Nader Dabit chats with Kent about how he keeps an optimistic mindset in a world full of negativity.
How do you stay optimistic when being bombarded with negativity every day? Nader reminds us that, statistically, we are living in the safest and most prosperous period in human history. Nader went through a lot of hardship growing up, and it caused him to assume the entire world was that way, but in reality, it wasn't. Try to maintain perspective, and remember that your experiences aren't reflective of the world as a whole.
The voice in your head talks about yourself in a way that you'd never treat another person. Be mindful of yourself and treat yourself with kindness; the way you talk about yourself can make a significant impact on your happiness.
Kent shares his experience with seeing a therapist for the last year and explains how therapy isn't something not just for people who are experiencing trauma or mental illness. Everyone can benefit from having a neutral third party that helps you talk through the problems you are experiencing in life, no matter how big or small.
Reducing the amount of media you consume can improve your headspace as well. That doesn't mean to turn a blind eye to any negativity. Instead, you should learn about the bad things that are happening within your sphere of influence. It doesn't do the world any good to take on pain from something that you have no control over. Your energy is better spent taking an active part in improving the parts of the world that you can influence.
For a week, take at least a minute or so daily and write one thing that you're optimistic about.
Kent C. Dodds: Hello, friends. This is your friend, Kent C. Dodds, and I'm joined by my friend, Nader Dabit. Say hi, Nader.
Nader Dabit: Hey, how's it going?
Kent C. Dodds: Super happy to have you here, Nader. Today, we're going to be talking about something that I think is a really important topic, but before we get into all of this optimistic positivity, load that into the ears of the people listening, I want to give you an opportunity to introduce yourself, Nader, and tell us a little bit about what makes you tick.
Nader Dabit: Yeah, I'm Nader Dabit. I've been a developer since I was around 29. I live in Mississippi, love to travel, and have a job that lets me do that quite a bit. I'm kind of toning it down now because it's gotten a little out of hand, so I try to spend more time with my family these days.
Kent C. Dodds: I've noticed that kind of happens; people who love to travel just really get into it and then they... The thing is that you can schedule all of these things and at the time you're scheduling it, it's like, "Oh, this is going to be so cool." Then pretty soon, you've got like four weeks where you're home just on weekends or something.
Nader Dabit: Yes. It's so hard to say no to things sometimes for me. I think that kind of gets you in trouble, especially coming from a time when I didn't have a lot of opportunities to now I have a lot of opportunities, so I'm still in that mindset where I'm just saying yes to everything when I should probably be a little bit more picky and I have been lately.
Kent C. Dodds: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. Just be a little bit more intentional about the things that you say yes to. I think that's probably something that is a good takeaway just from our intro here is: Be intentional about the things that you're agreeing to and also, I don't know, just be self-aware. Make sure that the things you're saying yes to you are things that you actually want and that you're not going to paint yourself into a corner.
Nader Dabit: I'm reading Tools of Titans right now and I really was looking at that book like it would not be of interest to me at all, but I heard so many people recommend it, so I decided to start reading it and I like it a lot. One of the main takeaways, though, was really along the lines of this: It was basically like, early on in your career when you don't have any opportunities, you should take every opportunity that you have because you never know what's going to be that golden ticket or what's going to be something great.
Nader Dabit: Of course, early on, you might have the time to do that, but as you become more successful, when you have more opportunities coming up, you get to a point where if it's not a hell yes, then it's a hell no, basically. If you can't just be really pumped about something, you should maybe think about just saying no to it.
Nader Dabit: When you have more things going on, your time is just more limited, so you do have more and more opportunities coming in and the chances are that some of those opportunities are going to be really good and you can then have the time budget to take those things on.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, yeah. "Does this spark joy?" That Marie Kondo thing. Very good. Great.
Kent C. Dodds: As we get started, one thing that I just wanted to ask you about a little bit was: We live in a world where there's so much information coming at us all the time and back in the olden days before we had the Internet and newspapers and whatever, a really terrible tragedy could occur on the other side of the world, you would have no idea what is going on there, a total massacre and you just don't hear about it your entire life.
Kent C. Dodds: But now, if one person has some sort of tragedy or even if a celebrity stubs a toe, we know about all of the negative things that are going on in the world, all the injustices, and one thing that you talk about a fair amount is being optimistic and positive about the state of the world, the direction that we're going. How do you manage to do that when we're bombarded with all the negativity in the world?
Nader Dabit: Yeah, I mean, I think it's a lot about educating yourself and knowing the truth behind everything that's happening in the world and in my experience in general, that basically means understanding just as much as possible, just reading as much as possible, knowing as much as possible.
Nader Dabit: There are two books I think in particular that go into this, that what we're talking about right now. One of the is Factfulness. I think Bill Gates bought Factfulness for every college graduate a couple of years ago because he thought it was such an important book. The other book is Better Angels of our Nature. Both of these books are basically statistical looks at everything that's happened over the last 2000 or 3000 years. They basically break down every 10 years, 50 years, hundred years, and they analyze how life is now compared to how it was a hundred years ago or 200 years ago.
Nader Dabit: Statistically, we're just basically living in the best and the safest and just the most prosperous time in the history of the world and it's by a long shot, it's just by far. I think that alone, just educating yourself and knowing that is really a really awesome thing because...
Nader Dabit: Of course, that doesn't mean you should be okay with bad things happening in the world, because there's still so many things that can be improved, but at least we're on the right track and at least when you hear someone saying something negative, you actually have some data to back up.
Nader Dabit: Because a lot of times we do have a lot of things, like school shootings, for example; these things taken out of context of the big picture, they're really bad and we need to improve those things, but a lot of times, you'll hear general things like, "Oh, the world is just so bad right now," when in reality, statistically, it's better than it was, but we still have a long way to go.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, sure. The fact is that we just hear about it more often than we used to. If you think about hundreds of years ago, people were dying like crazy and people were being treated way worse than than we do today. That's not an excuse for today, but at least it doesn't mean that you can just say, "Oh, why do I even live my life? It's so bad." It can be really paralyzing to feel like you live in a world that is just beyond saving, I guess.
Nader Dabit: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, just having that understanding, I guess, and every time you hear something, trying to analyze. Is this thing something to really be frustrated about or angry about or stressed out about? Just understanding as much that you can in the world in general will help you, I think, become more of a positive person in general because you'll be able to tell the good from the bad better.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, exactly, and I think it will enable you to make as impactful a difference on the world as possible because, yes, there are so many things that are wrong with the world and we need to be cognizant of that. Finding the area where we can make the most positive impact, I think, is a really good thing. Having a better picture of the state of the world and maybe more specifically, the state of the area of your influence, you can start making more intentional and direct changes to areas where you can make that kind of an impact, which, I think, that's probably pretty important.
Nader Dabit: Yeah, yeah.
Kent C. Dodds: What are your strategies for approaching negativity ...? Or I guess, maybe before I get to that, where are the different places that you typically find this kind of negativity? Is it just on certain sites on the Internet or do you experience this or notice this negativity in other places and have to be mentally prepared or dealing with those kinds of things elsewhere?
Nader Dabit: Yeah, I don't know. I think it depends on how your mind is wired. I think some people's minds are wired to be optimistic just for whatever reason, maybe the way they grew up or something, and some people are more pessimistic than others. Depends what part of the world you were growing up, how you were raised, the things that you went through. I think it just depends.
Nader Dabit: For me, some of the things that I've had to deal with growing up in Mississippi and being part of an Arab family and also, I went to a school that was like overly racist, to be completely honest, and I just saw a lot of people go through a lot of bad situations. I personally went through quite a bit.
Nader Dabit: I grew up coming out of school thinking the world was against me, almost. That causes me just automatically, the way that my mind was wired through some of the experiences I had, to assume the whole world was like that, but in reality, it's not like that at all.
Nader Dabit: In fact, depending on what community you're in, it could be better or worse, but I felt like the developer community has been just unbelievably, really good for me and good for a lot of people that have maybe come from negative backgrounds or negative situations because we have work to do.
Nader Dabit: Again, just like anything else, we have things that we can improve, but what I've found is that most of the people that are out there, successful or not, that I've reached out to to help and vice versa, I've tried to do the same. I've been really, really kind and really helpful and the more successful people seem to be, the more helpful people, even. People that have done a lot of interesting things and that I look up to a lot of times, I was looking at these people as like role models and I still do. Actually, once you get to talk to those people, you realize that they're just like everyone else and they're there to help you.
Nader Dabit: I don't know, for me, over the last 10 years or so, I've been trying to build my career as a programmer. It was intimidating to see people that had started earlier than me, people that were way more successful than me, maybe that were younger than me or people that were doing stuff that I'd never thought I'd ever be able to do. To me, my mind automatically just goes into an area that's very negative and self-deprecating, even.
Nader Dabit: I think for me, the big change that happened for me was when I started trying to single out those moments and try to catch myself and just tell myself, "Hey, don't think that way. Automatically assume the best in everything." Over time, your mind just starts to think that way, even if it didn't in the past.
Kent C. Dodds: Oh, I love that concept so much. I want to talk about that a little bit more. There's this book that I listened to recently called Self-Compassion: The Science of something, something; I'll add a link to that. It's really good. Some of the exercises that she has you do in there are kind of strange, I didn't do them all, but there's a lot of talking to yourself and paying attention to the way that you're feeling.
Kent C. Dodds: The interesting thing is that internal voice that we have that's like, we think that talking to yourself is a sign of insanity, but we literally all do it; maybe not talking out loud. But yeah, there is that internal voice and the voice inside your head that is talking to yourself is saying things to yourself that you would, unless you're a total jerk, you would never actually say to another person about them, right? Just instinctively, we talk really negatively toward ourselves.
Kent C. Dodds: That doesn't do anyone do any good. Being really mindful of yourself and yeah, just cognizant of the way that you're feeling, the way that you're talking with yourself can make a pretty significant difference in your happiness, which I think is a key thing to keep in mind.
Nader Dabit: Yeah, I haven't heard of that book. I wrote it down, I'm going to have to check it out now.
Nader Dabit: I think a lot of it has to do with assumptions, too, sometimes, like negative assumptions about things that probably should not be that way that sometimes your mind automatically will do. When you find yourself assuming something based on nothing, you should probably reevaluate what process went behind that and maybe try to take a more positive view of it.
Nader Dabit: This isn't to that there aren't, again, negative things happening in the world and negative people that you should probably not be interacting with, but I think taking, in general, an assumption that unless you have a really big red flag, that assuming that something is going to be negative without actually giving it a chance is probably not a good idea.
Nader Dabit: Also, when people talk, when people do things, when people succeed, even, to me would sometimes be very intimidating and almost cause a negative reaction in me because I was jealous or something of those people, yeah.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, I can totally relate to that. This just kind of leads to internal turmoil and just mental problems that can throw off your day. I totally relate to seeing someone else's success and feeling like that represents a failure on my part, which is not a great way to live life, either. We should be cheering for each other. Someone else's success is everyone's success, so long as it's a positive success, I suppose.
Kent C. Dodds: One thing actually that has helped me a lot, and I'm just going to throw this in there, is for the last about a year, I've been seeing a therapist and I always thought that like, "Oh, a therapist? That's just for the people who don't have control over their lives." Well, I've come to realize that there's a very low threshold for being the type of person who doesn't have control over your life.
Kent C. Dodds: Either that, or maybe I'm just extra out of control, but it has been remarkably helpful just to have somebody to talk through the things that I'm thinking about myself, the things that I'm thinking about others, and being intentional about the types of changes that I want to see in my thought processes and in my level of happiness. Just having a regular time that I can talk with somebody about that has been really helpful to me.
Nader Dabit: How often do you go? Is it a monthly thing?
Kent C. Dodds: I'm every other week.
Nader Dabit: Oh, okay. Cool.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah.
Nader Dabit: I've thought about that. I haven't done it in a while, but yeah, I think I might have to try that, too. I've actually been teetering on the edge of trying that, so I think you may have pushed me over the edge.
Kent C. Dodds: Dude, it's so great. There is just this perception around seeing a therapist. People joke about it in movies and stuff like that, or even in person, but there's nothing taboo about having somebody to talk with about your life. I definitely recommend it to anybody who can afford that and if you can't, then find somebody who's...
Kent C. Dodds: The nice thing about a therapist is that they're a total third party, so you can tell them about just anything and they won't judge you, if they're a good therapist. They don't have any skin in the game, so it's a lot easier to talk with a total third party, so I do recommend it for sure.
Kent C. Dodds: Circling it back to our subject here, it helps because I've been able to take an hour every other week to analyze: How am I doing mentally? What are my thought processes around the positive and negative things that I'm experiencing in my life? If those things are good, then that's great, but if they're bad, which often, I can improve, what can I do specifically to improve myself and my perceptions of the world?
Kent C. Dodds: Do you have any tips for people on how they can make that mental shift from seeing all this negativity and being really sad about it and maybe adding to the negativity and shifting from that to seeing the negativity, acknowledging it, but actually seeing it for what it is and trying to make a positive impact on the world?
Nader Dabit: Yeah, I mean, there's a couple of things that I'll talk about here. One of them comes from me having a philosophy of life that I've come upon and I've read about a bunch of different things and I've, I guess, really connected with the idea of stoicism. I don't think this is for everybody, but I think some of the things that are taught here may be good for everybody.
Nader Dabit: But really, some of the things that are going on there, and I think a really good book to kind of get into that, if you're interested, it's called A Guide to the Good Life, and it's basically a modern view and a modern take on stoicism.
Nader Dabit: Two, I guess, of the main things there are mindfulness and appreciation of what you have going on and then the other is trying to recognize negativity when you start having it in your brain and your mind and then being very mindful of when that happens and trying to flip it on its head and just recognize when those negative thoughts that come around. They might not have any real base in anything that's real, but they're just in your head, recognizing when those come about and instantly trying to analyze that and either flip it on its head or trying to realize whether or not it's a real thing to even be worrying about.
Nader Dabit: The mindfulness part is just living in the moment and really trying to not stress about things in the past or in the future, also just appreciating the good things that you already have going on instead of worrying about things that might or might not happen.
Kent C. Dodds: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, I like that a lot. I wonder, maybe one thing that people can do is consume less media in general because I've noticed that if you're sitting there and you don't have anything to do, maybe you're waiting for your car to be fixed because you don't have an electric vehicle yet. Sorry, I shouldn't insert that in, but you never have to get any things fixed with electric vehicles. They're amazing.
Kent C. Dodds: Anyway, you're sitting there and you're doing nothing and you have an option on the type of thing that you can consume in that moment. For one thing, you could sit there and just think and just kind of be in the moment or you can get online, you can watch a YouTube video or whatever or you can read the local news.
Kent C. Dodds: It's not a bad thing to be informed on what's going on, but there comes a point where I have a friend who consumes a lot of local news and that's just what she does all the time. She's just reading all the news articles locally and most of them are just all the terrible things that are happening in the world and it brings with it brings with it a bunch of anxiety that I think is pretty unnecessary to subject yourself to.
Kent C. Dodds: Maybe another thing that you can do to cope with this kind of thing and maintain a spirit of optimism is to just consume a little less of that anxiety-inducing negativity in the world. I don't know.
Nader Dabit: Yeah, I agree with that a lot. I'm a big fan of podcasts, of course. I'm a big fan of books on tape. If you're looking for something to replace that media at any point on a trip somewhere in your car or even on the airplane, those are good places to go.
Nader Dabit: It's kind of interesting, as someone that's a developer advocate and I'm very connected with the world and Twitter and all these different places online, I have to be online so much that it really takes a lot of effort not to get too consumed in some of that stuff. Yeah, you just see so much stuff and it does, without you even knowing it, start causing negative emotions and stuff like that.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's part of the types of people that you follow. Again, I keep on bringing this up because I want to be very careful and make sure that people don't take it to an extreme and just block out what's going on in the world because there are bad things that are going on and there is changed that we can have, but there's only so many thoughts and prayers that you can send to people, right?
Kent C. Dodds: Instead of sending your thoughts and prayers to every single bad thing that's happening in the world, maybe you could learn about the bad things that are happening in an area where you have some influence. If you're working at a company and you know that there's some abuse going on there at the company or maybe some harassment or something, maybe you can actually get off of your rear end and go improve that situation and do something a little bit more active there rather than just staying on on Twitter or wherever and adding your thoughts and prayers to whatever catastrophe's happening now.
Kent C. Dodds: Not to say that thoughts and prayers are a bad thing, I'm a religious person, but let's be a little bit more active, I guess, in improving our world. Then while all the while recognizing that things are improving and the direction is a good one and being happy with at least that, I guess.
Nader Dabit: If you're listening to this, chances are you may be a developer and if you are a developer, then you do have a unique opportunity to help other people in this really fast-growing... There's so many people looking to do what we're doing. Just going out there and creating tutorials or doing workshops or whatever, helping people by teaching what you know is really fulfilling and it does also give you a positive return on investment as far as how you feel, I think.
Nader Dabit: It's something that's helped me a lot because I've noticed, and it may be a selfish thing to do because of that, but it's one of the reasons I do do it is that when I help people I feel good about it and it helps them and it's a win-win situation.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, absolutely, especially when you can create some free material that is accessible to people who aren't in a situation where they can pay for an online course, then you can help some people who really could be in a really bad situation and pull themselves out of that bad situation, which is a really rewarding experience for sure, so I'm glad you mentioned that.
Kent C. Dodds: As we're coming close to the end of our time here, Nader, is there anything else that you want to give our audience advice on how to be more intentionally optimistic and positive influences in the world?
Nader Dabit: Well, one of my favorite books that I've ever read, it's called The Obstacle is the Way, and it's again, along this stoic kind of material that you might consume as far as different types of stoic philosophy and stuff like that, but it basically talks about trying to do things that most people don't want to do and almost trying to go after the hard things.
Nader Dabit: I've really taken that on over the last few years and it's been pretty rewarding. I'm not saying just to do that, but I would recommend reading that book. I came away with a lot of positive takeaways. I would just recommend maybe check that out if you're interested in some of the stuff that we've talked about.
Kent C. Dodds: Mm-hmm (affirmative). No, we have a library of books for people to consume and as I've been looking these up, most of them, if not all of them, have an audio version, so if you want to listen, pick those up on Audible. Definitely something good to listen to rather than just consume all the negativity in the world. That's great.
Kent C. Dodds: I guess the thing that we want to have people do as part of our homework for this week is to take every single day, just for a week. The homework that I give you, the call to action here at the end of these episodes is not intended to be change your life fundamentally right now, but to put you on a path to improving yourself, whether it be career-wise or personally or in your technical capabilities.
Kent C. Dodds: For this time, I want you to take at least just a minute or two every single day for a week and write one thing that you're optimistic about. There's so many cool things going on in our world right now and the future is exciting. There are people doing things in this world that are improving things drastically for entire categories of people or entire places, so if you can't think of one thing to be optimistic about, then maybe you should be seeing a therapist to help be optimistic a little bit.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, every single week day for just a week, take a minute, write down one thing you're optimistic about and I think that by doing that, it will start you on the path of changing your mindset on how you think about the negative things that you see, whether it be in social media or anywhere else so that you can not be paralyzed by those terrible things that are actually going on and actually are terrible, but be motivated to instill some change in the world.
Nader Dabit: Yeah, sounds beautiful to me.
Kent C. Dodds: I just about combined your first and last name, "Nabit."
Nader Dabit: It's definitely not the worst that I've heard, so it's all good.
Kent C. Dodds: Good, good. Well, cool. Is there anything else that you want to mention before we wrap things up here?
Nader Dabit: No, that's about it. Thanks for having me on.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, thank you. Thank you so much. Where can people find you online, Nader?
Nader Dabit: Dabit3 on Twitter and GitHub and pretty much all the social media, D-A-B-I-T and the number three.
Kent C. Dodds: Awesome. Cool, well, it was a thrill chatting with you. Thank you so much for giving me some of your time and audience some of your time. Also, to the audience, thank you for giving us a half hour of your time. Time is one of our most valuable assets, probably the most valuable asset, so giving us some of your time. If you listen to this on 3x, then I guess it was only 10 minutes of your time, so there's that.
Kent C. Dodds: But yeah, hopefully this was helpful to you and yeah, we'll look forward to being in your ears next time. Thanks, everyone. We'll see you, Nader.