Are our problems as big as we think they are? Problems often appear unsolvable on the surface. We feel a certain direction is the wrong way to go and yet we can’t think of another possible direction to take. The result is we may feel without hope for a viable and practical solution. At such a moment, our dismay becomes consuming, overwhelming and ultimately — paralyzing.
But perhaps the barrier to our thinking is our thinking. It could be that the most important factor in problem solving is how we approach the problem.
When difficulties arise, evaluate your first impression of the dilemma. Some say our first impressions of a problem may be similar to our first impressions of people. Ask yourself — "Are my first impressions narrow and superficial?" Harboring stereotyped notions will cloud vision, confuse reason and stifle imagination.
Perspective can outline and limit options and ideas and thus hamper results and resolutions. Indeed some have said — and proven — that a new view of a problem can lead to a solution.
I’ve read that when Einstein approached a problem, he found it necessary to formulate the subject in as many different ways as possible. He was once asked what he would do if he were told that a huge comet would hit Earth in an hour. He said he would spend 55 minutes figuring out how to formulate the question and 5 minutes solving it.
It seems his emphasis was not so much on defining troubles, but on considering alternate points of view. He apparently expected this process to inspire the elucidation that would lead to a feasible answer.
This approach to problem-solving suggests that when considering any predicament, we should try to restate the question at least 5 to 10 times to generate multiple perspectives about a problem. This method intrigued me and I’ve been putting it to my own test. I’ve discovered that what I often perceive to be an insurmountable problem will suddenly become solvable.
One day my question was: "How can I find sufficient time in my day to do all that I need to accomplish?" Admittedly, I knew at the outset that there was no answer that could add more hours to a 24-hour day. As I continued restating my question, the problem turned out to not really be a question of time as much as it was the need for practical daily goal-setting. Implementing Einstein’s problem-solving method has helped my days become more satisfying, productive and progressive.
Before trying Einstein’s approach, I was trapped in a daily pattern of complaining about not having enough time and consequently I never found a day with enough hours in it.
It’s like the story I once read about the housefly. I suspect we’ve all had flies trapped inside of our house who frantically buzz in front of a big glass window desperately trying to get back outside but can’t. Again and again, the fly hits the window going nowhere. And yet, all it has to do is go back through the open screen door which it likely came through. How many dead flies have we seen on a window sill? The fly dies because it cannot change its thinking — or approach.
As some unknown author once said, "If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got."
Fresh perspective is imperative in finding new ideas and reasonable answers. And a fresh perspective is only born when we stop describing or ruminating about a problem in the same old way.
This approach to problem-solving changed many of my questions and resulted in solutions that were attainable and doable. My question, "How can I afford a bigger house with more storage space?" was changed to "How can I use the space in my current house more efficiently and effectively?" And my question, "How can I lose weight?" was changed to "What can I do each day to cut back on fat calories and be more physically active?" In both of these cases, I found satisfying — as well as immediate — results and solutions.
So do you have a problem that seems impossible to solve? Try Einstein’s method of problem solving and restate your question at least five times. You may be surprised how quickly you find an answer that works!
Annette Bridges is a weekly columnist for United Press International’s ReligionAndSpirituality.com who lives on a north Texas ranch with her husband, John. Visit her website and participate in her blog at www.annettebridges.com and send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.