to them. And really what this means is, when you find safety, stay there. Don't move. If I survive in this place 100 days, then it's very likely that I'm going to survive to 100 in one days. And if nothing else changes to 102 and 103 and so on, the same is true, not only for where we are, but also the things that we do, the food that we eat, the people we interact with, the activities that we participate in. We see all of these things as signals for survival. And if we survived yesterday, then we try to emulate yesterday, naturally. This idea is homeostasis. The idea that staying the same is stability. It doesn't introduce new threats because if we survived it before, then our brains kind of rationalize and tell us that we will likely continue to survive if we stay in that state. Well, sometimes our brains are incredibly wrong about this. For example, we can cultivate bad habits like poor eating habits. And because we are getting a signal that those eating habits are bad, we may continue to cultivate those eating habits without any fear, without any, what would be rational fear that those eating habits are going to ultimately end in some kind of bad way. And unfortunately, our survival instincts then really prepare us for a world where we're mostly safe anyway. Where predators are not really coming into municipal areas, for example, or where our homes protect us from most predators and most weather. And most of our lives are safe. We don't have the same types of threats that we've been kind of instinctively taught to protect against. So now those instinctive motives of preserving our lives, they can kind of train bad habits when it comes to what we are trying to achieve today. And that may be, for example, something that is otherwise relatively dangerous. That is otherwise very different from yesterday where we're kind of shaking up our homeostasis. So we have to constantly remind ourselves of this. We have to remind ourselves that in fact, we are safe. In fact, changing direction or introducing and even inviting change isn't necessarily going to threaten us the way that our instincts are telling us it will threaten us. Now before we go any further though, I want to make sure that there isn't an accidental evaluation interpretation of what I'm saying here. To mean that you should take every signal of change or every requested change and listen to it. This is unfortunately a very common pattern for especially young Developer To take. A developer starts to learn a language, let's say they want to learn PHP and somebody told them that PHP was a good language and so they decided to learn it. And then they take some time, they start learning it and as they are introducing their brains to the community around PHP, they find that there's a large community who doesn't like PHP. They list out all of the reasons why PHP is bad and why people shouldn't invest any time or money or energy or any sweat into learning PHP. And then they provide a reasonable alternative. Maybe they say that Python or Ruby is a better option and so this young programmer decides to start learning Ruby. And so they invest time and energy into Ruby and all of that stuff they learned about PHP, they kind of put it on the shelf and they label it bad and useless information and now they're trying to learn Ruby. But then they find out that Ruby, according to another community online, isn't fast enough or you can't do scientific programming with Ruby and really you should be using Python or MATLAB. And so again, unfortunately they feel like they've sunk a bunch of time into learning a little bit of Ruby and then they switch directions again. And this happens a number of times, not only with programming languages but with frameworks, it happens with working processes, it happens with even jobs, places of employment. People have kind of this frenetic response just because they find out that maybe there's something wrong with their direction. And so we as programmers and generally speaking, most people, programmer or not, they want to optimize their situation, they don't want to make a bad choice. This is totally reasonable, isn't it? We don't want to make a bad choice and so when we have the option, we try to make a good choice. We change direction. This isn't the kind of change that we were talking about previously. This isn't the change, reticence, these people are not overcoming their desire for homeostasis, in fact quite the opposite. They're allowing their instincts to drive their decision making rather than taking a step back and making a more informed decision. And so we see a threat and we try to run away from the threat. Unfortunately, the reality is every programming language will have its critics. Every programming language is not suited for something and is suited better for something else. Every decision you make, you can find something to fault yourself for. Now, unfortunately, if you continuously change your direction, then you will end up staying in the same place. Think about it, even at a statistical level, we can prove this model. If you have a point in space and that point goes in random directions, all in random directions, and only an average length in those random directions, then it will stay within a relatively small bounded area. In other words, it's not going to travel anywhere. It will end up traveling over a lot of space, but all within a bounded area. The distance it goes will be limited and in fact, it may end up back exactly where it started. And this is not what you want to do as a developer. This is not what you want to become a slave to. This is the concept of fear of messing out. Very often, it is the result of having visibility into information that you otherwise wouldn't have had. It's the result of having so much information that you're unable to make a choice. And so we allow our instincts to shape our choices in ways that we think are good, we think we're avoiding threats. And unfortunately, we're actually disabling ourselves. My challenge to you today is very simple to explain, very hard to actually do. And that is to start to develop a stronger sense of when your decisions are made based out of fear and when they are made in the face of fear. In other words, are you making a decision purely out of instinct in order to avoid some kind of unexpected change, unexpected reality in the future? Are you trying to avoid change because you're afraid of it? And on the flip side, are you changing because you're afraid your current direction is inadequate? These are both fear-based responses and allowing your fear to guide you will very often leave you stagnated and will leave you in the same place that you started. If instead you're making choices in the face of fear, if you know that there is a rocky path ahead, if you know that changing brings danger, it shakes up that homeostasis and you change in the face of that fear, very often you can find a path. This requires fortitude, it requires commitment, it requires a level of bravery. We've talked about bravery on the show before. It requires a level of bravery that maybe will scare you. And that's the whole point, isn't it? To overcome our fears by taking action despite them. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. We didn't have a sponsor for today's episode. And so instead of going to a sponsor's site, I want you to take a moment. This is well over 500 episodes we've put out of the show. And if you feel like we've given you even a tenth of the value of the time you've spent listening to this show. And I'd love to ask you to repay us with just two minutes of your time. Go and subscribe, review, and rate this show in iTunes. That's basically three button clicks. Subscribe, rate, and review the show in iTunes. The reason for this is because it's going to help other developers see Developer Tea. And ultimately, check out what we're doing. They're going to listen to this episode. They're going to listen to other episodes in the very large catalog now, Developer Tea episodes. And hopefully the same value that you've gotten as a developer, they can get as well. Thank you so much for listening to Developer Tea. Until next time, enjoy your tea.