Mind Tricks 2021

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Sometimes you need to know the levers to push, if you want to bend a complex system to your will. The same can be true about your own mind. I like to trick myself into doing things that benefit myself and others around me.

The Antilibrary

I heard about it sometime in early 2021. I’m almost sure that it was from Krzysiek and he got it from Robert. The story comes from Nassim Taleb’s book, Black Swan. Someone asked Umberto Eco if he had read all the books in his huge library. In reply, Eco suggested we only hold onto the books we have finished out of vanity. On the contrary, we hoard books to read out of a need to grow.

I took this advice very seriously. In 2021, I started buying way more books than I could read. But soon I started seeing the side-effects no one warned me about – I was also reading more than I ever had.

I’m not sure how this trick works. In part, I’m more excited to finish a book when I have so many others waiting. It must be something about them sitting on the shelves. Having a lot of files downloaded to my Kindle never had the same effect.

Losses > gains

Before 2021, I was planning to start writing blog posts. I managed to do around two during my time at GS - not a result I can be proud of over the two years of working there. Knowing I wasn’t going to stay there forever, I didn’t have the motivation.

At Evojam, there’s a 750 PLN bonus for each blog post written on your own time. Judging by the content we manage to put together, it may not be enough. It wasn’t for me or at least not until I framed the 750 PLN to me as a potential loss.

Here is what I did: I took my base salary (let’s say 15k), added 750 PLN to it, and started telling myself that was now my base (almost 16k). I know it seems silly, but it works.

If you read Danny Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, you know how much we want to avoid losses as compared to how little interest we have in gains. The fear of losing 750 PLN always beats the excitement of winning the same amount. Am I really comfortable with being paid almost 1k less this month? Obviously not, so I better write that blog post!

Physical barriers

In his book, Elastic Leadership, Roy Osherove talks about knowing when you are becoming a technical leader. Suddenly, you are involved in almost everything going on with your team. You become a bottleneck for everyone else – either because you know too much or are accepting responsibility for all decisions.

When Evojam moved to fully remote work in 2020 and 2021, I found myself in front of my own keyboard when talking to someone. I was always able to start looking at the code or log into a machine over SSH. I ended up fixing things myself more often than I should have. And while I always offered an explanation, I was effectively stealing opportunities to learn from the rest of my team.

Once I understood this and started experimenting with the idea, I realised that not giving someone straight answers can be really challenging. At some point, I ended up dialing into a production emergency call with my team from outside my apartment. I kept my laptop in my bag and only talked over a voice connection. Seeing them figure things out by themselves helped me to interfere less in the future. But at the time, I was only able to make progress by physically removing myself from the keyboard.

Originally published on https://evojam.com/blog

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