If you’ve been following my last few posts, you know that I’m fascinated by the lack of self-observation in our lives. One thing that fascinates me even more is our tendency to believe what we wish for, although it might contradict our experience or hard data.
I think it fascinates me because I don’t (yet) understand how it works.
When we are overwhelmed, we say to ourselves things like “I’ll sit my ass down during the weekend/evening/whatever and I’ll finish this thing”. I feel this urge too—although I often resist: “But wait, the previous time I had a similar problem it took months to finish”, or “But wait, I’ve already worked for three full days and it doesn’t seem I’ve got halfway there,” or “But wait, when the products are delivered the client virtually always asks for more”.
When we fail to resist, we run like hamsters in a hamster wheel. When we say “but wait…”, we find better solutions, such as hire a person, fire a person, move money between budgets, abandon a project, take leave, modify a process, switch providers, etc.
Why is our primary urge to sit our ass down and work? Why do we need to resist? Why do we sometimes fail to resist? It looks like we’re wishing for something—for example, wishing we could finish this thing by working overnight—and then we somehow believe in our wish.
Or is it just that when we’re stressed we want to just sit down and work as a way to relieve our stress?
And yet, when the stakes are high, we often don’t behave like that. For example, people generally don’t miss planes, do they? Even those who are often otherwise late.
I find this all the more fascinating because I’ve been working as a software developer for decades, and software development is notorious for late projects. The thing is, if you look at it objectively, I don’t think it’s inherently much harder to make time estimates for software development. Good methods exist, and they consist in systematic self-observation. But I think that we have traditionally been especially affected by the believe-in-what-you-wish-for mentality.