Touchy Topic Tuesday: How To Solve A Problem

“No problem can be solved at the same level of consciousness which created it.”–Albert Einstein

Last week we discussed the effects of scarcity on the brain’s ability to think. The more pressing and immediate our problems, the less bandwidth we have available for coping with them. This holds true for money problems, relationship problems, time problems and health problems. We get so wrapped up in a negative feedback loop that we enter a ‘stress tunnel,’ where we can only see the terror before us, and lose our capacity for long-range planning.

So, with thanks to Jeanna Gabellini, my lovely business coach, I present an all-purpose strategy for solving problems.

1. Notice that you have a problem.

The reason denial is such a common coping strategy is that it keeps things comfortably familiar. If you have no problems, there’s nothing you have to change. Moreover, if you ‘admit’ you have a problem, that’s tantamount to placing blame, which as we know is of the devil.

So if you can go so far as to say to yourself, “hmmm, there seems to be a problem here,” without attaching a value judgement to it, you have already taken a major step toward solving it.problem-solving-02

2. Study the parameters of the problem.

If you have financial problems, sit down and look at your accounts. If you are ill and/or in pain, contemplate your own mortality. If you’re on the verge of divorce, look over the brink. If you’re operating on a permanent time deficit, borrow an hour from all your pressing commitments and do nothing.

This will be scary. It will induce panic, despair, and the desire to consume copious amounts of alcohol. Stick with those feelings. Have a good long talk with them and hear what they have to say. Let them scream and cry and rage until they’re done.

Why this works: Your negative emotions are only parasitic entities when you try to sweep them under the rug. When you stop trying to evade them, they burn themselves out, reveal themselves to be illusory, or just start boring you to tears.

3. Notice what beliefs you have around this problem. 

If you are anything like me, you could write a book-length essay entitled “Why I Am So Screwed.” Boil it down to the essence. Describe, to your intellectual and emotional satisfaction, why it is impossible to solve this problem.

Why this works: Our beliefs determine our actions. Most of the time, our minds are operating under a set of assumptions which were formulated before we were seven years old. Trying to solve a problem by handing it over to a seven-year-old’s id pretty much guarantees sub-optimal results.

4. Quiet your mind.

For some people, this involves visualizations about stuffing your problems into a bloated weather balloon and watching it float away. For others, rigorous Zen meditation is the only way to go.

You might get some respite from mental chatter by going for a five-mile run, or watching George Carlin clips, or putting on the Bee Gees and imitating John Travolta until you spot the neighbors gawping and laughing their a***s off.

Do whatever works for you. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You merely aim to create a perceptible gap in your mental landscape.

Why this works: Your brain has access to amazing resources, once you clear some bandwidth.

5. Open up to a shift in perspective.

For those of you who are very smart, this will not be easy. You must consider the possibility that you–or your seven-year-old id–might be wrong. For many of us, this is scarier than Step 2.

On the other hand, there COULD be a solution to this impossible, miserable, soul-scorching problem. That would be really nice.

So just entertain the possibility.

Why this works: See the quote from Albert Einstein, above.

6. Ask your newly quiet, open mind some specific questions.

Tailor your questions in a way which allows for fabulous things to happen. For example, instead of asking “Why am I always broke?” try asking “How can we easily double our household income this year?” Or, “How can I best experience passion and romance in my life this week?”

Why this works: That clear bandwidth in your brain needs to focus itself on coming up with the most efficient solution to your problem. It can’t do this if it is grinding away upon irrelevant concerns. Therefore, ask questions that you really want to know the answers to.

7. Listen for the answer.

Your mind may present you with an image, a single sentence, or a detailed set of instructions. Write down whatever comes, without editing and without judging. If nothing comes, go about your day and check in later.

Effective solutions will not be emotionally charged. If your mind presents you with an answer that feels angry, judgmental, anxious, fearful, contemptuous, or cruel, this is your seven-year-old id talking. Pat your seven-year-old self on the head and go for another walk.

8. Act upon information received.

Lots of people skip this part, and then wonder why nothing ever changes. It’s the reason why people get addicted to psychics and Tarot cards. They’re looking for an answer that doesn’t require action on their part.

A good answer to a problem may not look like anything you recognize. It may not seem to be addressing the problem at all. It will, however, be sensible (or at least innocuous), and feel like a nice thing to do at the moment.

Why this works: Taking small, sensible actions that feel nice are the ONLY way to implement sustained changes. If a proposed action makes you feel bad, you won’t take it, at least not consistently. Thus it is not a solution to your problem, no matter how rational it appears.

9. Rinse and repeat.

If you get in the habit of using this process, you will not only get better at clearing your bandwidth, you’ll be able to continually tweak your actions according to your situation. You’ll discover new opportunities because your mind will be clear enough to notice and act upon them.

What kinds of mind-clearing and problem-solving techniques work for you? Please leave your insights in the comments!