As the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States and around the world has progressed, our society has been strained and our methods of interaction have been tested.
Many of us have been waiting for life to “return to normal” and we’ve all been having discussions, disagreements, and protests about what that normal is and what it should be going forward. We’re working to come up with solutions that help people as they try to survive and move through the world. It’s been a lot to deal with for all of us.
We’ve had to adjust the ways we work, the ways we interact, and the ways we live our lives. We’ve searched for, and hopefully found better coping mechanisms.
At Pluralsight we strive to understand how these changes impact us as we learn and adjust. We’ve set goals for our future and we’re in it for the long haul. We strive to listen to our learners and the organizations we partner with in order to create larger spaces for learning and creation. We’ve adjusted our business to better care for ourselves and our people, adjusted our conferences to be online-only, held online workshops, and laughed around video lunch-and-learns to help each other deal with the added stress.
On a personal level I’ve taken quite a bit of time to do some soul-searching and learn new skills. It’s been fruitful and intense. I’ve learned a lot about who I envision myself to be and ways I can be a better person in my roles as parent and partner, programmer, and as a member of a larger community.
Mindfulness is hugely important right now. Paying attention to what your body says, what your thoughts circle around, and how you choose to spend your time is key to both surviving and thriving.
When I left my last employer, a good friend and team member sent me this TED talk “When you feel the need to speed up, slow down” from Kimi Werner. I’ve referred to it often in the time since and think it is especially relevant now. Slowing down is an important skill that can provide many benefits and make us more effective.
Questions More Than Answers
Asking questions can slow us down. This process allows us to build greater rapport with others as well. When we default to providing answers it creates a static loop that discourages collaboration and improvement over time.
To help me slow down and be mindful with a nod to systems thinking methodology, I’ve come up with Five Key Questions that allow me to examine situations I find myself in. They can be adjusted to help us delve deeper and gain greater understanding in our code and in our lives. I hope they can be as useful to you as they have been for me.
Five Key Questions
What do you want?
or What are the goals of the system?
Almost everyone already asks some version of this, as a matter of course.
What does your deeper self desire?
or What goals and principles underpin the stated goals of the system?
This an essential question that prompts you to take a deeper look at the fundamentals.
What are your senses telling you?
or What is happening and what can you detect that acts to feed into and balance out the system?
The third question centers on perception, sense, and feeling. This is where you build situational awareness.
Once you are aware of your internal physical and mental state you can begin associating it with the stories of your mind, your past experiences and what’s around you with the next question.
If that’s true, what does that mean?
or How does this relate to the system?
The fourth question probes and enhances the first three by diving into belief, relation, and interdependence. The thoughts we have point the way to our core beliefs and assumptions when we ask ourselves. This is where you can build greater situational awareness and begin to build anticipatory awareness.
I think the primary (only?) way we really make meaning in our lives is through relationships. Keep asking this question until you feel a release or experience a moment of clarity and truth. This helps you identify the biases, misunderstandings and distortions you’ve been acting upon.
This is the key question within the set of five. It helps you discover and confirm a greater level of understanding. You can start to imagine what is possible, probable, plausible and preferable.
With this new knowledge, what can you do right now that would support yourself and the principles that currently apply?”
or What needs to be acknowledged or changed to be more accurate and more whole?
This is where you start to predict, experiment and test. Sometimes in order to see clearly we must shift our perspective to that of the observer, so we ask:
What would those who dearly love me want for and from me right now?
Who is involved that might have a different perspective?
Being aware of what is possible in the present moment empowers you to take action.
These questions have helped me build greater understanding in nearly every situation I’ve come across lately, with a bit of context rephrasing.
Having a fixed mindset will limit your ability to respond to events outside your model. As Learners we continually strive to expand our mind and the models we use to understand the events, behaviors, and patterns around us.
Be reflective and reflexive.
Respect, postulate, and retrospect on aspects of your life.
Assign, map, reduce and expand.
Once you’ve moved through this process you can incorporate what you’ve learned. Mental models like this can help you make better predictions. The same applies to other learning and computational models, but that’s a discussion for another (less weird) day.
*The present is the time in which we live, and what we do with our present selves is the most important thing.*
– Moshe Feldenkrais