Take a moment to think about one of your most important goals in life.
Everyone has goals, whether we've stated them or not, and we all carry values for ourselves whether we state them or not. In today's episode we're exploring the idea of goals and the drive for continuity.
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Take a moment to think about one of your most important goals in life. Now if you haven't thought about this, that's okay, you shouldn't feel bad. Everyone has goals whether they've stated them or not. In the same way that everyone has values whether they've explicitly stated them or not. What's even more confusing is that sometimes our goals are in conflict with each other. Sometimes our values don't necessarily make sense when you combine them. This is the human condition. We have a lot of competing incentives in our minds and we have a lot of competing behaviors, things that we do that don't really match up with what we say that we want. Things that we believe that don't even match up with other things that we say that we believe. Of course we are driven to maintain a sense of continuity. If we encounter beliefs that are somehow in conflict with each other, we have a tendency to try to add rationality to make those beliefs compatible, to make those ideas compatible. In today's episode I want to explore this idea of goals, these things that we're chasing after and how those things collide in ways that we may be able to resolve those collisions, not by rationalizing them, but instead by moving up the chain, by understanding better what our underlying motivations are. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and you're listening to Developer Tea and this show exists to help driven developers like you find clarity, perspective and purpose in your careers. Before we go further into today's episode, I want to take a moment to thank today's sponsor Discover.bot. Discover.bot is an online community for bot creators and it's designed to serve as a platform agnostic digital space for bot developers and enthusiasts of all skill levels to learn from one another, share their stories and move the conversation forward together. It's built by Amazon Registry Services and it's intended for audiences of all skill levels. 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When you develop your own goals in life, when you try to figure out an explicit goal for you to chase after, whether that's a long term goal or a short term goal, you have to start by unraveling what are the underlying motivations, what are the things that you're trying to meet, the needs that you have that make this goal worthwhile for you, what are the desires that are driving you to express this particular goal? What's interesting is that for all of our actions, we could express the purpose of those actions as a different type of goal, for example. Let's say that you have one goal of eating healthy, and then you take an action of not eating healthy, let's say you eat something that is sugary. There are different motivations that would cause you to eat something that is sugary, just to kind of prove the point will illustrate a few motivations that would cause you to break from the original goal of eating healthy and eating something sugary. So the base level argument is that whatever the temptation was, it was strong enough to be, at least in that moment, more important to you than the other goal. But it's not as simple as eating one food over another. We have to look at why the temptation was strong in the first place. In this case, sugar is a high calorie dense food. Over thousands of years, humans have evolved to seek some high calorie dense foods because it was uncertain how long we would go until we would eat again. And so having extra calories, having calories that could convert to fat for longer term storage, and then we could use that fat later if we needed to, would be an advantage, be an evolutionary advantage. And having a taste profile that appreciates that sweet food would provide an even better advantage because you would be more motivated to seek out the sweet food. So this could be one simple motivation, one kind of base level motivation, the evolutionary taste profile that you have that gives you some kind of mental reward when you eat the sweet food. Now, I have not done extensive research on this theory and there may not even be a way to perfectly prove that this is an accurate theory, but it is one that could make sense. It could be a motivation for you to eat that sweet food. Now if you move away from these kind of instinctive motivations and instead move into maybe emotional motivations, for example, you may have associations with that particular sweet food. Maybe you have eaten that food and have enjoyed eating that food, doing something else while you eat the food. And so you've created a positive association with it. Regardless of any underlying kind of survival instinct level things, we may have these social instincts where we've created a social bond over a particular food that we eat together. And this actually happens to be one of the most important kind of bonding experiences for any given culture, the eating experience. Sometimes you are eating this food to kind of occupy your mind. Maybe you have some level of anxiety or there's something that your mind is kind of mulling over that you don't really want to think about. Maybe you're trying to avoid that thing. And so instead of having to think about that thing, you choose something that can occupy your mind, something simple and mindless. Now, this isn't a show about controlling your eating habits. This is a show intended to help developers in their careers. But if you can't understand your own motivation factors, then setting and achieving goals becomes difficult. And also being kind to yourself when you have competing incentives becomes difficult. The truth is we have values, we have incentives, we have goals that aren't necessarily always compatible with each other. Now, the fallacy is that we have some perfect picture of who we are in the future. And that all of the things that make up that person are rational. That all of our values align with each other, that all of our decisions make sense to build up to this particular person, this picture we have of ourselves in the future. And this doesn't actually happen in reality. You may find that, for example, your goal of becoming a great developer has to kind of negotiate with your goal of being a great friend or a great spouse partner, father. On the same token, it may also overlap. By becoming a great developer, perhaps you become employable. And by being employable, you have the ability to provide a livelihood for your child. And therefore becoming a great developer helps you be a great father or mother. Very often, it's also possible that if you follow the chain all the way up, that you'll find some kind of common motivation. And if you go all the way up the chain, you'll eventually land back at some kind of survival instinct. For example, why would you want to be a good parent to your child? Because it's important for the survival of the species for you to be a good parent to the child. These motivations are not always immediately apparent or even accessible. We don't really understand them all. They aren't encoded into us in the same way that we encode information into a computer. And similarly, we don't always know what is best for our survival. For example, because we have access to plenty of calories, generally speaking, if you're in a first or second world country, you have more calories available than you need to survive. We don't really need the evolutionary advantage of liking sweet foods. Because we no longer need that calorie dense food to be able to survive through a famine, for example. Perhaps counterintuitively, what once was an evolutionary advantage is now possibly bad for us. And this happens in a lot of our motivations. You can probably see this at a philosophical level as well. You want to do something very well, but it seems that the more you try, the worse you do. This is not necessarily always true, but we have these strange paradoxical situations in our work, where we believe very strongly that we've covered every test case scenario. And it turns out that not only did we not cover every scenario, but our tests gave us a false sense of confidence. And so we end up having a more catastrophic failure than if we had focus less on those tests. All of this results in the simple reality that we don't always intuitively know how to get what we want. Not only are we trying to parse through competing incentives and higher level motivations versus lower level motivations, survival instinct versus values. We also have to understand that the things that we decide to do, the actions that we take in order to fulfill a particular motivation, may actually take us in the wrong direction. So how can we fight against all of this messiness of developing goals that we can actually work towards of having more rationally compatible goals? The first thing we need to do is understand what we're trying to get out of this exercise. Are we trying to affect behavior change or are we trying to affect perspective change? You could argue that they are one and the same, but you can also have two people who say that they both value the same things, but they act very differently. So behavior change could be a series of small decisions that compound into a different environment. That is one thing that we haven't really discussed. How our environment shapes our behavior similarly to our perspective. So it's important that if you are seeking behavior change that you don't simply look at your rationality of your goals. Having a rational goal to eat healthy is still in competition if you have cookies out on the counter and they're readily accessible. Instead of treating your behavior as simply a function of your will and your beliefs, you should also respect your environment. On the other hand, if you treat your values as a function of your morality and your intelligence, then you're equally misguided. It's important to at a very base level, except that your humanity and your biases and blind spots, they shape your perspectives and they shape your beliefs. This is kind of the 80-20 rule of behavior change. If you start by recognizing that your humanity has a major effect on your decision making and on how you formulate your beliefs, then you can approach things from a position of vulnerability, and openness, and humility. The humility comes from the reality that you've accepted, that you're not always making perfectly rational decisions. You're not always going to make sense. You're not always going to be right. In fact, far more often you're going to be wrong. So this simple shift and mindset of accepting that there's so much growth that is still left to be done for you, then you can begin to see ways that you can grow. For example, having a group of people who provide feedback to you. We talked about feedback on a recent episode of Developer Tea, and there's plenty of other resources about feedback, but because we have a limited perspective, it makes sense to compose our perspectives with those who have different perspectives than us. This composition of strength is what the entire concept of a society is built on. So start from this perspective. Start from the working through the reality that your humanity makes you fallible, that your perspectives, no matter how much you may believe that they're correct, you still don't have all the available information. People know that you are kind of on the right track. When you start seeking information that proves that you are wrong about something, a bias that humans have is that we seek information that shows that we're right. This is called confirmation bias. But when you start seeking information that proves that you are wrong, and now another word for this is disconfirmation. This is a sign that you're looking for truth rather than an emotional prop up for your ego. This is very hard to do, and you can even simulate this disconfirmation. You can see this happening with people who know about their biases, but they still are seeking confirmation bias by saying something along the lines of, I'm not wrong, am I? Instead, be certain that you are developing a sense of curiosity. Don't attach yourself to your thoughts. In other words, it's not that you are wrong. It's that something that you believe is inaccurate. If you can shift your thinking to kind of blaming the belief for the inaccuracy, this is maybe a way of bouncing outside of your ego in order to become better, to develop better beliefs. Your beliefs will inform your goals and your motivations. Ultimately, as you shape those goals and motivations, you can understand them a little bit more clearly, and perhaps with a clarified sense of motivation, you may be able to redefine those goals. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. Thank you again to discover.bot for being a sponsor on today's episode, however to discover.bot slash Developer Tea, and join that community today. Today's episode wouldn't be possible without spec.fm and our wonderful producer, Sarah Jackson. If you haven't checked out the other shows on spec, encourage you to head over to spec.fm, and take a look. There's a fantastic kind of universal search. That's actually one of my favorite features on the spec website, and that is that you can search a topic across all of our shows on spec. Head over to spec.fm to check out all the other awesome content. Thank you so much for listening, and until next time, enjoy your tea.