How long is your NEVER?

Background

Ever caught yourself saying something like “I’ll never get that”? “It’s too hard; I’ll never understand it”. “I’m just anti-talent for it”.

Be honest! I’m sure you went through it at least ONCE in a recent past.

Pause for a second now and think about it. What was it? What made you feel like “you’ll never be able to grasp it”? And most importantly – how did it end up? Did you give up before even trying it or did you push it through? Just stop and think about it. Recall and relive that.

It might surprise you to learn that there was a time when I was absolutely convinced that I’m stupid. Or that I have some serious learning disability. Or both …

Not much has changed on the front of me being stupid, except that it amplified thousandfold, but I did realize that I don’t have a learning disability. Or at least I have a manageable one.

This concern of being mentally disabled and incapable of grasping new concepts was born somewhere in my late 20s. I was pretty well off in my career, very well respected at my work and was generally doing rather good job in my area of specialty (programming). But I was a bit bored as well. Or so I think. And for the reasons that, to this day, are still unclear to me, I decided to go back to university and get a BSc degree (I earned my Bachelor of Applied Science degree almost 10 years before that, so, quite some time I spent out of classroom).

Picture this – for a looong time, I’ve been sitting in my area of specialty and there was pretty much not one single problem that I couldn’t solve within at least a day or two. Worst case – I had an idea WHAT I wanted to do, without being 100% sure HOW to do it. No problem was big enough for this buff.

Being this solid piece of radiating self-confidence that I was, I’ve enrolled myself in some classes that I had zero touch with – Artificial Intelligence and Cryptography, to name a few. How hard could it be, right? It’s computers and I know computers inside out. This was maybe extra day or two of work in order to “grasp the concepts”. Or so I thought.

To this day, I kid you not, to this day I can still feel the burning pain that I felt in my brain while I was trying to understand what Neural Networks are and how they work. Seriously.

Those familiar with the subject may laugh at it. And I’m happy to report that I’d laugh now as well. It’s simple as hell! Really. Simple as in you could probably program then in 15 lines of Python code. The only problem is that it took me couple of years to build this laughable confidence, but I digress.

But for a newcomer who never dealt with the matter, this was just an overkill. Inputs, outputs, weights, biases, forward and backpropagation. Gradient descent!

Are these terms making you nauseous? If not, then you probably never heard of them and they don’t mean anything to you. Well, let me break it down into the concepts that were necessary to understand these — matrix multiplication, integrals and derivatives, trigonometry, … The more I tried to understand what was going on, the deeper the hole that I dug was.

I remember it as it literally was yesterday when I sat in my room, emotionally shuttered and physically obliterated. My eyes were watery, hands trembling, brain pinched with thousands of needles. It was the feeling of ultimate defeat.

I will NEVER get this!

Happy to report that the NEVER I’m referring to lasted around 8 days.

The Problem of New

I’ve covered this topic extensively when I wrote about doing something that you suck at, fighting your inner voice and how to actually start anything that is new and unknown.

The problem, at least when it comes to me is – I’m scared of unknowns. They overwhelm me.

You might think that by “overwhelm” I’m referring to a sensation of a mild frustration and discomfort. “Oh, that’s unfortunate that I don’t get it” spoken in a warm British voice.

NO!

By facing something that I’m unfamiliar with and that I have no prior knowledge of, my body goes in a full fight or flight mode. My heart rate increases, my brain starts literally burning from inside, and occasionally I might start sweating as well.

Then I start being pissed. Being pissed that I’m feeling like this, because, on top of everything, I’ve BEEN through this thousands of times. I know my inner process. I know this is how I react to something that is new and unknown and requires time. I know it and I still feel angry and overwhelmed that I’ll NEVER get it.

Given this information, just imagine how I felt about neural networks and everything that I mentioned above. It wasn’t just ONE unknown. There were literally, from my POV, thousands of things that I had to learn. Linear algebra, Calculus, some weird Python libraries, … What’s even more scary, I wasn’t even aware WHAT I needed to know!

I’m not over-exaggerating here. This is exactly how I feel every single time I’m faced with something new – feeling of being helpless because I finally faced something that I won’t be able to grasp. I will NEVER get it!

Trusting The Process

One thing that I’ve learned over time is that you just have to trust the process. Easier said then done but it’s something.

The trouble is that our brains are just incredibly fallacious. If you are still under a (false) belief that we are uniquely amazing highly functioning creatures with incredibly sharp and straight-thinking brains, you’re in for some hell of a ride. If you’re short on time, just give a quick glance to list of all cognitive biases (100+ of them) that Wikipedia keeps track of, but if you want to dive deeper (it’s well worth it!) definitely go and give a shot to the Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.

Point is:

No matter how rational you think you are – you’ren’t.

Given this knowledge, you shouldn’t be surprised that your brain will pretty much always react the same way. If you’re scared of the unknowns like I am – you’ll remain to be scared. If your first thought when facing something new is – “I’ll NEVER get it” – you’ll always feel that way.

There’s just no, at least not to my knowledge, any natural way to rewire your brain. There are “alternative” ways to tackle some issues, but that’s a different topic. My point here is – you’ll pretty much always feel the same and you should accept that.

So the question naturally pops up – if I’m always going to feel helpless and overwhelmed by something that is new and unknown – how do I actually deal with it?

The answer lies in the process. You just have to accept that you’re feeling how you’re feeling, but the process is what will get you through. The process is what puts an actual timeline behind your NEVER.

So, how long is your NEVER?

Based on the past data that I have, my NEVER seems to be around 8 days long. How long is yours? 🙂

Summary

  • It’ not just you. We all suffer the “I’ll NEVER get that” syndrome.
  • Assuming that our brains are rational and consistent is the worst you can do. They aren’t. They’re incredibly fallacious.
  • The only way to tackle the NEVER is to TRUST THE PROCESS. Accept your fallacies and keep pushing through.
  • Once you have the answer, do let me know how long is your NEVER.

Appendix: This Article

I think it’s worth mentioning that, when I sat down and tried writing this article, I was literally stuck. Brain dead. I had it in my backlog for months and I had so much to write, but once I did finally sit and started to write, I was rewarded with a void. The one way street where I was clearly on the wrong end. The brain fart.

Do I give up? Write about something else? Continue tomorrow? My inner voice was redlining me.

I will NEVER manage to write this article.

And yet, as it happens, I stood up and started cleaning up my apartment. Bit by bit, thought by thought and, just like witnessing that moment when you unclog your kitchen sink, all the dirt cleared up and the words started pouring out. My NEVER lasted around 15mins!

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2 thoughts on “How long is your NEVER?

  1. Great article Mihailo.
    I went through this many many times. In the end, the “never” is always temporary. It may be a few hours for simple things, up to months for challenging goals, but it has always been temporary. I think this is closely related to how our brains seem completely unable to grasp how effective is being constant and “compounding work”. That’s why you have to trust the process more than your brain’s chemistry 😁
    Inspirational stuff, thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks man!! As usual, I just love reading your feedback on these! 😀

      >> In the end, the “never” is always temporary. It may be a few hours for simple things, up to months for challenging goals, but it has always been temporary.

      Right! But isn’t it strange that our brains are just incapable of remembering that? Or it could be just MYSELF. But no matter how many times I go through the cycle, it always feels like NEVER NEVER 😀 Strange!

      >> I think this is closely related to how our brains seem completely unable to grasp how effective is being constant and “compounding work”. That’s why you have to trust the process more than your brain’s chemistry 😁

      Amen!!

      >> Inspirational stuff, thanks for sharing!

      Thank you for reading and commenting man! Really appreciated!

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