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Inhibition, Fear, and Two Mindsets for Moving Forward in the Face of Uncertainty

Published 11/12/2018

Fear can often keep us from moving forward and in today's episode, we're talking about different techniques to keep us moving into uncertainty a step at a time.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
How does your fear affect your code? How does your fear affect your trajectory in your career? In today's episode, I want to discuss the narratives that reflect the fear that we have, as well as these internal narratives of, call it wisdom or perhaps intuition, something that is right about how you already think. That's what we're talking about on today's episode. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, you're listening to Developer Tea, and my goal on the show is to help driven developers like you connect to your career purpose and do better work. So you can have a positive influence on the people around you. And if you are a developer, no matter how long you've been a developer, you've probably faced this phenomenon before, when you're sitting in front of a code editor, and for whatever reason, fear is holding you back. You may start to write a little bit of code and then undo or try to refactor it and then ultimately scrap it. You use Git maybe to reset back to the head, and you're not feeling frustrated, but also not seeing any progress. And that sense of fear sets in. You don't want to write any code. Of course you want to get the thing done, but this fear, it takes over, it keeps you from moving forward. And we aren't talking about the same kind of gut-wrenching fear that you would get if you were driving down the highway, and suddenly you saw a car driving the wrong way towards you. That's a terrorizing fear. That's not the same kind of fear that we're talking about in today's episode. And instead we're talking about this kind of sense of uneasiness, maybe a sense of a lack of footing. It's more like the fear that you would have if you were climbing up the side of a mountain, and you suddenly realize that you don't know where your next step will be, where your next foothold will be. This fear isn't an impending sense of doom, something bearing down on you. Instead it's the sense of maybe a lack of awareness, or the sense that you're not really sure what's getting ready to happen. In that way, this is kind of like anxiety. There's a slight difference there. For those of you who have experienced anxiety, you know that anxiety and fear are kind of very close cousins. But I want to talk with you about getting comfortable with this fear and acting in the face of the fear. We're going to talk about that right after we talk about today's sponsor, Linode. Linode has been sponsoring Developer Tea for quite a long time now, and I'm so grateful for the sponsorship. Linode is a company of developers. It's a company of developers who are building things like their new beta manager. You can go and look at the beta manager if you are a Linode customer, head over to cloud.linode.com. If you're not a Linode customer, by the way, you can get started with $20 worth of credit. This is equivalent to four free months on their beginning tier service. This is a gigabyte of RAM on an SSD server that starts at $5 a month. So $20 of credit is going to give you that four months for free, essentially. But Linode is a company of Developer That they care about the developer experience, right? Because they themselves are developers. So you're going to get access to a Linux server. This is kind of the bread and butter of what Linode does. They provide you Linux servers. It's your choice of Linux distribution, the resources and the node location. Go and check it out. Head over to Linode.com slash Developer Tea. Linode.com slash Developer Tea. Use the code Developer Tea 2018 at checkout for that $20 worth of credit. Thank you again to Linode for sponsoring today's episode. So fear is kind of an inhibitor, right? And this inhibitor of not knowing what will happen next, that uncertainty can be somewhat paradoxical. Let me explain. If you are the one who determines what happens next, then you have the chance to kind of underline kind of understand the narrative of not knowing what will happen next and being able to deal with it. Being on the side of that mountain and not knowing what your next foothold will be, nobody else is going to tell you. No one else is going to come in and provide that foothold to you. And so sometimes we have this sense that, you know, something will guide us, that the next step will become obvious, that our conscious just awareness of our surroundings will give us the next step. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, the conscious awareness that we have of our surroundings, when we're just staring at the blank screen, doesn't always give us what we kind of have come to expect from it. Right? Usually this is our unconscious that's processing the world, but if we haven't had the chance to do that, and sometimes we're looking at a blank screen and that's all that's jumping out at us. So I want to give you two very simple kind of tactics. They're not really that specific as much as they are ways of thinking or ways of operating. But these are the kind of two ways that I would encourage you to look at a problem like this. When your fear is causing you the sense of instability, the sense that you can't really take another step because you are so uncertain about what that step should be. The first thing is to take a step away. We mentioned the idea that the right path will emerge seemingly out of nowhere, and the reason that it seems to be out of nowhere is that your unconscious mind is pretty powerful. Your unconscious mind, this is your kind of fast thinking systems, you've developed intuition over a long period of time, both just in your normal everyday activities, but also as a developer. You can think of this kind of like muscle memory, your automatic thinking, and then also that unconscious processing that you do on very hard problems. This takes time to actually work. It's not an easily identifiable science. This is not the same thing as the equivalent on the cognitive, the aware, the conscious side where you might go and Google, you might seek out information. Instead, the unconscious side is going to operate and work on these inputs that you are giving it. And if you don't give it time to do that, then sometimes you're short circling the process. And you'll notice that this actually, you can kind of feel this in practice when you try to write code prematurely, when you try to solve a problem prematurely. And a few days later, you have that kind of light bulb moment, right? Oh, that's how I should have done it all along. I don't know why I did it the other way. Well, perhaps the reason you did it the other way is because you needed that time, the time for your unconscious mind to evaluate those inputs that you gave it. And it's also possible that you needed to take those first kind of faulty steps to begin with. You needed to do it the wrong way to get to the right way. And there's no way to really know exactly what the right way is to arrive at a particular solution. So take everything that we're saying here with a grand of salt, but understand that taking time away does provide you an opportunity to use that unconscious processing. And when you come back to it, even though you may not be able to identify exactly how your mind has changed, your mind has definitely changed. Okay, so that's the first kind of way of operating, first tactic, if you want to use that word. The second way of operating, the second perspective that you need to adopt to be able to act in the face of fear is trusting in your own authorship. Now, I say this tentatively and I say it very carefully because we are not certainly not indefiable. We write a lot of bad code and you shouldn't trust yourself to write great code. What you should be able to do though is trust yourself to act, learn from your action, and then act again. Trust that the operation is well within the bounds of your capability, the operation of writing that code. Even if it's not good code, the first action is important. You're going to learn from that first action. There's nothing good that will come from you staring at the blank editor. And there's something that could come from writing bad code, something good that can come from writing bad code. So the fear of taking the wrong step, the fear of finding the wrong footing and then slipping a little bit, this is something that we have to understand. We're not going to be able to know with pure certainty when we take our next step that it's the right one. We're not going to be able to predict just how bad that next footing will be. But there's an additional piece to this puzzle that I think a lot of developers skip over. The idea that your opinion, because you're a beginner, or because you haven't written a blog post on this particular idea, or you've never had an open source project become popular, or maybe you are new to this language, even though you've been in software development with other languages for a long time, you believe that your opinion and your experiences developer is invalid, not just that your experience is less valid than others. Because certainly we should trust the experiences of people who have a lot of them. We should be able to use those experiences to our advantage, this is the whole idea of having mentors, for example, but also learn to trust yourself. If you have an idea, if you have an intuition, for example, something we've talked about on this show before, is writing the code that you want. If you don't know how to implement something, write something that feels right to you. There's a reason that it will feel right, and maybe you will learn why the thing that feels right is not a good idea, but ultimately, a lot of the time, the code that we write is just a reflection of our own kind of ergonomics, our own way of dealing with our environment, dealing with the world, dealing with these very difficult to express domain ideas, dealing with a bunch of logic as human beings and trying to hold stuff in our heads. If it's confusing to you, it's not because necessarily you're extremely inexperienced. If something is hard to read, you don't necessarily have to have a lot of experience for that to be true, kind of universally. I encourage you to trust yourself a little bit more. Don't act as though your experience is equivalent, and that you have everything under your belt and you have nothing to learn. That's exactly the opposite of the spirit of this idea, but trust yourself to take those first steps when you feel stuck. Trust yourself to forge the way when the way is not necessarily immediately apparent. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. I hope it was inspiring, especially to take steps when you are facing uncertainty. Thank you so much to today's sponsor, Linode. You can get $20 worth of credit on Linode's services by heading over to Linode.com slash Developer Tea. Make sure you use the code Developer Tea2018. That's all one word with the numbers at the end. Developer Tea 2018 had checkout. Thanks again for listening, and until next time, enjoy your tea.