The Power of Lifestyle Changes for Programmers
Have you given up on your New Year’s resolutions yet? Or are you grinding them out, feeling tired and already on the edge of burnout despite being fresh off your holiday leave?
It may seem grim to assume you will not keep up with them … but statistically speaking, chances are that you are part of the eighty percent of resolution-makers bound to bail by February.
If setting goals in the form of resolutions is not effective, then how do people you know change their habits? Perhaps it is because they were able to incorporate the new practices so deeply into their lives, they kept them going for much longer than a year.
The Pitfalls of New Year’s Resolutions
If you want to change your life, you can’t think of it as a New Year’s resolution.
These draw motivation from the fresh feeling of beginning. But when “the new” doesn’t feel so new anymore, this false motivation wears off.
Let’s imagine that you want to get more fit. If you say “This year I will work out more”, there are potential issues with taking the resolutions route:
Ambiguity: “Work out more” leaves a lot of room for interpretation. If you currently work out once every few months, going once a month would technically fulfill your resolution. However, I find it unlikely that you will get the results you are looking for.
Temporary mindset: Let’s say you really hit the gym. You worked out not only more, but regularly, and you ended up the fittest you have ever been. The idea that you will do it this year makes it easy to fall back into old habits once you have “achieved your goal.” Unfortunately, changes we want to make need to be maintained once they are achieved. Being fit requires a commitment to continuing to eat well and stay active on a life-long basis.
Unsustainable methods: To go on with our example, if you initially have a low caloric intake coupled with 5 or 6 rigorous workouts per week, you will see results quickly for the first couple of months. The issue is that it is highly unlikely this is sustainable for you in the long term. You will be thrown off schedule by health issues, work-related stress, vacations, or any of the hundreds of unforeseen circumstances. Starting off strong is great, but it needs to be sustainable (or taper off to be sustainable) and allow you to jump back in when you fall off track without waiting for the next new year.
Putting off starting: If you want to change something that will benefit your life, health, or overall happiness, do not put it off. If you wait months, weeks or days until new year's, you will either procrastinate so you never start, or you will end up solidifying bad habits while waiting for the right time to start changing them. Those are months, weeks, and days you could have been getting ahead at building a healthier lifestyle.
If you fell into the trap of the mindsets above, you will likely be among the eighty percent. If you strive to improve your life, the main motivational factor should be the need to do better in whatever aspect you choose.
Again, making long-lasting changes hardly ever falls into the format of a resolution.
Sustainable Lifestyle Changes
Now that we have covered what doesn’t work, it is time to present what does.
Lifestyle changes that are more or less daily occurrences, that are maintainable on autopilot (once established), and sustainable in the long run.
Instead, think of long-term goals that will drive your professional and personal life forward.
As a proactive part of a software development team, I know from experience that introducing a lifestyle change requires a lot of thought. Here is an example of what this process might look like:
1. What do you want to change?
- I want to work on my personal software development projects.
2. Why do you want to change it?
- I want to gain more experience.
3. What do you want to achieve?
- I want to advance my career from middle to senior developer.
4. How can I do that?
- By putting more time on my project, especially testing the solutions and trouble-shooting at a higher level.
5. How can I do that? (dig deeper)
- By dedicating a few hours of personal my time every week to focused work on my project.
5b. How can I do that? (dig even deeper)
- By creating a working session schedule in my calendar and sticking to it.
Similar to the “Five Whys” method, focusing on what you want to do and isolating what you need to do to achieve it is the best way to start. You'll also notice that I asked myself Question #4&5 again and again, until I had an answer that was a concrete, actionable task someone could implement to actually start working on their personal software development project.
If you want to create a lifestyle change of dedicating four hours on the weekends to developing personal projects, there are a few things you must do first.
Introduce Changes One at a Time
If you start going to work by 8 am, in addition to dedicating four hours a week to working on personal projects, in addition to working out four times a week, and in addition to cutting out added sugar from your diet, you will burn out.
While we are great at adapting to new conditions, you can imagine how introducing many big changes, all at once, would be more of an obstacle than a perk. Instead, introduce a habit a little bit at a time and let it settle before pushing forward.
Start moving your wake-up time and bedtime by 30-minute increments, giving yourself a full week (or more if you need it) to adjust before bumping it up again.
When you are happy with the time you get up, stick with it for a few weeks before adding any new challenges, like cutting sugar or working out.
Give yourself the proper time to adapt to each change before adding another.
Change Requires Patience
I cannot possibly end this article without dedicating much-needed attention to the virtue that is patience. As you can imagine, implementing a habit you stick to for life will take a while to develop in a way that is easy to sustain.
Allow yourself time to build up your overall lifestyle and habits at a stable pace.
Also, give yourself room for error. Whether you oversleep once or miss a time you blocked out for your personal programming time this week due to unforeseen circumstances, you will get back on track as long as you are persistent and think of it as a long term habit rather than a challenge.
Making mistakes here or there doesn’t mean you failed. And it definitely doesn’t mean you should quit because you are “so far behind on your resolutions”.
Do you believe in the value of lifestyle changes? What is a habit you want to be able to sustain in the long term? Leave a comment below!