My mental state as a programmer

And how you can avoid the pitfalls it can bring.

Photo by Jem Sahagun on Unsplash

The mentally demanding job of being a programmer can be both overwhelming and joyous. Everyday you tackle unique problems and try to make sense of them to build amazing software for people to use. This mental strain can produce some unwelcome results. Here are two mental pitfalls I encounter regularly and how I get through them.

Imposter Syndrome

Taking a speculative approach, its safe to assume most everyone of us have gone through imposter syndrome at least once. For those that don’t know it is defined as:

“…a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud” — Langford, Joe; Clance, Pauline Rose (Fall 1993).

This is a dangerous thought pattern to have because much of what we do relies on having confidence in what is being written. Without this confidence we get stuck and end up taking way longer to complete a task, making the syndrome even worse.

The way I get around this is by doing old tutorials for coding projects. Not long ones, just ones that will take an afternoon. The trick is to take that tutorial that’s a bit outdated and adapt it to a modern version of the tech stack. Most tutorials are outdated the moment they come out so it’s easy to find one online.

At the end of the tutorial I feel both a sense of accomplishment and because of the modernisation work, a reinforcement of my programming ability. One example you can try is coding a Discord bot in python by following this tutorial from free code camp but adapt it to the latest version.

Feeling Overwhelmed

Being overwhelmed is quite common and natural especially if your problem domain is large and unruly. This can cause the phenomenon of “analysis paralysis” where you get stuck just staring at the problem trying to make sense of it and not making any progress.

In school we’re taught that a great approach to solving a problem is by divide-and-conquer where you split the problem into smaller and smaller pieces and this is my advice when getting overwhelmed. There is no better remedy to this feeling than finishing at least one segment, no matter how small.

It’s like a mind hack, just complete something even if it’s running a small test or writing a print line to get a small hit of dopamine and the overwhelmed feeling should feel lessened. I try to do this a few times when the feeling starts, then tackle the problem when my mind is more clear.

Final thoughts

This is a career where there is a disproportionate amount of challenges to rewards. We toil and have to keep on top of emerging trends, its stressful. Just remember the rewards are sweet, the challenges are unique, and we are only human. I hope that my techniques help you survive to enjoy this fascinating and still evolving field.

Thank you for reading!

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