A Thought on Practice
tl;dr Do a thing you already know how to do.
Our favorite psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has taught us that Flow maneuvers between anxiety and boredom. I like to say that I err towards “anxiety” because I’m ambitious, I like to learn new things, I like a challenge. But, I like a bit of boredom too! The boredom range is where I find inspiration, curiosity, and discovery.
So, where is the line between the two? When I think of boring work, I think of work that does not require gaining new knowledge or skills, and therefore does not pose a challenge. For a Ruby on Rails engineer like me, this could be setting up a new CRUD (create, read, update, and delete) operation, TDD-ing (test-driven developing) a helper method, or changing a button from blue to red. These tasks, being tasks I already know how to do, ebb towards boring. Therefore, if given these tasks, I might find myself in boredom.
But, do I really know how to do these tasks?
It’s been so long since I’ve done them—and I’ve spent so much time scoffing at them—that figuring out how to edit CSS, writing unit tests for simple functions, and building a new simple Rails app are nearly foreign to me!
rails new leaves me with analysis paralysis, stubbing a method call fills me with doubt, and working with CSS might as well be working with live electrical wires!
This is because I’m out of practice.
I don’t spend time doing the things I think I know how to do because I’m so focused on learning new things—being pulled towards a challenge and away from “boredom.”
The things that I’ve written off as boring are ripe with new potential for growth and discovery.
rails new option that I’ve never really looked into is just as exciting as a new Rails feature! Building a simple command-line Ruby program is a brand new experience given how much I’ve learned since my first tic-tac-toe game! Front-end engineering is almost an entirely new discipline compared to when I was first starting out!
Instead of chasing the dopamine rush of buying new toys, I’m cracking open my old toy box with a new appreciation.