Mental hacks as a slow but functioning programmer

Insights from a very slow process of falling in love with coding through the years, even if it always keeps kicking your ass.

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Since I took an interest in coding, it took me more than a decade to finally start building stuff with it. It was always the same story: I started to learn coding and very quickly I hit a wall and quit in frustration. If it wasn’t for my progress in artistic, creative and visual endeavors I would definitely thought that I was somewhat unintelligent. I had always believed that I was not cut out for programming and even less for video game development. Why? Because since I was a child, I believed that I was one of those people who didn’t have the brain for numbers and mathematical logic, but also a part of me just thinks that I’ve been lazy about it. To this day, I don’t know which one it is, but here I am, finally making games as a profession. These are some lessons I have learned in this process of building stuff and developing games on my own as an extremely slow programmer.

You simply will not be comfortable, ever. 

I firmly believe that we are capable of learning whatever we want, but there are aspects of our genetics that we cannot fight against. For example, I feel extremely comfortable designing and thinking of visual solutions for all kinds of problems. Give me something that has to do with a slightly mathematical thought process and I freeze within seconds. I learned to live with this and over the years I realized that even with it I could become a programmer. I’ve never felt comfortable in this field, constantly dealing with feelings of imposter syndrome, but seeing the things I have built and can build through these last few years demonstrate me that yes, finally after many years of frustration, I can program. If you have a pre disposition to think you are bad with numbers it may be possible that you will never feel comfortable in this field as you would like. Some of these thoughts are ingrained from childhood and it’s totally understandable that you struggle with them. I’ve found that the best way to feel better is by building things even if they’re simple. Start building by programming, it’s the best way to pave your way to feeling better about it. Chances are you’ll never be sure about all of this and it’s ok, just learn to live with it and don’t stop for nothing.

Consistency gives confidence and it pays off but can also betray you

I am not a naturally disciplined person but over the years I have learned to put into practice concepts that have helped me improve. I have realized that programming every day is one of the most essential aspects of keeping my slow left brain working. When I encounter programming problems, I usually push for several days until I find a solution. It’s always the same story, I hit a big wall that seems indestructible and eventually, over the days, I make my way through. But where is the problem with this? When I get to that point of euphoria of solving the problem, I start to feel like I understand everything and fall into a comfort zone. It’s exactly the point where you stop pushing and that’s when you lose consistency. It’s not the moments of frustration that end up putting me in a slump, it’s the moments of comfort and extreme confidence that make me lose my discipline. It’s in those moments that you have to be careful. As I said before, whether you are on a roll or on a slump, just don’t stop.

Don’t always stress yourself out, take a break, it can be magical. 

In this digital era, we have been made to believe that productivity is above all else. Yes, it’s nice to be able to build things and solve problems through technology, but we have greatly underestimated the power of simply doing nothing. Many times, when I come across a programming problem that I can’t solve, I’ve realized that sitting frustrated in front of the computer for a lot of hours is pointless. Sometimes getting up from my chair and doing something completely idle helps me clear my mind, and as if by magic, while I wasn’t thinking about the problem, I find its solution. I come back to my computer with excitement to not forget that realization I just had. Sometimes, the solution to a problem doesn’t lie in attempting to find it but in stopping the deliberate search for it. I’m not an expert in neuroscience, but something in our subconscious must activate when we’re not actively thinking about something, and that helps us unexpectedly find what we’re looking for.

When you feel overwhelmed, go back to the starting point.

I constantly feel like a failure in my programming projects. I feel like I don’t know anything about it, I feel like I quickly forget the syntax of languages and I constantly don’t understand the code I have written even within my own video game. How do I get rid of this feeling of insecurity? By going back to the basics, to the fundamentals. When this happens to me, I look for tools like books, courses or apps aimed at beginner programmers and I review the fundamental concepts again. Many times it helps me to remember things I had forgotten but it also helps me to remember that I really understand concepts that would have seemed extremely complex to me before. This mental exercise of revisiting beginner topics helps me clear the cobwebs from my own mind but also reinforces the fact that if I understand these concepts that can be very abstract, it ends up helping me with confidence in myself as a programmer. Don’t underestimate the power of getting into a beginner’s mindset, it can be revealing.

Becoming a programmer is more a matter of the mindset we adopt. The correct mindset involves being in constant learning, constant practice, but also taking constant breaks to maintain a balance and avoid falling into traps of low self-esteem or excessive confidence. I believe that this combination of things is something that can help all of us to become better. I hope these insights have been helpful to you, and if you identified with any of them, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I would love to hear about it.

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