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Rina Florijn
Rina Florijn

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5 tips to reactivate your brains after a period of inactivity

Exactly one month ago, I decided to give coding a try. That may sound as if I was sceptical of coding but let me assure you, I was not. I was more sceptical of myself. Although I had been a bright student in my teens, this past decade my brain hasn’t had a lot to do. In fact, in the end it had so little to do that last year I came down with symptoms of bore-out. Not just because I could only get low-skilled jobs but it also was confirmed I was gifted. On top of that, I had a mild vitamin-D deficiency which gave me a depression fueled by a temp agency that bluntly told me I was useless because I didn’t have diplomas. Needless to say that mentally I wasn’t in the best of places. So for me, the fact that I managed to complete my first month back into studying is quite a feat in itself. What have I learnt so far?

1. Learn from past mistakes

The problem of being gifted is that often you want to go faster than the rest. I remember that in school or during music lessons that whenever I got a new book, I’d flip straight to page 90 (or thereabout) because that’s where the interesting stuff was. I rarely took the time to read the first 89 pages and do the accompanying exercises. That in itself was often not a problem but by the time we reached page 200, I seemed to have less of a grasp of material than my classmates. Up to this day, it’s something I struggle with. I still grasp the basics fairly quickly but I’m lost when I need to delve deeper into material. So rather than starting immediately with a course in Javascript, I decided that this time I would start with the basics: first basic HTML, followed by basic CSS. And discovered that over the years I had actually lost quite a bit of knowledge simply because after my editor work ended, I never needed that knowledge again – I did completely different work.

2. Start with what (you think) you know

Starting with the basics also had another benefit. I might have lost of knowledge but I certainly had not lost all of it. Also, I wasn’t yet a 100% convinced coding was something I wanted to pursue seriously. After all, it had been nearly a decade since I did my last bit of serious coding. I started with an online course at the Khan Academy to both freshen up my memory and see if I actually still liked to code. Taking this route made learning a lot more fun for me because there was a basis on which I could build rather gave me the confidence to continue. A month in, I now see that had I started with The Odin Project on day one I certainly would have given up because I’d be overwhelmed and feel discouraged to continue.

3. Aaaand… again!

After completing my first basic HTML/CSS course, I decided to start with The Odin Project (TOP), only to discover that from that first HTML/CSS not a lot had stuck. I discovered I had done the exercises like I had done them in school: simply fill out the answers without actually registering what I did or why I did it. Rather than talking myself down, “See, you morhon. You haven’t changed a bit. You still can’t learn.” like I had done in the past, I now thought, “Okay that didn’t work. Let’s try something else.” I did a second online course at Free Code Camp (FCC). It turned out the course itself was fairly similar but more extensive and this time, rather than relying on my brain to memorize it all instantly, I made notes. By hand. Old-fashion? Maybe, but by writing things down things stuck much better and I knew faster where to find an answer in my notes.

4. Keep your own pace

To everyone who managed to complete a course in 6 or 12 months and landed their first job: congrats and my hat’s off to you! But as inspiring as your story will be for many, to others it might add to the pressure. After all, if X managed, shouldn’t I be able to achieve the same? If you feel you can – go for it! If you feel you need more time – take it! At the moment, I do chores in the morning to get energy out of my body so I’m calm enough to sit down for 3 hours of studying/coding in the afternoon. It’s not that I don’t want to do more but I right now just can’t. Last Monday I coded for three hours and ended up with a massive headache despite taking breaks.

5. Alternate!

It is frustrating. My brains were the one thing I could always count on and it’s only now that I try to activate them again, that I realise how lazy and inactive they have become. Sitting behind a desk and staring at the screen is also something I need to relearn. Alternating focused screen time with non-screen time during which I review notes or with unfocused screen time works well. By unfocused I mean finding instructive videos that don’t necessarily require watching. This way, I’m keep myself occupied with coding even if I’m not behind the computer.

Conclusion

After a month, I can only conclude that I was far too optimistic at how fast I would complete the online courses. Still, I am quite happy with the progress I’ve made. I want to code more but because I’ve had so much thrown at me I am still figuring a lot of things out. For instance, I have a problem with Github that needs solving. It’s probably something simple and something I overlooked but it’ll likely take me at least half a day. But I’m still at it, learning every day. And that’s what counts.

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