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Joe Eames for Thinkster

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Constraints in Life

Recently I had a discussion about constraints in programming and how they can help us produce better applications.

Constraints in life can come at us in many fashions. Constraints we are born with, constraints that happen to us naturally, ones that come as a result of other people (like bosses), ones that come to us as an unwanted consequence of our own actions, and ones that we purposefully give ourselves.

Although each of these types of constraints is interesting, I want to focus on the last case: constraints we willingly apply to ourselves. This is better known as various forms of self-control.

These constraints always begin with some kind of goal or desire. We might want to run a marathon, get more work done, spend more time with family, or just feel less shame for actions we take that we know hurt us or others.

There are all kinds of hurdles on our path to implementing more self-control. The first is rationale. Why bother? There is so much to be enjoyed in this world. Why restrict myself from any of it? The simple answer here is freedom. Like so much of life, the concept is very counter-intuitive. It seems like the path to freedom is straightforward. Do what you want, when you want to do it.

But the reality is very different. The simplest example: exercise your physical abilities inappropriately, for example, your ability to physically hurt other people and you will quickly find yourself in a physical prison. Exercise all your health freedoms inappropriately, and find yourself in a prison of health. Take the wrong liberties in your relationships, and you will find your relationship opportunities extremely limited. Exercise your emotional abilities inappropriately, and you quickly find yourself in an emotional prison, otherwise known as addiction.

Freedom is in self-control/self-constraint. Don't eat everything you want to. Don't say the first thing that comes to your mind. Don't sleep in every time you want to. Don't skip the gym. Don't consume addictive chemicals.


Photos by Derek Howard

Sadly too many people fall into the trap that the only way to have self-control is to be born with it. Like if you're not Navy Seal level of hard-core self-discipline, then you have no chance. But thankfully this isn't reality. There are many good ways to create self-control, and one of the best ways is one of the easiest: other people.

Funny enough, people truly enjoy telling each other what to do. When it's unsolicited it's very annoying. But when you engage someone to "keep you on the right track" it is both helpful AND effective. As kids, our parents do this for us although it's also often unwelcome. As adults, our best tool here is our significant other, our friends, and when we find accountability partners.

Want to lose weight? Seriously commit to your significant other that you won't eat any more desserts. Want to hit the gym more? Make friends with gym rats. Want to cut alcohol out of your life? Get a friend to act as an accountability partner and check in every day, being accountable for your successes and failures. You can also find these online.

And this is only one of many forms of self-control. We can also change our environment, doing anything from a job change to a move to a new school or city. We can remove temptation by deleting our Facebook account or uninstalling Overwatch (Dang you Blizzard for creating such an addictive game…). Or we can do any myriad of other things to gain more self-control.

Ultimately, just like with development, the more we choose wise constraints today, the better things will be for us tomorrow.

Where are you lacking self-control? What are you going to commit to do to change it?

Happy Coding!

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