I'm not sure if this question would rather fall under the term psychology, but since there isn't yet a psychology SE forum, I hope it meets this site's criteria.

I begin to tackle a new problem, task, question etc. that is not easily solvable. I realize that it will be difficult, time consuming and challenging.
At that point I often get worried that I might not succeed in solving the issue or that my solution won't be suitable enough to meet the requirements.
After a few days or so, when I finally solved the problem, I realize that all these worries were unwarranted.

But once I face the next issue, it begins all over again. And the fact that all the previous worries were unfounded are hardly helping for some reason.

No, I'm not looking for a therapist. My question is about the nature of our mind, the mental events and processes, that happen here. I wonder how this is explainable, if at all.

closed as off-topic by Joseph Weissman Jan 3 '16 at 16:04

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  • 1
    I've recently learned the cognitive science's stackexchange welcomes psychology questions. There may be a good chance of getting a solid and sourced answer there. I wouldn't know as I don't do cog. sci. or participate on that stack – virmaior Nov 8 '15 at 14:13

Before resolving a new problem we can not be sure about the amount of time and the strength it may require to be spent in its resolution. Even if the new problem is related to other problems that we have solved with success until the time of resolving we can not know if the difficulty of the new problem is comparable to the others.

We have in our memory a whole series of differences that appeared when solving similar problems. Some of them were resolved in a relatively satisfactory time but other after disproportionate effort and trouble. Just before solving the new problem we do not have all the elements so to classify the new problem between the compatible or among the most difficult and demanding. For me it is a common feeling in programming.

This when combined with the concept of protection of the ego from the expenditure of strength, of toil to be spent comes to mind as insecurity.

  • I wish you had backed this up with some references, but it sounds reasonable so I've rewarded your answer with "acceptance". – Em1 Nov 8 '15 at 8:55

This happens when you build structures in your mind that are designed to pin yourself in. From your wording, you are setting yourself up so that you either must solve the problem, or undefinable bad things will happen to you.

If you think about it, few tasks we take on do not allow you to walk away (unless you work for the CIA or the military). It might hurt a little, but we can walk away. However, we have learned persistence. We have learned that our mind is stronger than we give it credit; it just needs a little pressure. So we artificially make the problem seem more pressing than it truly is, unlocking access to the strength of our mind we usually hold in reserve.

However, along the way, your artificially high value on the problem means you have an artificially high willingness to trade for the problem. You eventually give something away you care about (such as forgetting to interact with your family while you furiously work at the task). Now your Self is hurting in a way that matters. The solution is to quickly begin escalating through your bag of tricks, hoping to find something to free you from this task so that you can recover that which you gave away.

I believe this is what generates this worry. It doesn't matter that you solved the last problem, because it isn't the problem that is causing you the pain. What is causing you pain is that you chose to give up more than you rationally should have, and you know that you'll do it all again because you don't understand why you did it in the first place!

Everybody faces this eventually... and I have a sneaking suspicion everybody faces it every day of their lives in varying degrees. The first step to stopping this spiral is what you've done: recognize there's a repeatable behavior here. If you want to stop it, the solution is to learn the art of letting go of that which is not truly important to you. There are dozens, if not hundreds of disciplines that teach this. Choose any one which fits with your personality.


You could share more details on what's worrying you - I could answer more specifically.

What is fear (worry)?

It means that in past, you were faced with a similar situation, and it resulted in a very bad experience. Now the fear you are experiencing is trying to protect you from similar experience as you had in past.

In your case it might be a very bad experience dealing with a situation, where you were not able to see any obvious solution.

If it was very traumatising event, it will be repressed deep in your sub-consciousness, so don't expect that you can recall it right away.

To root out the core of your problem, you should look for that underlying problem and neutralise it. Either with a therapist, or I personally can recommend the EFT method.


Under promising and over delivering is an ego friendly state of mind. Knowledge of the challenge weighed against ticking time is frightening. The reason that past success is not comforting is because past success is no guarantee of future performance.

Not sure how but I think that a well knows psychology from the investing community is fitting here, namely, that it is easier to hold a loser than a winner. Holding an asset that has lost value is relatively easy because (1) You are not a fool unless you sell and (2) It's easy to believe that if you have patience things will turn around. Alternatively, it is extremely difficult to hold a winner because (1) you are a fool for not taking gains and (2) that profit can evaporate in a second.


There's the so called Zeigarnik effect and the matter could be related to that.

The Zeigarnik effect states that we can more easily remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks rather than those we completed.

So even though we accomplished a lot of tasks, those that are still uncompleted are present to our mind. I assume (this is not stated by the Zeigarnik effect) that when we struggle with an issue, we associate it with the few uncompleted tasks and fear that it could get added to that stack.

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