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How do I enjoy solving hard problems? I love learning--reading and understanding textbooks or papers, for instance--but I am slower to try to solve problems or apply what I've learned. I am naturally more contemplative than active and I am not convinced this is good.

If you solve harder problems, your status (in the eyes of others) increases. If you don't solve hard problems, you may be left behind. This can make things stressful.

If you try to solve hard problems, you may fail, and your ego may be hurt. You may try and try, and fail for a long time. It is risky and painful to attack hard problems.

In light of these (and perhaps other) difficulties, how do I learn to either (a) gain more discipline to attack hard problems, or (b) learn to love trying to solve hard problems?

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Here's an example. Put a rat in a maze. Have a piece of chocolate at the exit of the maze. The rat will smell it and find a path to the chocolate. After repeating this a few times, the rat will learn the correct path and go there over and over again, faster each time. The rat will take some wrong turns and maybe get lost, but will eventually gain the skill of manoeuvring through the maze.

You are more intelligent than a rat. Your brain is very plastic (changeable/moldable). You can learn much faster.

However, without the piece of chocolate, the rat would probably never learn the path out of the maze, except by chance. Most of us, in trying to gain a skill often forget to put the rewards in the end of the maze. We find the path there out of chance. Studies show that most people who become avid exercisers do so out of boredom. The others often have a goal in mind, like looking good enough to get a mate. A lot of people forget about exercise because they see no results in a short period of time.

The key is to reward yourself. Unlike a rat, you are smart enough to know that at the end of the maze lies endless opportunities for more rewards. But you still need to have a reward at the end to go there at all.

It doesn't have to be a big reward. Even a positive feeling works just as well as a reward as getting a car. One of the bonuses of doing something with a friend is that you can discuss the difficulty of the task with them and mutually praise each other or learn how to do it faster. The fact that you've completed the routine at all is a reward. But you have to get positive feedback of some sort.

If possible, try to break down your learning into smaller tasks or checkpoints. If you're learning to run, record how much time you take to go a certain distance. If you're reading a difficult book, your rewards might be in completing a chapter or the exercises at the back of the chapters. Make sure that you have a clear feeling that you're making progress of some sort.

Don't worry too much about the injuries and setbacks. They happen. You had to fall a few times to learn to walk. Sometimes you even banged your jaw on the table. You had people laughing at you if you learned a second language or tried to play a musical instrument. Accept it as part of the process.

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very nice answer! – kobac Mar 25 '13 at 21:39

The phrasing of the question seems more to do with psychology/confidence than productivity, but the concept of doing something difficult is intriguing. A hard problem is pretty subjective - what is hard for me may not be hard for you, and vice versa. Now for a couple of platitudes: (1) Long journeys begin with a single step, and (2) practice makes perfect.

Maybe practice breaking down difficult problems into smaller, easier, problems. A triathlon may be a hard problem for you. So, break it down. Start riding a bike, swimming, and running separately. You may even break riding a bike down further - be able to ride for 5 miles 5 days in a row. When you do this, and practice breaking things down this way, what seemed like an insurmountable problem/concern becomes smaller and more manageable. Further, once you start solving small/easy problems which culminate into a solution for a large/hard problem - your confidence will grow, and the speed at which you can breakdown large/hard problems (and solve them) should also increase.

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Consider the following words of wisdom by Richard Rusczyk:

The first step in dealing with difficult problems is to accept and understand their importance. Don't duck them. ... Brilliant "Aha!" moments almost always spring from minds cultivated by long periods of frustration. But without that frustration, those brilliant ideas never arise. ... The whole point of research is to find and answer questions that have never been solved. You can't learn how to do that without fighting with problems you can't solve.

So, find comfort and motivation in the fact that embracing difficult problems is a good way to improve your creativity and come up with better ideas, even brilliant ones.

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The older I get the less likely I am to really invest in solving hard problems. I often feel like I don't have the time to invest when the risk of not getting a solution is high.

So - when I really need, or want, to take on something difficult - I go in with very open ended expectations for myself. Mostly that means telling myself that I may not actually get the solution and that the process itself is going to be my reward. Critical thinking and putting in the effort is a big win in itself - and helps for the next problem I want to solve.

Taking the pressure off generally frees me up a little and I'm much more likely to actually solve the problem I'm working on if I don't feel like getting the answer is the only view of success I have.

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When I have to, or want to, do things that I do not take much pleasure in-- or that I find myself losing interest in very quickly-- I give myself a timer. Tell yourself, I'm going to work on this hard problem for ten minutes, 20, an hour! You can work your way up. Or start big.

If the problem is going to take many hours, or days, or months, then you need to break up the time you're spending on the problem. If it's a day, separate the work into morning and afternoon with a break in the middle to do whatever you want. If it's days, set out time each day (it could range from 1 hour to 8 hours!). Same with months, you must set aside time every day (or every weekday in my case) to work SOLELY on the problem.

One important aspect of this system is the time when you're NOT working on the problem. You need to do something you just love and that refreshes you. Read a book, cook a great meal, go out with friends, play a cool app. Do something that you really enjoy. If you watch tv, make it one show or wait till the end of the week to watch a whole movie. Watching a lot of tv really puts you in a stupor, and you need to be in productive mode if you're tackling a long term project.

But, if it is simply a short term problem, I say set a timer for 20 minutes. See where you get in that time. You might be surprised!

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Start from minor hard problems, do one same problem more then one time Do mostly such problems that other requires so that they can appreciate you

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