Develop a Problem Solving Attitude

There’s no doubt that there will be what appear like roadblocks. At the start, most likely you’ll find that your code won’t run, you’ll get an error that makes no sense. Your personal troubleshooting system may not be formalised yet and you end up giving up. You’ll tell yourself something along the lines of, ‘this is too hard for me’. The truth is it’s not, rather it’s a matter of mental resource allocation. More specifically about how much you’re willing to dedicate to the problem. As a data scientist you learn to dedicate a much higher percent of brain power to your work than you would for trivial tasks. For example, thinking about the quickest journey home may be 10% brain power and take you 1 minute. In the beginning for me, I found that I would need hours of intense concentration trying to fix a single error in my code. After much training and repetition you begin to develop an instinct for fixing bugs in your code, you’ll subconsciously assess the probability of a set of possible mistakes and reasons for the error. Then begin digging into the most likely, which is usually some sort of syntax error or data type error when you begin. 

The key message is that problem solving takes nothing but time and brain cycles, and you need to consecutively keep solving problems until you begin to develop an instinct. Which means you can’t avoid putting in the work. 

Given you need to dedicate this high level of mental resource to the problem you can’t waste brain power beating yourself up about how you can’t get it to work, this is usually a big distraction and could lead to your downfall (of your data science plans at least). That said it’s natural to do so and everyone does it to some degree.

Try to think of a problem as not a roadblock, but rather a problem pending solved status, that way you know it’s just a matter of time and brain power till you figure it out. 

Your perspective on a given problem can be somewhere on either two ends of a spectrum, the first – a problem that causes you pain and self doubt, a dead end of sorts. The other end, a fantastic opportunity for pleasure, the greater the amount of work you dedicate the more pleasure you’ll gain once it’s solved, like an existing holiday in the not too distant future. Rewiring the way you think like this takes time and can be difficult for some, so start with easy problems and don’t bite off more than you can chew. As the level of difficulty of the problems increases each time one is solved, you’ll gradually gain momentum for solving much harder problems. It’s very hard to get this momentum when you start straight off the mark with hard problems. 

A useful problem solving mental crutch is to psychologically unbound the amount of time and brain power you might dedicate to the problem, tell yourself something like,”I’ll work on this small problem for a year if I have to”. There’s something about complete acceptance that the problem will be solved that will help your brain find a solution faster. Or at least that’s been the case in my experience.