Small Steps For Happiness

September 14, 2018

The more I create, the happier I get. As a developer, having the world available at your fingertips can wreak havoc on that ability to create, your ability to be productive. It's too easy to open Twitter as soon as you are waiting on the compiler — looking at you Rust — or find yourself stuck on a problem.

If you are like me and you are unhappy when there is a lack of progress on your side projects or your workout schedule is inconsistent, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength is a life changing book.

Small Steps

In a study looking at professors and their writing habits, the authors write:

The page-a-day folks had done well and generally gotten tenure. The so-called “binge writers” fared far less well, and many had had their careers cut short. The clear implication was that the best advice for young writers and aspiring professors is: Write every day.

Me, I used to be like a puppy who ate a bowl of meth, diving into new projects, from fitness to mathematics to a new side project only to find myself demotivated. With introspection and this book I was able to change this behaviour where I focus on small steps, but make sure that I take them consistenly. Never miss a day and gradually build it up. It matters more where your trajectory is going than where you are right now.


Read a couple of pages each day, stick to that workout regimen. Consistency beats intensity.

Paying Attention

Context switching is costly. Although common knowledge amongst developers, we still spend our attention as if it is infinite. Slack, Twitter and answering emails are interjected in between high intensity work.

For us developers, there are some interesting lessons to be learned when looking at productivity of writers, the profession maybe most susceptible to distraction. In an interview, Nathan Englander, writer of short stories, tells us about his habits in an interview for the daily beast:

Turn off your cell phone. Honestly, if you want to get work done, you’ve got to learn to unplug. No texting, no email, no Facebook, no Instagram. Whatever it is you’re doing, it needs to stop while you write. A lot of the time (and this is fully goofy to admit), I’ll write with earplugs in — even if it’s dead silent at home.

To get into this habit I started using the Pomodoro technique, where I divide my time in around 25 minutes of undivided focus. I’m not sticking to exactly 25 minutes, but I allow myself a break if I go past it.

Willpower Is A Muscle

This book made me realize that willpower is a muscle. The more you lift something, the lighter it gets over time. You will find that once you are consistent, maintaining that consistency, will become easier as well. Consistent practice becomes habit, and habits don't cost much willpower.

This consistency also seeps into others areas of your life. Workout with a regular schedule and you will find that it’s much easier to keep your diet. Keep reading and you will keep writing. One enforces the other. Willpower is like an oil stain which soon touches many aspects of your life.

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength made a significant, positive impact on my life. By doing small, incremental steps, I can keep that consistent feeling of progress. I'm now able to create more, consume less, which makes me a happier person.