« All Episodes

System Vs. Will Power

Published 2/24/2017

In today's episode, we talk about the importance of systems over will-power, and how you can run on autopilot without experiencing the side effects of laziness.

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and today's episode we're talking about Wheelpower vs. Systems. Today's episode is inspired by Scott Adams. If you've never heard of Scott Adams, you've probably heard of Dilbert, the comic. Scott created Dilbert and he recently has gone on to write a book. The book is on Amazon, it's called How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big Colin, kind of the story of my life. And I haven't read the entire book yet. One of Scott's assertions in a blog post, he said this is part of what he talks about in the book, but he talked about this in a blog post where he said basically that people should stop making goals and instead create systems. So Scott's argument is quite simply that systems encourage you to learn the nuances and to actually learn about why and how rather than simply creating a goal, a system for example would be learning about how to eat healthy. How to eat in such a way that your body is fed properly and Scott outlines this as a better way of thinking about nutrition or a better way of thinking about diet than having some arbitrary weight goal. So instead of having a goal, you have a system and that system is bettered by education and it's bettered by learning. And I'd like to extend this thought from Scott a little bit further because I break a little bit with Scott's idea that goals in and of themselves are somehow not systematically attainable. I don't think he necessarily believes that if we were to sit down and have a conversation, I think that he would agree with what I'm about to lay out with you today, that the real problem isn't necessarily having a goal. It is having a goal that requires only willpower. Let me say that again, having a goal that you are not systematically, first of all, determining, right, it's arbitrary goals that you set without any kind of system to inform why you're setting that goal. Number one, and also having goals without having supporting systems such that the only thing that gets you to that goal is a constant drain on your willpower. Also to reuse our dieting example, instead of constantly saying no to the foods that you do not want to eat, what you can do is create a goal based on your values. So you have to determine your values and then create a goal. And a goal is really only there to measure your progress, right? If you want to measure your progress, if you want to validate that the system is working, that's what a goal is for. So you may develop a value system that values health, personal, mental and physical health, right? And you value health because you want to be your best self. These are very easy things to get on board with. So based on these values, you can identify areas where you're not necessarily as healthy as you could be. You may use an objective system to help you determine ways that you can actively invest back into those values, right? But you need to use these values and the systems in order to derive goals, right? So you're actively using systems both to determine your goals and to meet your goals. Okay, so the system of healthy eating may help you define that your ideal, your target weight is at some BMI point or you want to measure your body fat percentage or something like that. And you can develop these goals by using a system of education and then you can use that same system of education to inform the action along the path to accomplishing that goal. Because here's the reality, we only have so much willpower in a given day. And we've talked about heuristics on this show. We've talked about having usable or sensible defaults, positive defaults. So for example, my wife and I, we set up a default last year that every day we're going to exercise and that is our default behavior. Instead of having to opt in to exercise, we now have to opt out of exercise. It's a very simple mental shift and it doesn't really change anything tangibly. We aren't really actually changing something about our route. We aren't changing our gym membership or anything like that. We're just simply shifting this perspective, our way of talking about exercise. Instead of asking, do you want to exercise today? We now ask, do you want to take a break today? Do you want to opt out of exercise today? And this is a system that we've set up and there are similar systems for things like health, but there are also systems that you can employ in your everyday work. So for example, you can set up systematic ways of dealing with personal relationships. And some people avoid this idea because it sounds cold or somehow overly systematic to them. But there are so much that you can avoid if you create systems around your relationships. When I say avoid, I mean, there's so much conflict that you can avoid. There's so many things that if you only are relying on your intuition, if you're only relying on your each and every day willpower to make the right decisions, then your willpower will eventually fail you. And you can see this happening all the time. If you look at teams who shift over into test driven development, and if they don't have a system in place, a lot of times what they're relying on is their intuition and their gut, their willpower, their resolve, right, because we can have a meeting and talk about test driven development. We can have a meeting and talk about coding standards, about simplicity, about code review, and then walk away from that meeting, highly energized. In the same way that on January 1st, when everybody makes resolutions, they walk away from those resolutions with enough energy to get started on them. And very few people have a problem starting on their resolutions. A lot of people have a problem starting on them on day two and on day three and on day four, because their willpower begins to run out. If instead of relying on willpower and energy in order to accomplish the things that you want to accomplish in order to reach the goals that you want to reach, instead of relying on that willpower and the overabundance of energy that comes from the excitement of novelty and agreement, instead of relying on those things, build systems with that initial energy. Build ways of sustaining good decisions. Build ways of sustaining good behaviors and good habits. Build a system around your test driven development that supports that behavior. Start new tools that make test driven development easier to adopt on a more consistent basis. Don't stop making goals. Don't stop identifying where you want to be, looking into the future and trying to come up with an objective measurement that you would like to hit. Of course, make sure that when you are creating these goals, you're doing so based on values and based on systems, and finally, as you proceed towards those goals, don't use your willpower. This is not enough. Willpower is a powerful thing, and it should be used sparingly because you only have so much of it. Willpower and energy and time, these are things that are not renewable resources. They're going to be used up, and if they're used up too quickly, you're going to end up failing, and the system that you put in place to limit your willpower expenditure. Those systems are incredibly valuable. In the same way that the systems that you put in place in order to recapture time, these are incredibly valuable systems. I hope that you will consider the way that you are thinking about goals and how you are spending your energy and how you are spending your willpower and start creating systems where before you are lying on your intuition and on your energy. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. I hope you're enjoying these episodes. If you are, make sure you go and leave a review in iTunes. This is the best way to help other developers just like you stumble on Developer Teaas they're browsing around for new podcasts. So I really appreciate those ratings, those reviews, those are huge, huge helps to the show. Thank you so much for listening. If you don't want to miss out on future episodes, by the way, make sure you subscribe and whatever podcasting app you use. Until next time, enjoy your tea.