Engineering is a challenging career. To be a good engineer, you need to keep up-to-date with technologies, keep disrupting your mind, sometimes creating sparks with others and shifting mindset by re-evaluating past decisions.

Human being tends to have a strong feeling about past decisions and hoping the choices are “right”. Engineers are commonly having strong feelings on past engineering design and implementation, it’s always a difficult mission to detach external comments with “personal” feelings.

A few excellent engineers I met are productive. They produce quality code and crafting products in fast iterations. Most of them having a common “symptoms” - they tend to self-criticizing; they were unable to recognize their success and contributions positively.

It’s unfortunate to see talented people and friends struggle. Sometimes personality is learned by experience. It’s difficult to tell people what to do; some willing to listen; some people not always happy to hear even it’s friendly to advise. Everyone is on their journey to become a better person.

Martin E.P. Seligman, known as the father of the new science of positive psychology, researched how optimism enhances the quality of life, and how anyone can learn to practice it. The book Learnt Optimism provides research facts and tooling about how changing perception would help to perceive the world, thus becoming more optimistic.

It’s often about how a person perceives and self-digesting messages from the outside world. Dr. Seligman suggests three tools to apply when we “digest” life experiences:

  • Personal or Impersonal
  • Specific or General
  • Temporary or Permanent

When encountering criticism, applying three tools could help to become detached with personal feelings. One might say, “Programming language A is better than B.”, When we apply to the optimized thinking process:

  • Personal or Impersonal: It’s not a personal statement. It’s not criticising your current toolset or any personal preferences.
  • Specific or General: The statement is general about a programming language. It does not apply or criticise anything specific to your existing work.
  • Temporary or Permanent: Again, there’s nothing mentioned about time and scenario when the programming language A is better, it’s a general statement rather than personal.

When encountering a success, apply three tools and explaining that they are more personal, specific and permanent. One might say, “It’s great progress you’ve produced in the past few days.”

  • Personal or Impersonal: It’s a compliment to “my personal” success, including with team members
  • Specific or General: It’s a general compliment that acknowledges “I” have been doing good work
  • Temporary or Permanent: It’s a permanent success and “I” can achieve this again

When offering praise or criticism to others, the tool can also help to craft your words to make sure that:

  • Criticism is impersonal, specific and temporary
  • Praise creates confidence for others, it is personal, general and permanent

The book is quite lengthy to read. Reg Braithwaite produced a valuable summary of the book on Github. If you prefer experiencing the research and thinking process, I would recommend to read and exercise Dr. Seligman’s book Learnt Optimism.

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