By September 28, 2015

Trust the Process

For the past few days, I’ve been learning to type.

I’ve been getting by with “touch typing” by using approximately four fingers.

So far, it’s served me well. I can type about 60 words per minute without looking at the keyboard, but I’ve always known I’d be more efficient if I could type the correct way.

So, this week I finally decided to bite the bullet and learn to type properly.

It’s such a pain in the ass.

I’d put off doing it for so long because I knew how much of a painful experience it could be, but now that I’m actually doing it, it’s much worse than I imagined.

Businessman typing on computer keyboard in his officeThe exercises seem to be going so slowly.

I’m typing this blog post “the old way,” because I’m not proficient enough in the correct typing technique to write this post in less than a week.

So far I’ve only learned the home keys.

Well, I wouldn’t even say I’ve learned them yet. I still make plenty of mistakes, even after 3+ hours of practice.

Each exercise I do feels like it’s not making a difference.

I make the same mistakes over and over again.

My mind wants to push forward and just hit keys. It feels like it knows how to type “adk;”, but my fingers hit “skjl” and I get the repeated “BEEP” from typing the wrong keys.

It’s frustrating, because I feel like I should be able to type faster than I actually can.

And the worst part is, I feel like I’m not making any damn progress.

I just want to close the typing program and go back to my old way of typing. It’s worked for me so far, hasn’t it?

A few times I catch myself thinking that maybe there is something wrong with me.

Perhaps I’m just stupid or my brain is broken from typing the wrong way for too long.

Then I stop blaming myself and figure that the typing tutor software I bought is a scam. Surely it doesn’t take this long to learn to type.

Maybe I’m doing it wrong. Maybe I need to slow down and try to avoid making any mistakes instead of trying to type fast.

Every once in a while I catch my mind drifting to another subject, yet my fingers are magically striking the right keys.

But when I try to do it consciously… “BEEEEEEEEEEEEP.” Damn, was that just a fluke?

As I start to get more frustrated at the slow rate of progress I’m making, I catch myself blaming the computer.

I’m having a mental argument with the typing software. I know I hit the right key. That is bullshit. I hit the right key, you just didn’t register it properly! Stupid program.

If you keep going, you’ll eventually get there

One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books of all time, The War of Art, emphasizes the importance of trusting the process.

“The professional steels himself at the start of a project, reminding himself it is the Iditarod, not the sixty-yard dash.  He conserves his energy.  He prepares his mind for the long haul.  He sustains himself with the knowledge that if he can just keep those huskies mushing, sooner or later the sled will pull into the Nome.”

—Steven Pressfield

Thoughtful manNow, granted, learning to type properly is not like the Iditarod, but when you are in the middle of learning something that is hard and you seem to be progressing really slowly it can feel a bit like that.

But it’s crazy how amazing our minds are—how much they are able to learn without us even realizing it.

I remember when I was first learning to program C++.

I just couldn’t grasp the concepts. I read through an entire book on learning C++, but it still didn’t make sense to me.

I kept doing the exercises and reading and rereading and then finally one day, it was like turning on a light. I suddenly got it.

The whole time I felt like I wasn’t making any progress. It felt like I would never learn to program in C++. And then all of the sudden, I just got it.

I get emails from beginning programmers every week, frustrated that they just can’t seem to learn Java, C#, Python, or some other programming language.

I tell them to trust the process. To keep going, because even though it seems like they aren’t making progress, they are.

It’s true, too. I’m not just telling them that—I’m not a complete asshole.

Dance dance, practice practice

Like I said, it’s amazing how your brain will automatically adapt and learn if you give it enough time and enough exercise.

It seems obvious, when I’m saying it now, but we all forget it from time to time—myself included.

Young man dancing hip hop with color linesI remember learning to play Dance Dance Revolution. Oh man, that was such a great game.

I actually bought one of those wooden dance mats because I was that obsessed with it.

Anyway, when I first started out, it seemed impossible to even hit the steps on anything but the slowest setting.

For fun, I remember trying to expert mode to see what that was like.

Both my wife and myself laughed at expert mode. Impossible, we both thought. No way someone can ever do that.

But, fast forward about three months later, and we were both easily acing expert mode, not believing we ever thought it was hard.

I could tell you similar stories about juggling, learning to play guitar—okay, I didn’t quite stick with that one.

The point is: when you are starting out learning something, it can seem impossible.

It can feel like you aren’t making any progress.

It’s easy to forget that it’s almost impossible to not achieve success if you just keep on going.

Your brain is a learning machine. Whether you want to learn or not, with repeated exposure, it just can’t help itself.

All you have to do is stay the course.

All you have to do is trust in the process.

It’s not just mechanical things either

Sure, sure, you say. You can eventually learn to juggle if you keep trying over and over again. The same goes for playing guitar, mastering Dance Dance Revolution, or learning to type, but it doesn’t work the same way with non-physical, non-mechanical things…

Or does it?

After I learned C++, I still wasn’t what I considered a “very good programmer.”

I could run some programs and write some object-oriented code, but I didn’t feel like I could really solve any kind of complex problems. I felt like I didn’t really have a mastery of the language like so many other programmers did.

In order to get more practice, I decided to start doing some competition on a site I found called “TopCoder.”

This site sponsored some weekly programming competitions where you had to solve algorithm-type problems of varying difficulties.

At first when I joined the competition, it was a joke. I couldn’t even solve the simplest problem. Forget about doing it in a time limit or competing against other programmers.

But, I kept practicing. I started working out previously-published problems on my own.

It took weeks to see any real improvement, but eventually I started to notice I was getting better. I could actually solve the easy and even medium difficulty problems.

After a good year of practice I could master most of the difficult problems, and my increased ability was carrying over to my work as well.

I could say the same thing about writing

As you read this post, it’s obvious I’m no Hemingway, but I’ve written a hell of a lot of words over the last few years, and it’s paid off.

When I first started writing I considered my writing to be “shitty.” And it wasn’t just my opinion—pretty much anyone would agree with me. In fact, plenty of people told me to my face. (Okay, just my wife, but she told me the middle of a fight, and that’s when real truth comes out.)

Anyway, regardless of whether or not you think my writing is still “shitty,” it’s a lot better than it was.

I didn’t have to make a conscious effort to get better at writing. I just had to do it a lot and trust in the process. Trust that over time, I would have to get better.

Plenty of software developers who sign up for my “How to Create a Blog to Boost Your Career” course tell me that they can’t create a blog because they suck at writing.

My response is simple: go ahead and suck, then.

It’s alright to suck. You have to suck before you can get good.

I’m sure even Stephen King sucked before he got good at writing, but the difference between him and you is that he didn’t give up. He kept going. He trusted the process.

Want to be a good writer? Write 1,000 words a day, every day, for a year. It’s pretty difficult to still suck after that.

I could say the same for entrepreneurship

When I first started running a business on my own, I had no idea what I was doing.

I didn’t know how to sell anything. I didn’t know how to “make money online.”

But, I kept trying.

I made a lot of mistakes along the way.

I still make a lot of mistakes.

I’m still learning how to be an entrepreneur—and there is a lot to learn.

But I trust the process.

I know that if I keep on going, I’m going to have to have plenty of failures, but I’m also going to get better.

It still scares me every time I try something new, but now I have the wisdom to realize that I don’t have to succeed the first time, I just have to learn—and that is automatic.

I see so many programmers who want to become entrepreneurs, and they risk it all on a single shot.

They’ve got their big idea and they think that it’s just automatically going to be successful.

Instead of trying different things and learning from their mistakes, they either keep holding on to a lost cause for far too long or they give up too early.

They don’t trust the process to take them through to the end.

They don’t realize they have to learn, and that learning can’t be forced or circumvented.

Stop putting so much pressure on yourself

Depositphotos_24148007_m-2015The problem many of us run into is that we try to control the process. We put too much pressure on ourselves, because we believe that we can somehow will ourselves to become better or to achieve our desired result.

We can’t.

No matter how hard I focus or concentrate, I can’t force myself to type correctly or to “master” the exercise.

The only way I am going to learn how to type correctly is to repeatedly perform the typing drills over and over again.

When I start to put pressure on myself to achieve the result, it only makes me frustrated because I can’t control the result. I can only control the process.

I can choose whether or not I sit at my keyboard for 30 minutes each day and do the drills. I can’t choose how well I do on them.

This applies to many areas of life.

You can come up with the process and you can execute the process, but you can’t ultimately control the results.

“You can choose your actions, but you can’t choose the consequences.”

So, stop trying to rush everything.

Stop trying to control the results.

Your job is to just trust the process.

If you do that, the results will come on their own.

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."