Problem solving for dummies

Problem solving may not be the most festive or Christmassy topic, but we don’t often get to choose exactly when life is going to drop a challenge into our path. And there’s no harm in getting an issue or two out of the way before the New Year. There are folk of the optimistic kind, such as self-declared co-creators, manifesters, New Agers and the like, who are confident that there is no such thing as an insoluble problem. Now it’s possible there may in fact be a dimension in which this is true (if so I haven’t accessed it yet), but I think it is safe to say that even problems with simple solutions don’t necessarily get sorted in accordance with our ideal timeline. We don’t always get to choose when the time is right.

There are, however, a few tried and tested approaches to dealing with problems, each with their own benefits and shortcomings, such as the following:

  1. Applying your mind to the matter. In common parlance, this is often known as ‘thinking about it.’ The mind is a great and powerful tool, and it sometimes delivers the goods. The danger, however, is that the thinking easily becomes sterile at best, compulsive at worst. At which point it is a drain on mental energy, and utterly unproductive.
  • NOT applying the mind to the matter, also known as not thinking about the issue. Advanced practitioners of this method often like to do this by refraining from thinking about anything very much at all. This activity is an essential part of the problem-solving process, though its effects are rarely felt immediately. It can create the inner space for fresh ideas or creative solutions, though these may not surface at once.
  • Getting the matter out of your system. This method is also know as, “Sod it, I’m going for a run!” (Or a swim, a walk, or who knows, a pintJ). It has undeniable virtues, gets rid of negative or stale energy, and can have similar virtues to method 2. At the very least, a person usually feels a lot better for having done it.
  • Removing oneself from the equation. This is a greatly underrated, and sometimes little known approach, but it is well worth experimenting with. The first step is to not take the matter personally. Obviously if you are the one who is unemployed, in a relationship stalemate, deeply in debt or with a court summons for a wad of unpaid parking tickets, in short, if it’s you who is experiencing the problem, then it’s no use pretending the situation has befallen a third party. But for the duration of the exercise, the idea is nevertheless to lift yourself out of the narrative – to take the “me” it’s all happening to out of the picture for a moment, and stay on the sidelines for a while. The equation without the “me” is impersonal, and can be viewed more objectively. Fate has not dealt me a personal blow, nor am I a victim of circumstances. There is just a state of affairs, with a number of givens and variables. Now I am not claiming this will solve the issue, but, if a serious effort is made to visit this mindset, a lot of the emotional charge around the issue is dropped, the weight of self-concern diminished. And since, let’s face it, we are the cause of a lot of our own problems, this alone is a great relief J


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