The Thinking Trap.

“Thought is a dangerous habit and should be avoided whenever possible.” – Dennis Waite

“The only problem that I have is that I think too much.” – Vinnie Paz

Here’s how it usually goes for me. I start learning about a new programming concept, I hit that first big knowledge wall, I lose steam, I get discouraged, and then one of two things happens. Either I keep plugging away, reread the material, fool around in the text editor until something clicks, or I quit what I was doing and retreat to Facebook or Netflix or whatever.

When I do that second terrible thing, I tell myself I’m just taking time to think. That by stepping back and letting my mind work over things in the background, I’ll somehow magically learn the whole lesson and return to the challenge with the right answer, fully formed in my skull.

Thats the trap. Learning something new is an interactive process. I need to do the work if I want to get better at it. Thinking about programming a recursive loop is like thinking about practicing the oboe. I can do it all day and feel really good about myself, but when it’s time to perform, I’ll sink if I haven’t ever turned offmy inner monologue and pulled up a chair and just done the damn thing.

For me, thought is a refuge from anxiety. Learning is hard sometimes, and it can make me nervous. Thinking about learning is easier than actually pushing through the process itself. Thinking feels safe. I know what it’s like inside my head. It’s predictable. Less scary than going out on a limb and not knowing if it will support me. Especially when I’ve been conditioned to fear being wrong by a society that punishes imperfection instead of rewarding exploration. So I think. And I smile. And I feel proud of myself for thinking so well.

And I don’t get any better at anything.

If my brain could learn programming by thinking about learning programming, I’d already know everything there is to know without ever cracking open a book or writing a line of code. But since it can’t, and I don’t, my best bet is to build up my “keep trying anyway” muscle.

If I can do that, I’ll develop a habit of growing without giving up. And that’s a habit I’ll never have to avoid.

 

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