Have you ever tried solving a mind teaser? For instance, move only three toothpicks from a tic-tac-toe type arrangement in order to make three identical squares. You ponder this endlessly and finally, when the answer comes to you, you wonder how you didn’t see it to begin with.
Now, consider the words; “when the answer comes to you”. This is a very powerful dynamic. Answers do come to us. If we are trying to “force” a solution, the problem solving process becomes much more difficult. When we allow the answers to come to us, or shift our perspective so they can come to us, the whole process flows with ease.
So what to do? How to solve problems? Here are seven tips that have helped me over the years to solve some very complicated problems.
Monitor your thoughts
If what you are thinking is, “ARGGG!! I can’t solve this stupid problem”, well, you are what you think. When you say you can’t, you’re right! As well, it’s a statement that expresses anger, frustration and judgment. Would you ever say to someone you love; “Arggg Jane, I can’t solve your stupid problems”? If your answer is no, I would not say that to someone I love, then why is it ok to say it to yourself? Are you really calling the problem stupid or are you calling yourself stupid? None of these statements are beneficial to you. Pay attention to your inner dialog as it dictates your feelings. If you are feeling negative, you can’t expect a positive result.
Go for a power walk
If your health allows you to, get up, get out and go for a power walk. I used to do a six block walk as fast as I reasonably could. It doesn’t take long and it clears the mind, oxygenates your blood, and relaxes stressed muscles. Let your eyes see the day, the sky, and the trees. Let go of the problem while you are doing this. When you get back, have a glass of water then ease back into the process. Often, a solution would come to me within minutes of doing this.
Breathe and relax
If circumstances such as weather or health preclude you from having a power walk, then breathe and relax. Sit back comfortably in your chair, close your eyes and let go of the problem. Alternatively, find a window with a view or if none is available, find a nice painting to look at. Become aware of your jaw muscles. Are they tight? Are your shoulders tense? Breathe in slowly through your nose and out through your mouth. When you do so, you bring air into the lower portion of the lungs. The oxygen exchange will effectively slow your heart rate, decrease your blood pressure, relax your muscles and calm your mind. There is a lot of information available on line related to breathing. Search on “proper breathing techniques”. You will be surprised to learn that very few of us breathe properly and that many of our health issues could be avoided by learning to do it right. By the way, this also really helps with anxiety attacks as does the power walk.
Talk to a friend
Go for lunch or take a break and have a chat with a friend. Talk about anything but the problem you are trying to solve. By doing so, you clear your mind. Try to visualize this. In the process of trying to solve a problem, your mind is like a white board. At the top is the problem and below that are all types of scribbles and drawings with a big X through each one. These represent the ideas you have thrown at the problem that are not solving it. Lots of X’s on that board is not a very encouraging sight.
The white board is only so big so you need to erase it. Chatting about something that is totally unrelated necessitates clearing off the white board to make room for the topic of discussion. When you get back later, you won’t be looking at a bunch of X’s. You will have a blank palette to work on, one that has lots of room for workable solutions.
Try approaching the problem from a different angle by asking “why”
Leonardo da Vinci solved problems by looking at them from several different angles. He often rephrased fundamental questions by replacing the word “what” with the word “why.”
For example, instead of asking, “What is the solution to my client’s problem?” he would ask “Why does my client have this problem in the first place?”
If the answer to this second question highlighted that the problem were systemic, then he needed to solve a different problem – generally the problem he had just identified.
Here is an example of this: When I was learning to golf, my stance was abysmal. After a few months of many lessons and tips, someone noticed that my clubs were too short. I purchased longer clubs and solved my problem. The solution came when someone asked “why” I was having a problem with my stance rather than “what” could be done to fix it. Framing the question in these terms led to an immediate solution.
Solve a different problem
I find it very helpful to walk away from a problem and solve a totally different one. This builds confidence and gets me into an “I can” mode very quickly. If you don’t have any other problems to solve, offer to help solve someone else’s. If you don’t know anyone with problems, get your hands on one of those mind teasers I mentioned earlier. Then again, maybe not!
Do not let your ego get in the way. If you can’t figure it out, ask for help. Often just discussing it will bring fresh solutions to your mind. If someone else solves the problem for you, then you can learn something new. Take the time to ask how they came up with the solution. Remember to give back by helping them and others when they have similar needs.
Over the millennia, billions of humans have walked this planet. Our ability to solve problems is one of the things that set us apart from other species. You must trust that you have natural problem solving abilities. In my opinion, you must also trust that answers will come to you if you make yourself open to receive them. At one point or another, most of us have experienced this. Perhaps it was remembering where you put your keys, or someone’s name that seemed erased from your memory. Suddenly, when you were not thinking about it, poof, the answer came. This is the result of a very powerful dynamic. Once you realize that, you can effectively begin to harness its power.
Rubics Cube – Creative Commons – Booyabazooka
Originally posted March 10, 2009 at synaptici