When you first take on a seemingly-impossible task, it feels daunting. Yet as you progress you grow confident with the truth: it's doable.
The other night I was talking with my dad about the engineer experience of puzzling over a problem. It's something we grow accustomed to. We learn to grit our way through the initial struggle, and then hit that release of completion again and again.
It's normal to be daunted at the start. It's normal to struggle, to feel lost, to feel frustrated. It's normal to go down blind avenues and discover that there's no solutions there, and then it too is normal to start over anew.
That's a key point: persevering, and trying again.
We work piece by piece. We can't do it all at once, we can't fit it all in our head at once. We have to start by breaking it down into chunks, solving the chunks, then returning to them later when more chunks are solved to fix our initial attempt.
Old solutions can often contain mistaken assumptions, that's why we refine them over and over again as we understand the problem better.
Then at some point, we consider ourselves done. We get that sweet release from completion. It's a relief from the puzzling.
Yet that payoff only comes about from hitting the sweet spot of a challenge.
Too simple a problem and you're not challenged. Too difficult a problem, and you break yourself trying to complete it.
So how do you judge whether you've hit the sweet spot with a new problem or not?
Well, there's two ways. By building up an intuition by doing it repeatedly, or by actually attempting the problem. You learn by doing.
Often my job at work is to "discover how to do it, then do it." We may start with only the loosest notion of how to accomplish the job, and it's my duty to nail down the specifics.
Which is terrifying. What if this next project is the one that gets me stuck? What if it's too hard for me?
I find it helpful to remember past experiences where I didn't know what I was doing, but made it there in the end. It gives me confidence to recall how many times I've triumphed over challenges I first thought were unsolvable.
Which comes around to my dearheart. He isn't intimately familiar with this struggle and reward. He's not a lab rat like me, trained to expect the payoff at the end of a hard puzzle, so he's more afraid and more willing to give up.
He's afraid of starting new projects, because he doesn't have confidence in his own ability to learn. Whether it's learning business, mathematics, programming, digital design, or more, he's overwhelmed by the sheer mountain ahead of him. He can't break it down into manageable pieces.
I can't take him from there to where I am by words alone. I can tell him all about confidence and growth, but at the end of the day he won't believe it when he's struggling with a hard problem.
Not until he builds enough of his own experience with success.
It's therefore absolutely vital to give him challenges well into the sweet spot. I don't want to scare him off of trying entirely with some impossible tasks. I want confidence builders, but not the too-easy kind. Those do nothing.
The latest thing I've had him start is Khan Academy videos. He doesn't yet have the drive to self-educate, so I need to direct his education myself. It's just yet another duty piled onto my plate as Domme.
The free internet education is wonderful however, and I've certainly used them before to explore new topics and refresh my core skills. It's a great way of finding reasonably tiny challenges for my dearheart.
I've also entrusted him with small projects, such as crafting the icon for this site. I've also tasked him with learning to cook better, and he's taken to it wonderfully – delicious food is a sure way to my good graces, and along the way he's learned to accept the mistakes he makes when working on it.
Ultimately I think the next step up is a large project such as sending him to community college.
I want to challenge my dearheart until he gains confidence in the process. Until he understands that at the end of delayed gratification, there still is a reward. College is a prime exemplar of delayed gratification, filled with many bite-sized challenges along the way.
Let's see where this path goes...