I’m on Leetcode, a technical software interview practice site. I’ve submitted my fifth attempt at an algorithm problem. It’s incorrect. My stress levels rise. Why can’t I figure this out? Am I dumb?
Knowledge work can be stressful. This is uncomfortable short-term, but beneficial long-term. These skills compound over time. So, it’s important to learn to deal with this side effect.
This short-term stress, long-term benefit raises some questions:
To persevere or context switch is a tough question. If you switch too fast, you will not improve frustration resilience. If you switch too late, you waste time without any tangible benefit.
Here are some signs I’ve reached my frustration limit:
Your signals may be different, but you will learn to recognize them. Try a stress-reduction strategy after recognizing rising frustration levels.
When I recognize frustration, I attempt one of the following:
A walk reduces stress the most and switching to an unrelated subject the least.
Often you’ll receive a serendipitous thought while in your new context. I don’t know how to explain it except that it’s happened many times. I’ve also tried persevering while blocked for extreme amounts of time. This has never led to a serendipitous thought. It has left me more defeated though.
Track strategy effectiveness, for example in a journal. For me, I track time in deep work. Roughly, the more deep work, the better the strategy. A reduction in pleasure-seeking behavior is also a good sign.
Knowing when to switch contexts is hard. Don’t let analysis paralysis stop you from experimenting. Getting started is more important than picking the most optimal strategy. With time and data, you will adapt.
Compare different strategies by measuring pleasure-seeking behavior and deep work. Short-term, switch contexts sooner than later because perseverance levels are fixed. Long-term, push yourself a bit outside your comfort levels. This will improve your perseverance capacity.