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How to Use Mindfulness to Become a Better Programmer

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the English translation of the Pali term “Sati”. It means focusing one’s awareness on the present moment without judging the quality of the experience.

While in this state, attention is focused on an object, usually the sensation of the breath. Thoughts, sensations, and feelings simply fade in the background. When practicing mindfulness it’s important not to fight unwanted feelings, thoughts or sensations but simply to acknowledge them without judgment. Let them pass as you return to the sensation of the breath. The cultivation of this mental skill will eventually lead to a permanent sense of being present capable of accepting our experience as it is.

Mindfulness is a modern adaptation of the Buddhist practice of Vipassana, brought to the attention of the western world by Jon Kabat Zinn. Zinn studied how this simple practice can be extremely beneficial for people in modern society. Mindfulness protocols have been proven to dramatically reduce stress, depression and anxiety, as well as other physical issues like high blood pressure, chronic pain and so on.

I’ve been practicing mindfulness for years and I find it extremely beneficial in my job as a software developer. For this reason, I would like to summarise some of the benefits mindfulness can have for this kind of profession.

Focus

We live in a world where we are constantly multitasking, always connected to information and restlessly jumping from one thing to another. This is not only unproductive (we do many things but don’t excel in anything), it also leads to stress, depression and eventually to burnout. Mindfulness directs your entire mental energy to one single task at a time and avoids distraction.

Return to a Beginner’s Mindset

Over time we build our predefined system of knowledge, problem-solving patterns and strong opinions about software development. We think of ourselves as experts in a matter when in fact we are just holding onto a rigid interpretation of reality, which is just one of the possible ways of approaching the art of programming.

Through mindfulness, we can learn to look at everything as if it was our first time seeing it. This will free us from the boundaries of our mental structures. By “thinking outside the box” we are able to see solutions we otherwise wouldn’t. We become better at adopting new, more efficient patterns, based on what the present moment requires.

Acceptance, Patience and Discipline

Mindfulness teaches us to accept our present moment as it is, regardless of the quality of our experience. This makes us capable of working on any task (even that boring bug-fix) without procrastinating or adding unnecessary frustration. We can commit 100% to the task and simply let it when it’s done.


Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

Flow: The Programmer’s Momentum

This is for me the ultimate reward of applying mindfulness to programming:

By switching off distractions, preconceptions, procrastination, our personal attachments or resistance to tasks and by focussing 100% on the present moment, we can enter a state of complete absorption in what we are doing. This is an energizing, rewarding and enjoyable experience. We feel completely connected to the act of programming and feel what we are doing has a profound and special meaning. The practice of mindfulness allows us to achieve this state more easily as we progress.

At Dalia we think that mindfulness is a powerful tool to promote wellbeing and workplace satisfaction. We have regular meetings where the employees can practice mindfulness together.

If you would like to join our team of mindful programmers, developers and engineers; visit the careers section of our website and send your profile.

Alessandro Caporrini
Backend Developer at Dalia Research

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