How the gym and Japanese made me a better developer

For the past ten years or so, even before I graduated from college, a large chunk of my spare time has been dedicated to studying. More specifically, it's been dedicated to studying technology. Everything from programming languages I've wanted to use to new frameworks that look shiny and new to electronics and Arduinos and everything in between. I've spent lots of time and money reading up on anything tech. It's really my passion. That's why I got into Computer Science to begin with. I love this.

But after all those years, I've been getting burned out doing this. There's just a lot of little things that lead to me feeling this way. The biggest reason, however, is the following: I've read and studied about a lot of cool things that I never got to do at my current day job, making it impossible to retain anything long-term and making me eventually lose interest. This would then spiral into me feeling guilty on spending so much time on something and not use it. To compensate, I would jump to some other tech-related book or project that excited me, only to have the same thing happen again. It was a vicious cycle that I hated and was desperate to get out of. But I didn't want to dump tech at all. I love this stuff.

Finally, I decided to just hold back on all the new learning. I stopped buying books and trying to jump on the bandwagon of the latest hotness out on the streets. But that made me even more miserable. I felt like I was getting left behind. Like a drug junkie, I yearned to get my fix, even though I knew it was slowly killing me inside. So I had to focus on something else, far away from the things I've been doing for the past ten years. And oddly enough, shifting my focus away from tech was just what I needed to get my focus back on tech.

First off, I finally decided to go to a gym. Before last year, I had never stepped into a gym before in my life. Outside of walking around town or visiting a new park from time to time, I never really made an attempt to make physical activity a part of my routine. So at age 29, my electronic scale at home read 298.8 pounds, and a recent blood test showed my cholesterol levels a bit on the high side. I knew I had to do something. Since my current office is located right next door, literally, to a gym, I signed up and started going.

Going to the gym and exercising regularly has been by far the best decision I've ever made in my life. Outside of weight loss and other physiological benefits, I never really believed the mental benefits of exercising, but they're very, very true. I feel much more alert during the day, up to the point where I don't need a caffeine boost during the day. I also got much better at retaining new things I've learned. Work seems to come out effortlessly, and I think the quality of my code has gone noticeably up in the last couple of months, since I've been going to the gym more often. Finally, I've noticed myself in a much better mood every single day, with rarely any "bad hair days", as I used to have periodically. Seeing the benefits of the hard work put at the gym helps with that a lot: Yesterday I weighed myself using the same scale that mockingly showed 298.8 over a year ago, and now it ready '258.8'. Suck it, electronic scale.

Besides the gym, I wanted something else to focus on, but nothing related to technology. So I decided to take up learning a new language - a natural language, in particular, Japanese. I'm already fluent in English and Spanish, so I wanted to take something that was totally different, something not a Germanic or Romance language. I thought that Japanese was one of the most difficult languages outside of those groups, so I signed up for a class to feel challenged by something new. I'm about to finish my introductory class next week, and I loved it so much that I'm planning to stay at the language school for at least a full year, and then I'll be taking a few weeks to actually visit Japan.

The thing is, since I've been spending a noticeable chunk of time with the gym and learning Japanese, I've noticed a surprising side-effect - I've been doing much better in the tech department. Taking time to study Japanese clears my mind and really energizes me, so when I go back to coding I put in a much better effort than I did before. And the physical and mental energy boost that the gym has given me helps me be able to learn and retain more than I ever did. It's an awesome feeling, and I'm loving studying all over again.

As developers and engineers, our passion leads us to spend too much time on technology, but in the long haul that's not sustainable. I've heard the phrase "sometimes we need to step back to be able to move forward" many, many times before. It's totally true. Believe it.

Written by

Dennis Martinez

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