The thing about hard problems is that there are many difficulties and few solutions. Sounds obvious, but what’s often overlooked is the psychological component to this asymmetry. There’s a simple reason why tackling a hard problem can lead to depressive symptoms: you’re necessarily wrong 99% of the time.
I’m getting my PhD in math, and developing a web app/startup on the side. I can tell you that one thing from my PhD research that I can carry over to my entrepreneurial ambitions is that you only have to be right 1% of the time. The hard part is, you need to be psychologically prepared to be wrong all other times.
I haven’t seen much discussion of this idea, but I’ve faced it repeatedly myself, and I often see it in others. I’ve seen it so often I’m convinced of its pervasiveness. Here’s an example. One of my peers tells me his numerics code isn’t working:
Me: Have you tried this test case?
Him: No, actually.
Me: Well that may isolate the bug.
Him: But I’m afraid that it won’t work.
Sound silly and contrived? It isn’t and I have complete sympathy for this situation. So many times in my work I’ve fantasized about the solution to an idea, and have been too afraid to implement it because of the subliminal fear that I will be, yet again, wrong. It’s a Pavlovian response to the track record of being repeatedly disappointed. Meanwhile, I delight in having new ideas, and enjoy brainstorming them. But without implementing them, the process is worthless.
The point is to be aware. If you find yourself resisting an obvious step due to an irrational fear, step back and force yourself to push onward. You only need to be right 1% of the time.