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Ask HN: How do you stop yourself from stagnating?
63 points by krrishd 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 22 comments
Sometimes there are points during which I'm doing pretty well for myself and am wholly content with where I'm at, without any strong desire for anything different/better.

How do you stop such a state from stagnating you?

Writing everything down and relentlessly questioning my priors.

2017 was a very difficult year, but one of the decisions I’ve most benefitted from was deciding to write down my goals. I spent about a month, directly putting in at least an hour a day.

I started by writing down what I already knew: I wanted to have a positive impact on the world, there are certain types of impact that I care about more than others, and that I wanted all of my decisions to operate on a long time-horizon.

Immediately I found flaws. What actually is impact? What are the types of impact I care about? How much of impact is a result of mitigating risk vs. creating something new?

When I got stuck, I would open up a new text file and write stream of consciousness until it physically hurt to continue.

After a lot of iteration, I ended with an outline of my goals and my rationale that I was relatively happy with. And then I worked backwards to figure out what I should be doing today.

It’s a constant work in progress, but this workflow has been immensely helpful. It’s given me a single source of truth for whether something is Actually Important, helped me prioritize, and made me realize when I was being irrationally demotivated or complacent.

I try to never stop learning. Here's a couple of ways I've done that seem to work okay for me.

- I always try something different and commit to it for a year. By the end of the year, I've become at least proficient in it.

- I buy something that makes me do something. A few years ago, I bought a real estate investment, when I wasn't making too much money (still not making a ton). Now, I'm able to do more home improvement tasks than the year prior.

- I try to always learn something new everyday. I don't care whether I spend 1 minute or 1 hour or 1 day. As long as I do something to fulfill this goal, I win for the day. (No Zero Days).

It's okay to be content, but it's not okay to be stagnant. A running river gives life to those around it, but still water makes for no life.

What I do is to force myself to do something painful every day. Make it a habit.

It can be push ups. It can be a morning or evening run. It could be taxes or cancelling a subscription. It could be doing algorithms or reading the white paper of a random crypto.

Sometimes it's optimization. Find something you repeat a lot and optimize that. It could be doing laundry or showering faster. It could be learning to read faster, memorize better. Maybe automating daily tasks through something like IFTTT. One of the best things I did in 2017 was getting my typos for capital letters, semicolons, and brackets down by 50%.

The nice part about being comfortable is that you don't have to focus on survival and have room to do painful things.

So just work on that one painful thing for half an hour each day.

There's nothing wrong with being happy where you are... but it's true that since learning is always a little painful, you need to make sure that being happy isn't due to not learning.

One thing I do: every time I make a mistake I try to figure out why, and how I can avoid it next time. Then I write it up for my newsletter (https://softwareclown.com), which forces me to dive enough deeper that I can explain it.

Initially I was worried about running out of mistakes, but turns out I make them all the time :) Which means there's always a relevant learning moment around the corner.

Start a blog about a topic that you want to become an expert in. The continuous push to publish is a great motivator for self-improvement.

I think this is a good idea, but does anyone still read blogs?

I have always at least one new habit being built. I find very useful acquiring habits as automated routines. Whenever I have a new goal, I create a process for achieving it, make it an habit, and stop focusing on the goal so much.

Whenever I feel stagnated, I review my current habits, and do either:

A) Improve/optimize an existing habit for a more ambitious goal (ex: "going to the park and do a couple pullups before work" becomes "do a small strength training routine at the park before work")

B) Create a new habit (starting small) in an area of my life that I'm not taking enough care of - even without having a clear goal for it. I found that many times, creating a process first has ended up creating an exciting goal.

By following this approach, during last year I created and sustained the following habits:

- Review my Japanese flashcards daily (>1 year)

- Keep a budget (>8 months)

- Journal (>8 months)

- Body-weight strength training before work (>3 months)

- Working/studying in early morning before going to the office (>1 month)

The key is to start small. If a process no longer helps my goals, I kill it.

For keeping track, I use the Loop Habit Tracker for Android, which is open source (https://github.com/iSoron/uhabits).

EDIT: formatting

I am currently only working in Tech Support while I learn new skills and try to break into DevOps. My employer has been dangling promotions in front of me for the past four years, but keeps indefinitely delaying them.

I keep becoming more vocal about my career development, but the company keeps having new excuses as to why I need to "wait a few more months".

I have now escalated my demands and made it clear that my career is not going the direction it needs to. I have laid out my conditions for further employment.

Now, my employer either needs to get things moving in the right direction, or one of the 50 places I applied for this week is going to replace them.

The real issue is that I am so valuable to my employer doing what I currently do that they don't want to change my role and have to replace me. Unfortunately for them, they're going to have to replace me no matter what happens.

Don't get too comfortable in the same position for too long, and don't let your company make you feel bad for needing more. If they won't give you what you need in a career, get out and find an employer that will.

> I keep becoming more vocal about my career development, but the company keeps having new excuses as to why I need to "wait a few more months".

> I have now escalated my demands and made it clear that my career is not going the direction it needs to. I have laid out my conditions for further employment.

You're not going to win this one. Make your plans and walk away when you have a good offer.

Oh, I know. I have interviews lined up already. Actually got a few dream employers on that list, and callbacks from some really cool tech companies.

The sad part is that the company I'm working for now was really different when I first got hired on, but a change in management really killed everything good about the place. I miss the company that hired me and wish I could still work there, but the company as it exists now isn't worth my time.

I am still vocalizing my issues and asking for a resolution. Maybe something astounding will happen and they'll make it all right - but if they don't (and they won't), then I'll be able to walk away, and they'll know why.

Not working paycheck-to-paycheck helps a lot. I mentioned to my manager, after a pretty harsh diatribe about performance expectations that "conditional employment is a two-way street". She actually countered "We could replace you faster than you can replace us", which is a bullshit thing to say to an employee, but she certainly shut up when I told her "I can go without a job longer than you can go without me".

Tl;Dr: I should go ahead and quit for a new job, and then take the retired founder of my old employer out to lunch and tell him what a shitshow his company has turned into since his business partner took over. Also, don't let the sunken cost fallacy convince you to keep working at a sinking ship.

Wish you the best, mate. Someday you'll probably look back at this thread an marvel at how far you've come since now.


If you've actually been waiting 4 years for career development/promotions to materialize, I've got bad news for you.

Every minute you stay at this point is free work for them basically.

At two years, I was already fed up with the lack of progress, but I stuck with them mostly because they could accommodate some very important travel needs in 2016 and early 2017.

Early 2017 they made some serious promises of a promotion, which kept me there until now. Nothing has materialized, so I have escalated beyond polite nudging and I am applying for jobs.

They were a very different company in 2014-2015, and the company culture didn't really decline until 2016-2017.

I have no confidence in them to provide what I need, but I don't want to leave without making my concerns heard, and without giving them a chance to respond. At least then I know that they'll know why I left.

My biggest complaint is my new manager who treats her team like children. I actually care about the company enough to meet with the retired founder after I exit and let him know that his company is about to lose a lot more talent if they don't get things under control.

That's fair. Kudos to you in that you at least recognize the situation, can articulate the problem, and have an exit strategy.

Far too many people keep holding out hope things will change, and get walked on in the process.

I'm surprised you waited more than 2 years to move on.

Just don't let money get in the understanding of what stagnating means to you. What's fun to you in a fundamental sense? In other words: try to find motive inside you, not outside.

Try to change job or move up every three years

I found myself that asking myself a couple of important questions each week do the trick!

These are a few questions that I ask myself every week:

1. Are you talking to your clients enough this week?

2. Are you making what people want and is your business going well?

3. Did you pace check your vision?

4. Are you measuring the outputs of your busines?

5. Are you making money ?

6. Are we planning enough creative stuff or just being stagnant?

7. Is the team trying to scale itself enough ? (when you push the team, think about that -- power of leverage and all)

8. Do you scale yourself or are you doing same thing every day?

If you're happy, you're doing something right, so kudos.

To stop from stagnating, play with things. New things, old things, interesting things you aren't going to need to worry about, because you're doing great. Read about stuff, particularly from fields you haven't studied before.

It works for crows, anyway. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dWw9GLcOeA

I would enjoy it while it lasts if I were you!

If you are seriously worried about stagnation though you could perhaps set some objectives to learn new skills or achieve some physically challenging or adventurous goals.

I stagnate. Initially it's awesome, but sooner or later I remember how shitty it feels, and push off once again. (Starting again always sucks, too.)

hobbies, there is always something interesting to learn/master, fishing for example or art collecting, - its a whole other universe...

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