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Why This Software Developer Practices Mindfulness

December 22, 2020 by Simon Mannes

Sometimes it's hard to think.

You're stressed because you can't find the cause of bug #476. Your mind is a fuzzy cloud because it's thursday evening and you've already had 3 exhaustingly productive hours today.

I know how you feel. Most developers have been there.

Practicing mindfulness can't prevent such situations. But it can make you feel more at ease.

I started meditating years ago because it helped me deal with personal issues. I kept going because it was giving me so much more than calm.

I started for the calm, and stayed for the contentment.

Let me explain how practicing mindfulness makes my life richer, and how it helps me now with my career as a software developer.

Less Stress and Anxiety

Mindfulness is being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, without judgement. You practice to see them clearly, and let them go.

I became aware of my own thoughts and feelings much sooner. This is immensely helpful when you have self-doubts or FOMO, feel stressed or anxious, or have impostor-syndrome. You notice these feelings sooner, and let them go. Minimizing the time they distress you.

More High-Quality Focus

Noticing my thoughts has another benefit: noticing when I get distracted.

As software developers, we benefit tremendously from focused deep work. Yes, when you're in the flow it's hard to become distracted. But what about those 30 minutes between two meetings which you could use?

Mindfulness allows me to gently place my focus on the task at hand, without feeling stressed about it.

Also, when I notice I'm getting distracted more often than usual, it's an indication for me that there may be something improve:

  • Did I get enough sleep? Enough fresh air? Did I drink enough water?
  • Is the task well-defined? Do I know exactly which next step to take?
  • Is my environment helping me focus? Is it too cold or too loud?

Learning to observe your state of mind helps you to notice sooner when you become stuck, and allows you to improve your situation.

More Empathy

Programming is a social activity. Not only because we mostly build software in teams, together with other people. But also because all software, in some way or the other, is for people. This quote sums it up perfectly:

Engineering is not the art of building devices; it’s the art of fixing problems. Devices are a means, not an end. Fixing problems means first of all understanding them — and since the whole purpose of the things we do is to fix problems in the outside world, problems involving people, that means that understanding people, and the ways in which they will interact with your system, is fundamental to every step of building a system. – Yonatan Zunger

When you practice being mindful, you learn about your own mind. And you notice that all humans have the same feelings. The same stress, anxiety, fear, contentment, or joy. When you practice seeing your own mind clearly, you also practice to see other people as who they are. To value them and their experiences. You practice to be kind, humble, and curious.

Mindfulness Leads to a Higher Quality of Life

All in all, mindfulness gives me a higher quality of life. Over the last few years it helped (and still helps) me to reduce negative feelings, improve my focused attention, and deepen my empathy.

The practice itself has a positive, calming effect that lasts for hours.

And I get to know better the person closest to me: myself. My fears, desires, and the behavior of my mind.

When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another – and ourselves. — Jack Kornfield

If you want to start practicing mindfulness, I recommend you to try out meditation. Give Headspace (or another meditation app) a try. Or try out live courses (online or in-person, when that's a good idea again).

But even if you don't want to start with sitting meditation, you can try out one of the many small mindfulness exercises.

Meditation is one possible mindfulness practice. And there are many other ways to practice mindfulness, such as painting, journaling, dancing, or practicing martial arts. Meditation itself can also take many different forms. There is “classical” breathing meditation, walking meditation, visualization, mindfulness meditation, loving-kindness meditation ...

Meditation is a great way, but not the only one. It doesn't matter how you start your journey.

Just start.