Solving the Unsolvable Problem: 9 methods for when traditional problem solving just isn’t working!

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Sometimes we have trouble reaching our live meaningful goals, because we are having trouble overcoming an obstacle related to our goal.

Sometimes we have problems in our lives (big and small) that have nothing to do with our live meaningful goals, but they are sucking up our time and energy which could be used for more important and more meaningful things.

Below are some methods you can try when attempting to conquer a problem in your life!



SIMPLE SOLUTIONS

Simple solutions are those solutions that you passed by due to the very fact that they were too simple. This solution you may have not spent any time even considering. Maybe you felt like it wouldn’t get to the root of the issue, and that’s why you passed it off? You felt the solution needed to be a little bit deeper.

Here is an example of a simple solution in my own life.

I had braces in my late teens/early twenties. I generally felt fine about my appearance. Part of my treatment plan was having my jaw moved forward to correctly align my bite. I didn’t really think about this too much, and went with the flow of the treatment.

However, once my jaw had been moved forward, I panicked. My whole facial appearance looked completely different to me. It was probably a rather subtle change, but to me, I looked completely different. As a result, I spent large amounts of time with a mirror in hand obsessing about the changes. I hated the way I looked.

My first try at a solution to this problem was to beg the orthodontists to move my jaw back to how it was. I never actually discovered if this was possible or not, I just remember them looking at me like I was crazy and informing me that they would not engage in malpractice.

Next, I obsessed about how upset I was. I lived in regret. I mourned the changes and would look through pictures of how I used to look.

My second try at a solution was to decide that looks didn’t matter, tell myself I was blowing this way out of proportion, and to work on building my inner confidence.

I know this sounds like the happy ending solution that worked, but it didn’t. I did everything I could possibly think of to become a person who didn’t care how I looked. But, I still cared and I still hated the way I looked and I was still obsessing about it.

Somewhere in this midst of all this, I noticed that there was a certain haircut/length/style that I liked on me. And when I had my hair this cut/length/style I no longer felt bad about my appearance, and felt good about the way I looked.

This was my simple solution. But I rejected it for a long time, because, it was too simple. This solution didn’t fix the problem that I cared about what I looked like. So instead of maintaining this haircut I let my hair grow out and continued to be unhappy with my appearance.

In an ideal world, would it have been better to rid myself of superficial concerns and have complete confidence in myself no matter what I looked like? Sure, yes, that would be wonderful. But, as much as I hate to admit it, sometimes we need to accept that we are in an imperfect world and we are imperfect people and if a haircut makes you feel better about yourself, let yourself have the darn haircut.

Simple solutions aren’t always the answer. Simple solutions that are harmful to self, others, or the environment are probably not a good choice. But, if a simple solution is not harmful, allow yourself to consider it.

And you know, as much as I felt that my simple solution was the superficial option, it made me way less superficial. Instead of spending hours hours agonizing about how I looked, I now spent no time on it. I spent time thinking about more important things like helping others or finding meaning in my life.

Don’t waste your time on easily fixed problems.

 

CREATIVE SOLUTIONS

I would not say that creative solutions are opposite of simple solutions, but they do take a little more time and effort to think of. That doesn’t mean they are “hard” solutions – you just have to allow yourself to think outside of the box a little bit.

So, I have one small example of a creative solution. I have a sweet tooth and love all things sweet, especially ice cream. I would crave ice cream especially after dinner. I am also health conscious and recognize that ice cream once a day is probably not the best idea. So, black and white thinking would tell me either to indulge but neglect health or care for my health but neglect desire.

However, creative thinking tells me that there is a third way, and both desires can be satisfied.

And that is when I made the discovery of throwing frozen bananas in the food processor with (unsweetened) Cocoa powder and Waa-laa! Chocolate ice cream! I now can guilt free have chocolate “ice cream” after dinner.

Anyway, this obviously is a small example and if your biggest problem in life is that you can’t eat as much ice cream as you want to, well, I would say you are doing pretty good. But, for most of us, we do have bigger problems than just ice cream cravings. Creative problem solving can be applied to all sorts of scenarios. I know for my husband and me, it has helped a great deal in our marriage in overcoming the little obstacles that come our way. It has helped us in finding ways for us both to be happy even with our varying preferences. I am definitely not saying there is not a time for sacrifice, but there may be a lot more times when both desires can be fulfilled than you think – you just need a little creativity. Save the sacrifice for when it truly is necessary.

 

WEIRD SOLUTIONS

Weird solutions, ah yes. I am all about weird solutions, probably because I am weird myself, and it turns out, weird people need weird solutions.

Now, I would say weird solutions are similar to creative solutions in that they might take some thinking out of the box. But they also might not. The whole premise of weird solutions is that they get rejected for the simple fact that they are weird. They may be the perfect solution that completely solves your problem, but you reject it, or don’t even consider it, simply because it is weird. Is it harming someone? Is it harming the earth? Is it morally wrong? If no, then it passed the test! Don’t reject a solution just because it is weird!

Okay, now I have to admit one of my weird solutions to you.

My husband and I have, for whatever reason, had some issues with keeping our house clean. Try as we might, our house somehow gets messy over and over again (and we don’t even have any children we can blame it on!). We knew we needed a system because apparently our willpower to have a clean house just wasn’t cutting it.

So, we implemented a few systems, one of them being the “coat box.” A problem that would keep happening was that we would come home late and be so tired that we would throw our coats on the couches instead of hanging them up in the coat closet. Doesn’t seem like a huge deal, does it? But the problem was, once we were leaving coats around, shoes, purses, and other miscellaneous items would follow and our spotless living room would progress back to a messy living room. We had to stop the problem where it started – and that was with the coats.

As a result, now in our coat closet, there is a “coat box.” So when it is late and we just can’t handle the thought of searching for the coat hanger, getting that coat correctly positioned on the coat hanger, and then going through that whole zipping/snapping process to make sure the coat doesn’t slide off the hanger….we have the option of throwing it in the coat box. Yes, we have literally created a system to budget for our own laziness. And in the morning, when we are feeling refreshed, we get our coats out of the coat box and hang them on hangers like normal people.

And maybe you are thinking right now, that’s really weird. Well, yes it is, and that’s the point. You probably have some problem that would be fixed with a solution just as weird as mine, and I would think yours is weird. We are all weird in our own ways. We don’t have to trumpet our weird solutions to everyone – only on my blog will I probably spill the beans about the coat box. Anyway, all I know is, since the coat box was implemented, our living room has been spotless.

Bottom line, don’t reject weird solutions, weird solution are still solutions.

 

THE DO WHAT WORKS / KNOW THY SELF SOLUTIONS

The Do What Works Solution or the Know Thy Self Solution – close cousins of Weird Solutions because doing what actually works may be weird, hence the coat box example.

The idea behind this solution mindset is letting go of what “should” work. I should be able to hang up my coat. I should be able to do this or that. It doesn’t matter what you should be be able to do, know yourself and do what works!

For example, before I learned about my lovely banana ice cream solution, I had little self control when it came to sweet treats. (Well, I still have little control, but now I am allowed to indulge!) Anyway, my husband would want to buy ice cream or some other sweet treat that we could just have a little bit of throughout the week. Or his parents would want to send baked good home with us. I would have to be really intense and say no to any sweets in the house. Why? Because I knew myself. I was unable to eat only a little bit. And if it was a bad day at work, all dietary rules were definitely out the window.

Should I have been able to control myself? Maybe? But who cares. I need to do what works. And if keeping these items out of the house worked better, then that is the best plan for me. If someone has had a past with alcoholism should they go to the bar because they should be able to control themselves? No, of course not. They stay completely away from the bar because they know their weakness.

Another example, would be this Valentine’s Day. I thought to myself we should go out for Valentine’s Day, that’s what people usually do.

But the more I thought about it, the more I actually just wanted to stay home. So what did we do instead? My husband, who loves cooking and getting creative in the kitchen, cooked up a 5 course meal of “small plates” and we ate with candlelight and cheesy romantic music playing in the background. It was the best Valentine’s Day ever and by far surpassed being at a loud busy restaurant.

Do What Works. Know thy Self. And throw out the “shoulds.”

 

COMPROMISE SOLUTIONS

So I talked earlier about creative solutions that can make both people happy or fulfill both goals and don’t result in compromise. But as well all know, sometimes compromise is necessary.

But sometimes, compromise isn’t even that bad, and we don’t even recognize it as an option because we get stuck in black and white thinking.

The other day I was trying to come up with a solution having to do with my work schedule. I had two extra hours of flex time and was trying to figure out where to use it. I thought Well it would be really nice to leave two hours early on Wednesday. We have a long meeting on Wednesdays and to be able to leave right after it would be awesome. But then I would think about Friday, I have to work a late day on Friday anyway, and if I could go in two hours later that would be really nice and I could do something fun to enjoy my morning before going to work.

And I got really stuck in where to use my two hours because both sounded really nice. What was the obvious solution that I was ignoring? I could split up the two hours and leave an hour early on Wednesday and go in an hour late on Friday.

So, another small example, but my point is that we get so focused on one way of thinking that we don’t even consider the options of compromise. And, I am not saying every compromise solution is a good solution or the one that you want, but if you are stuck in a decision, you need to at least consider the option.

 

NON-SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS / THE RIGHT NOW SOLUTIONS

Okay, I am going to be honest, this solution style is a little difficult for me to write about. It is SO the opposite of how my brain works. But, that is exactly why I need to consider these options.

So, obviously, non-sustainable options have caused a lot of harm in the world. Non-sustainable solutions have caused problems to our environment. Personal non-sustainable solutions have caused people to make bad decisions for themselves when they are younger that affect them negatively when they are older.

I am definitely not advocating that this is always a good option. But you should at least keep it in mind. If you are anything like me, you will say no to any solution if it won’t be a good solution 10 years from now too. Sometimes that way of thinking makes sense, but a lot of times it does not.

For example, I actually had that whole “coat box” to help keep our house clean solution previously, but I rejected it because I thought we would be bad role models for our children and we would teaching them to be lazy. Well, first off, we don’t yet know if we will ever have children. Second, if we do, they are not here yet. Third, we also don’t want to teach them to have a messy house, so teaching them helpful systems would be better than teaching them to just throw their coat on the couch. Fourth, back to first and second, we don’t have kids!!!!

I was creating problems and scenarios that didn’t even exist. Sometimes I feel like that verse in Matthew was created for me, Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (6:34)

That verse is not for everyone, as I work with many teens and young adults in my job, that need to develop their planning skills and recognize how decisions now impact their future later. However, for me, that verse is exactly what I need to learn. Each day has enough troubles in itself, accept the solutions of today, and once I get to tomorrow I can worry about the solutions of tomorrow.

As long as there is no harm to others, yourself, or the planet – allow your consider the “right now” solutions.

 

MINIMALISTIC SOLUTIONS

Minimalism solves a lot of problems. Money problems? Try minimalism. Clutter problems? Try minimalism. Not enough time in your day? Try minimalism. Problems with decision making? Try minimalism.

Think of the problems (big or small) in your life right now. Could minimalism help solve any of these problems?

Minimalism has helped me solve many problems in my life. One example is in regard to clothing and my morning routine. I used to get up before work and stress about what I would wear, try on various outfits as I decided, and as as result end up running late to work.

Now, I have about 10 outfits I wear to work on a rotating schedule. I spend zero time thinking about what I am going to wear to work. It saves me the stress and time. And guess what, no one notices or cares that I don’t have a completely unique outfit everyday. I wear simple button ups that are classic and won’t be out of style in a year. This also means less trips to the store and less money spent.

Minimalism solves a lot of problems because minimalism leads to abundance. Less is literally more, because having less of one thing always give you more space for something else.

 

EXPERIMENTAL SOLUTIONS

Experimental solutions acknowledge that life is an experiment. Nobody knows the right answer – we make our hypothesis, try some experiments, and adjust as necessary.

The benefit of this solution style is that it allows you to try solutions that you don’t yet know for fact will work. Not getting a good night sleep? Who knows what the reason is? Try melatonin. Try chamomile tea. Try turning off technology earlier. Try reading before bed. Try reading a book about sleep. Try going to the doctor. Try decreasing stress.

Allow for the experimentation process. Think of scientists, they don’t try one thing and decide Oh, I guess that didn’t work, there must be no solutions. This is an unsolvable problem. Do you think that is what Albert Einstein did?

Be a scientist of your own life and accept the scientific process of trial and error.

 

SLOW SOLUTIONS / STEP BY STEP SOLUTIONS

So, have I referenced enough times yet that I can get caught in black and white thinking? My last example of this is, if I have a problem, I have two categories. Either the problem has been solved or it has not.

Recently I have learned that there needs to be a third category. There needs to be a “solution in progress” category.

Maybe you have some kind of mental health problem and you have started going to therapy. That counts as your solution even if you have not “solved” your mental health problem. Many solutions happen in steps and happen over time. You may have already found your solution and now it is time to allow it grow…do its work…come to fruition.

Don’t drive yourself crazy looking for a solution when you have already found it. Your next step may be waiting and embracing the process.

********

 

JOURNAL QUESTIONS

Think of a problem you are facing in your life right now. It can be a big problem or a small problem. Run your problem through each of the problem solving techniques as prompted below. Once you have completed this, look through all your solutions and utilize your intuition to decide which one would be best fit for this problem.

1. How could the simple solution technique solve your problem? Is there a simple solution you are overlooking? Or is there some reason you are not accepting this as a solution? There may be a legitimate reason. But, figure out why you are resisting the simple solution before you completely discard it. Write down at least one idea for what a simple solution could be for this problem.

2. What could a creative solution look like for your problem? This may take some time to think and some brainstorming. Come back to this one if nothing is coming to mind after a few minutes of reflection.

3. Is there a weird solution that could solve your problem? Maybe it seems too weird or you would feel embarrassed about it or just seems way too non-traditional. You don’t have to do it, but just write it down and know that it might be an option, if needed.

4. What would be a “Do What Works” solution or a “Know They Self” solution for you? This is where you need to throw out the “shoulds” and think about what actually might work for you. Think about who you are – your strengths and your weaknesses – what might actually work?

5. Have you gotten stuck in black and white thinking? What would a compromise solution look like for your problem? Again, even if you don’t think you will use this solution, just write it down so you can have it on paper and see if it is realistic.

6. What could be your non-sustainable or right now solution to your problem? Remember, I am not asking you to compromise any of your moral values – I just want you to examine if there is anything that could work in the now, as you look for different solutions in the future.

7. Think about what a minimalistic solution could be to your problem. Is your problem related to time or money? Is there something else you could let go of in order to gain more of something else?

8. What is your willingness to think of problem solving (and life) as an experiment? Would you be willing to experiment a little bit to find your solution, and accept that it might not be the first thing you try? What kind of experiments can you commit to try to solve your problem?

9. And in the same vein, are you willing to accept slow solutions or step by step solutions? Is is possible that you already found the solution to your problem and now it is time to let it come to fruition or there is a process that must happen first until it is totally resolved?

Take a look at your list. What stands out to you? After reflecting on each style for your problem, what solution style intuitively seems like the right one to try?

 

I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR YOUR COMMENTS!

Let me know if this entry helped you in any way, if you have any further questions, or if there is anything else you would be interested in learning related to this topic!

Also, I would love to hear what strategies have been helpful to you in solving the big or small problems in your life!

Thanks for reading & happy problem solving!

Yours,

signaturesmaller

 

2 thoughts on “Solving the Unsolvable Problem: 9 methods for when traditional problem solving just isn’t working!

  1. Hey Nicole!

    I was really glad to read this article, well, I like the other articles I’ve read on here too, but this one really spoke to me right now. I’m trying to think of simple, practical solutions to my problems in life, but I’m at my wits’ end.

    I’ve always been shy, but I worry that I’m actually getting shyer as time goes on – going to social events that I think I could have handled even a few years ago is starting to seem like such a daunting task for me.

    I’m trying to think of creative solutions, and I really like the idea of slow step-by-step solutions! I just worry that I’ll sabotage any solutions I come up with by doubting myself. I have a real problem with over-thinking things, and that tends to make me imagine all the reasons anything I come up with wouldn’t work. What do you recommend for people like me?

    Thanks for your blog,

    Chrissy

    Like

    1. Hi Chrissy!

      Thanks for your comment. I have definitely struggled with shyness myself. I can share a few things that helped me.

      One of the most important things for me was embracing the simple solution of acceptance – acceptance I am shy and acceptance that I am an introvert. If you haven’t yet read Quiet by Susan Cain, definitely check it out. Also, quietrev.com and introvertdear.com are other great resources on this. The idea is, you were designed a certain way and you don’t always have to be pushing yourself to be someone you’re not. You are allowed to stay home if that’s what you enjoy. You also can accept you may go to an event and be the quietest person there, and that’s okay too. The event will likely be less daunting if you don’t put so much pressure on yourself to be super extroverted and talkative.

      However, I definitely understand if you want to develop skills for social situations. I can be socially anxious at times, and something that has helped me has been podcasts. I listen to The Confident Mind by Kyle MacDonald and Shrink for the Shy Guy (this one is actually for guys, but I listen to it anyway because it has a lot of good insight!) I also listen to a host of other podcasts, but these ones are specifically on the topic of shyness and social anxiety. Also, there are many books on the topic of social anxiety as well. For me, books and podcasts are my step by step /slow solutions – I am not going to suddenly wake up one morning and not be shy. But everyday I drive to work and listen to a podcast I am learning new skills and gaining new insights.

      Finally, I find experimental solutions to be helpful for my shyness/introversion. I am always trying new things. Because they are experimental solutions, you don’t have to worry about if they will work or not – the whole idea is that you are experimenting until you find something that does. For me, I have experimented with when I have the most energy. If I am planning a social event, I now know that I have more social energy Saturday nights rather than Friday nights, so I rarely plan anything on Fridays.

      Anyway, those are just some ideas. Hope this was helpful! If you have any other questions or are looking for more ideas, feel free to ask!

      Nicole

      Like

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