What a psychologist helped me realize
A while ago I wrote a blog post about the stress that I was suffering in my life. Back then, I decided to get some professional help, which turned out to be a great decision. Not only she helped me manage the stress, but I understood better how our brain works. I’m so glad that I made that decision, and I encourage anyone suffering stress or emotional issues to get help as well.
I learned about balancing things in life, emotional intelligence, social conducts, communication… Many things that I assumed were right in my life, were not well taken care of. I’ve been so focused on work for the last 4 years that I neglected other important aspects that contribute towards one’s happiness and a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
I still remember when I had my first session with the psychologist. She asked me how much time I work daily. I told her that 8 hours, but that I also spend time doing open source. I cheated myself by putting open source outside the work bucket, and then she asked me: What is open source? Isn’t that work? Interesting… I hadn’t looked at it as work, but in the end, it is work. Then we talked about the things that I did before or after work, for instance, reading or listening to music or podcasts. She asked me which kind of reading and podcasts. When I answered that question, I realized that most of the reading and podcasts had a connection with work because all of them were technical.
I was investing so much time in work that other areas of my life were ignored. I was not working on my social life, taking care of my relationship and the family, exploring or just dedicating time to myself. How did I end up like this? I think it was the wrong idea of having to renovate myself as the industry evolves. Maybe seeing everyone around me creating, renovating themselves, trying the latest framework and programming language, made me think that I had to do the same to be accepted by the industry, find opportunities, and take part in the new and fresh things that everyone is talking about. That idea is wrong. I don’t need to renovate myself, listen to podcasts, check Twitter, or attend conferences. The only thing that I need is to find something that motivates me, learn about it, whether that is a programming language, a framework, or a hobby, and don’t feel I need to play with the thing everyone around me is playing with. In that regards, I admire people in our industry like Tom Preston and DHH, who found their passion in Ruby and Rails, became good at them, and focused on creating things with value for the society.
I learned that I can’t and don’t have to know everything. When I accepted that, I stopped listening to podcasts, attending conferences, or reading blog posts very often. Ignoring those things decreased my anxiety, and worry for missing out. I had more focus and more time that I could invest in something else. The psychologist showed me an analogy between those areas and a table with 4 legs. The only way a table can stay steady is if the 4 legs are strong. If one of the legs is weak or has flaws, the table will fall down. Our life has 4 legs as well: ourselves, family, friends, and work. If we don’t balance them, one of them is stronger than the others, and the table will drop: meaningless relationships, arguments with our partner, ill health. The strongest leg in my table was work. When I dedicated time to the other legs, I did it in the context of work: I attended tech meetups to meet new people, hung out with people I had met in conferences or at work and ended up talking about work.
I started working on the other three legs by dissociating them from the work’s leg. It was an uncomfortable feeling first, but a pleasing one once I controlled it. I started painting, which is something that I used to do when I was young. I realized that the exercise of painting has the power of disconnecting my mind. I do it old style, with ors, brushes, and paper. I can do it with an iPad, but I would be connected to work and technology in some way (push notifications, email, Twitter), and the experience wouldn’t be the same. I encourage anyone to find an analog activity and practice it, but without tracking or writing about it on Twitter or Facebook. I think feeling disconnection and boredom is something we should find time for in our busy world and industry.
When was the last time you felt boredom? I was presented with that question and didn’t have an answer for it. It’s been such a long time without feeling bored that I don’t remember how that feels. Boredom became so uncomfortable that I appealed to my phone to not handle it. I didn’t realize that experiencing boredom is an important thing to do. Many people call it meditation nowadays, but I think the industry has misled that term and made us believe that playing a 5 minutes audio on an app is meditation That’s just pausing the chaos, and noise around us for 5 minutes, which will slap our face afterward. We are offered with tons of options to celebrate our achievement by sharing the disconnection with the world on social networks. That’s not meditation, that’s a product. I tried to find more of those moments. I’m glad that we moved into a new apartment with a balcony. I got one of those beach chairs, and I can lay on it looking at the sky, and the planes landing in Berlin. No phone, computer, talk, or thoughts whatsoever. I do the same thing when I’m on the public transport or riding my bike. I let my thoughts wander, I look at the things around me, the people, the buildings, nature, everything.
Another domain of psychology that we put the focus on is on assertiveness. Assertiveness is the ability to manifest your rights and respecting others’ rights. I realized that I’m a person that respects everyone’s rights, but when it comes to manifesting my own, I often don’t do it (I’m a passive assertive). For example, if I’m with friends, and I have a different opinion that I’d like to share, I’d be assertive by sharing my thoughts (the right to be heard and taken into account). Being a passive person when it comes to assertiveness leads to things like interpersonal conflicts, depression, anger, or having a poor image of ourselves. After recognizing that, I worked a lot to be more assertive. Whenever I feel I have the right to something, I just manifest it. It was hard at the beginning, but once I experienced the benefits of being an assertive person, it got more natural.
Last but not least, I was introduced to the notion of emotional intelligence, something I hadn’t heard about before. I used to think that one becomes successful in life by working on its intellect. That’s not necessarily true, because there’s another intelligence, the emotional, that we are not told about and thus barely work on. It’s been proven that having good emotional intelligence is crucial to being emotionally stable and making great decisions in life. When I reflected on the intelligence I had worked on the last few years I realized that it was mainly the intellectual one. As a consequence, when I was presented with hard and deep emotions, I felt overwhelmed, responded fast and often without reasoning.
Reasoning about my thinking, emotions, and time management has significantly improved my life. Work is no longer my main focus, and I don’t let it invade other areas of my life. I learned how to make better decisions and deal with emotions that used to affect me. All of that thanks to the professional help of a psychologist that understands how we, humans, think and behave. Our brain 🧠 is a muscle which we need to take care of. Take care of it ❤️, take care of yourself.
If you are experiencing similar things in your life and would like to chat about it, don’t hesitate to let me know. I’ll be glad to share with you the ideas that worked for me.