Move your feet

Series: growth August 27, 2012

  • Four books. 28 hours of screencasts. Two online courses.
    Result: Zero specs in my Rails project.

  • Old pair of shoes. Treadmill. One mile in 20 minutes, 23 seconds.
    Result: 866 miles traveled by foot this year.

Why did I fail so hard at one activity and succeed at the other? With a bit of hindsight, I am starting to figure out the answer.

The first activity (doing TDD in a Rails project of mine) suffered from extreme analysis paralysis. After working as a professional developer for two years, it is so hard for me to just dive in and start sucking at something. I want to learn the best practices so I don’t “waste” time doing it incorrectly.

But in this case, best practices are a poison; a hindrance that prevents me from even writing the first spec in my project until I have a perfect vision and roadmap for achieving some mystical TDD nirvana.

In contrast, I was able to ignore this mental roadblock in the second activity. Like many before me, I started the New Year wanting to get into better shape. But instead of finding a book or reading posts on /r/running for 2 months, I did something different.

I found an old pair of shoes, got on the treadmill and just started running. And man, did I really suck at running.

But I didn’t care. I could see my improvement every week — the time to run a mile went down, the speed and distance went up (slowly!).

In the software domain, I struggled to convince myself that it was okay to regress in an area as I learned and improved. Instead of starting from the beginning, I tried to skip straight to mastery. With running, my activities were directly related to practicing and improving. Instead of reading guides or spending hours on Amazon trying to find the perfect shoes, I was actually running.

A few weeks ago, I finally went to get some proper running shoes. Once I got to the store, I reverted back to full “Engineer Mode” — trying to determine which brand of shoe was optimal, how many pairs of wicking socks I would need, etc — when the trainer looked over and made a comment that really resonated with me:

Wanna know the secret to improving your running? Move your feet.

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