On Regaining and Retaining Your Perspective

Why is it so hard to keep perspective?

No, Ansel Adams, I'm not talking about the physical perspective you have on a landscape, but rather the dispassionate distance from a situation needed to keep you from punching the clerk at the Kwik-E-Mart when he screws up giving you change.

I certainly know what losing perspective looks like:
  • You're afraid, alot.
  • Your lower-brain puts you in fight-or-flight mode at any point.
  • You increasingly focus on yourself to the exclusion of the greater good, morality, or simple humanity.
  • You say things you don't mean.
  • You do things you don't really mean, either.
One thing I've noticed is folks in tech lose perspective faster than most.  I have some ideas on why that is.

First, our brains are bathed in dopamine for hours per day.  We're doing something we genuinely love, and like junkies, when we detox, we get the shakes.   We lose our rationality.   Anything that takes us away from creating siphons-away that sweet, sweet buzz and we start rationalizing excuses to get back.

Next, you need to understand how little the world of software maps to the human world.  In two words: It doesn't.  Though it's damnably frustrating, developing software makes sense.  You write logic, it does what you say.  It's contained, controllable, and predictable.  

People?  Not so much.

So let's combine these two.  You're in "flow," and you have been for 2 hours or so.  You see a notification pop-up about a re-organization, or a new policy, or some arcane thing that changes.  I'm willing to bet your first reaction is to fire-up your email client/slack/twitter and complain.  Moreover, I posit that that scale of that complaint is rather severe, too severe for the situation.

Why?  Because you've lost perspective.  You're resentful something has kicked you from "land that makes sense" to "land of irrational wetware."   So, you lash out.

This comes to mind because there was a situation here at work on process this week, and I had a rather out-of-scale reaction, both to the facts of the matter and to the meetings and sturm-und-drang associated with fixing the problem.  

At the heart of it, it was all because I was behind on something I was doing, and I really just wanted to get back to the thing I liked.  Once I was honest with myself about that, it was much easier to deal with.

So, what to do?  Here's what generally works for me:
  1. Disable desktop notifications around email.  Look, email was once a great thing, now it's generally a nuisance.  It's the world of "official" (boring) communication and getting poked every time someone "Replies All" to the universe is a great way to trigger a lizard-brain reaction.
  2. Control your email usage.  That being said, you must deal with email.  Do so at the beginning and end of your day, and maybe after lunch.   That way you're intentional and you're not interrupting your flow state.
  3. Debounce your reaction.  Avoid writing/tweeting the first reaction that comes to mind.  Write it down on a literal piece of paper by your keyboard and if it still seems valid (not petty, mean, spiteful, etc.) in an hour or two, go ahead with it.
  4. Be honest about your Mood.  Were you up last night with a kid?  Have you had adequate sleep, food, and exercise?   Are your physical and emotional needs being met?  If not, deal with that situation because it's costing you your perspective.



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