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January 14, 2016  

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How To Overcome Getting Stuck In Physics

Recently I've been working on an app. Which one doesn't really matter. It's about a topic that I really enjoy and I'm excited about it. In working on it, it has easily been the hardest app I've ever developed, although absolutely nothing about it is different. In general, my apps follow a formula, because they are modular; they deal with different sections of physics and offer a very similar solution. First, understand the topic. Next, break that topic into easy, doable, step by step solutions. Next, go through sample problems to see the steps in action. Lastly, review what you've learned in a flash-card style review. It's a great system. For me, the app just wasn't taking off in my head. I could not visualize what to do or where to go. This reminded me a great deal about when I was in college and I'd be working on a problem and halfway through I'd get totally stuck. I just couldn't see it. No matter what the deadline, I always do the same thing. Drop it. Usually I don't work on something else. I take a walk. I take a shower. I let it go, and let my brain continue to work on it, but not in the forefront. Sometimes you're so concerned about due dates, or scheduling, or how many other problems you need to do that it all gets lost in the shuffle and you get totally, totally stuck. For me the exit is to drop everything and come back fresh 30 minutes later. For my app, it was more like 30 days. But now revisiting it, I'm enthused, and it's going very smoothly. I don't want to hate my work, and coming back fresh makes me not hate it. It doesn't seem like work any more.

When you're stuck on a physics problem, many times you don't have the luxury of stepping back that far, it's due in the morning, or you're in the middle of a test. For homeworks, start early. Then when you get stuck you can drop everything for a day and you're not really in trouble. In tests, I would spend 2-3 minutes just staring at the ceiling, letting my mind wander, thinking about music, looking out the window. Sometimes you just have to clean out the pipes to let the creative juices flow again. It's not easy, and most of the times the problem to overcome is getting out of your own way. As a human, you are a pattern seeking creature. You are good at solving problems. If you've studied for the test, you're equipped to solve the problem. Get out of your own way and let your brain do what it does best, solve problems! For me, the best way to do this was to distract myself with something else, and let my brain continue to process.

Don't misunderstand me. Please, don't play video games all night and tell me that you were just getting out of your own way. You have to use it with responsibility. But if you know yourself, and you can be disciplined about it, many times clearing out your head is the best way to get unstuck. Proceed with caution. 

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