Sten Vesterli's Blog

Celebrate Success

Here in Denmark, we are celebrating our Oscar for “Best Foreign Movie” today. Well, most of us didn’t really contribute anything, but we can all enjoy Thomas Winterberg’s success with “Another Round.”

You can also celebrate other people’s success. It’s easy to celebrate when your favorite sports team wins, but it can be harder to feel happy that someone else got the promotion that you think you deserved. However, feeling resentful of other people’s success simply drains you of energy and makes it less likely that you will succeed in your next endeavor. Make a point of celebrating successes – other people’s as well as your own.

Read a Book

If you’re not completely happy with your life, read a book. There are literally thousands of books with important tips and techniques you can use immediately to improve your life.

I’m currently reading “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday, and I have a long list of books to read. Celebrate World Book Day today by picking up a book. It just might change your life.

Are You Too Cautious?

Do you always play it safe? We all have our personal risk profiles. Some people climb mountains without safety ropes, while others won’t climb more than two steps up a ladder. Being very careful to follow all the recommendations might be a good strategy in a pandemic, but being over-cautious also means you miss out on opportunities.

Researchers in the UK have found that teaching children chess made them more willing to take prudent risks. In chess, you need to be able to take prudent risks and sacrifice a piece to gain a decisive advantage. Chess was a safe environment for the children to experiment with risk – the worst thing that could happen was that they lost the game.

If you are being over-cautious in your life, find some place where you can practice taking small risks. You might even take up chess.

Track Your Sleep

Do you track your sleep? New research from the UK has added dementia to the long list of diseases and health problems associated with too little sleep. After controlling for many other factors, they found that 50-year-olds who slept six hours or less per night had a 22% increased risk of developing dementia. For 60-year-olds, the risk went up by 37%.

Keep track of your sleep for a few weeks to get an idea of whether you are sleeping enough. The Apple Watch and many other smart watches will register your sleep. You can also get a sensor to place under your mattress or even a Google Nest with radar to track your movement during the night. But even without a device, you can simply write down when you started your evening wind-down, when you went to bed and when you got up. Spending some time winding down (without devices or TV) and spending enough time in bed is the first step towards better sleep.

If you don’t get enough sleep, it is very hard to improve your life.

Create Your Sound

When you work from home, you can create your own sound. You are free from the hellish soundscape of the open-plan office, so you don’t have to wear your noise-cancelling headphones. Since you probably don’t live in the countryside where you only heard birdsong and the buzzing of bees, you will have to create your own sound landscape.

You might have traffic noise, neighbors, barking dogs, and maybe even our partner speaking too loudly on a Zoom call. The antidote to this is to actively add sounds that mask out the annoying sounds. Consider a small indoor fountain to create the soothing sound of running water. You can get a white noise machine to create a neutral background that masks other noises. Or you can play instrumental music at low volume through your computer speakers or a separate speaker connected to your phone.

Sound affects your mood and your productivity. When working from home, you gain the ability to create your own sound.

Getting Smarter

Did you get smarter or dumber this week? The brain needs exercise just like muscles do. The physiology is completely different, but research shows that we can add more brain cells by using our brains just like we can add more muscle mass by using our muscles.

Because it takes so much energy to run a human brain, the body is always looking for energy-saving shortcuts. If you allow routines to run your life, the brain saves energy – and becomes dumber. Keep your brain fit by giving it new challenges. You don’t have to learn LISP or to play the piano, but you should always be working on something new to keep your brain interested. What new skill or challenge will you give your brain to work on this weekend?

What is Your Passion?

Your job in IT might not be inspiring great passion. But you need something in your life to be passionate about. People with a passion have a reason to get out of bed each morning. Their passion helps them power through adversity, and people with a passion live longer and happier lives.

Dylan Nardini just won Scottish Landscape Photographer of the year. He is not a professional photographer. He has driven a freight train for 28 years, and came to appreciate the wonderful landscape he was driving through. He picked up a camera, and landscape photography became his passion.

As an IT professional, you could contribute to open source projects. Or you could help a local non-profit organization or sports club with their homepage. Or you could volunteer to help people with few computer skills. If you don’t have anything you are passionate about, try some different things until you find your passion.

Bad Face Recognition

In the U.S., police have started rounding up suspects based on defective image recognition from grainy surveillance video. Image recognition is known to work poorly on black faces, probably because they were mainly trained on images of white people.

When we roll out new technology, we of carefully explain to the users where and how it can be used. But if we can reasonably expect our users to ignore our admonitions, maybe we shouldn’t sell it at all.

Speak Nicely to Yourself

Notice how you talk about yourself. It affects your self-image. It can be hard to do while speaking, but lockdown has presented us with an endless succession of Zoom calls to work with. If the meeting is not being recorded, ask if it is OK for you to record it. Zoom now also has an automatic transcription feature that turns the audio into text.

Once you have the recording or text, look at the parts where you are speaking. Notice the words you are using about yourself, your team, and your projects. If you are using neutral or negative words where a positive word would have been reasonable, try saying the sentence to yourself with the improved word. For example, don’t say your team is “doing okay” if you are actually “doing well” or even “doing great.”

Using more positive words will give you increased energy and happiness. Try it.

Thank Someone

Remember to thank other people. It’s easier to thank a colleague when you meet him or her in the office than thanking them via Zoom. That’s why most people are not expressing gratitude during lockdown like they used to.

Telling someone else that you are thankful for their contribution will improve their day. It will improve your day, too, and it costs you nothing. Science also shows that expressing gratitude reduces stress hormones and has a host of other health benefits.

Make a note to yourself to thank someone for something this week. Putting a “Thank you” post-it note on your computer will remind you. And just watching the note will lift your own mood.