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The Best Way to Solve a Problem

Flooded pathway
One of my problems recently: blocked back to the train station.
In my experience, the best way to solve a problem, is to zoom out from the problem.

We can all reframe problems into learnings or challenges or puzzles, but mostly something we consider a problem is something that is bothering us, that we want to change or figure out.

More recently the problems that I have experienced have been to-dos which felt very uncomfortable as I didn’t know how to do them.

Like in this picture left. I was walking to the train station, I was planning on meeting a friend for a lovely evening. I had left enough time to get to the station in time. Then BOOM! The path was flooded and I could not go through it. Yikes!

Problems cause more problems

When you label something as a problem though, you quite often give it a negative vibe from the outset. This can cause a little activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which can make you feel nervous, worried or down right scared. This leads to parts of the brain going offline that you need to solve your problem or situation or be active in your uncomfortable to-do. You could feel like you want to run away, or you feel like you are frozen, unable to move forward.

In the situation above, my first thought was having to give up and go home. My brain very quickly tried to persuade me that there was no way around this. Typical brain. Doesn't always know what it is talking about.

Accentuating the negative

When this happens we start to focus on the problem. This can make the problem bigger. Energy flows where our attention goes and where it flows, grows. Our minds LOVE to make problems bigger, especially if the sympathetic nervous system has been activated. Our minds love to make up stories about the problem, the consequences of what will happen it we don’t fix it asap, then the self-criticising thoughts like to chip in about how useless we are or inadequate that we allowed ourselves to get into this problem and have no idea how to get out.

And before you know it, you are in a real pickle!

Bring the right-side online

This pickle activity happens in what I like to call the left-side brain and it is important and helpful to find ways to activate the right-side brain to open up new spaces of opportunity.  This can be as simple as singing or humming a tune, listening to music, reading a poem or laughing at a joke. Or you might need a little more: move your body, get out into nature, let your eyes go into soft focus or pay attention to the space between you and everything else (email me for a link to my meditation for this!). It is good if you can go out and look up at the sky, or if you have a wide open space or somewhere you can look at the horizon.

In the scenario above I was already in nature, which was lucky! I started to move towards home when I remembered, "Aaaah! There is another path, I just have to cross the field!" So I did that.

Zooming out

My advice is to zoom out from the problem first of all. Concentrating on the problem is like trying to solve a puzzle by staring at one piece of the puzzle. You need to zoom out and look at the other pieces, and at the desired end result.

This may be difficult if you are already activated, so maybe dealing with your nervous system is the way to go. Take a few deep breaths (in through the nose, out through the mouth), have a bit of a shake (or a dance), go for a walk, put a bit of music on which always makes you feel better, get a little bit of distance between you and whatever the alleged problem happens to be.

Don't always trust your thoughts

Then zoom out a bit more. Be aware of the thoughts and the feelings which are trying to get your attention and notice that they are not telling you the truth! They are activated by stress hormones and might becoming a little unhinged, blowing everything out of proportion. This is absolutely natural and you do not have to pay them any heed.

It may help you to imagine these thoughts are coming from a completely different entity than you - give it a name: maybe Anxious Annie, Grumpy Gilda, Moany Miles, whatever you can think up, use your imagination (which will also help activate the the right-side brain.)

Just try something....

Chances are, we are much more capable and resourceful than some of our thoughts (or thought characters) would like to have us believe. Like in this photo below. I didn't think I could climb and crawl over so many fallen trees to get to the other side of the path. But it turns out, I could.

Fallen down tress on woodland pathway
Another recent problem: How to get through the fallen down trees to the other side? Looks impossible. Turns out, it wasn't!

The Eureka effect

The best possible solutions or new ideas often come when we are relaxed. So making room for that is most important when working towards a solution. Sometimes they magically come to us when we are thinking about or doing something completely unrelated.

A lot of people get their best ideas in the shower (or in the bath, famously like Archimedes). Our body is mostly on autopilot while we are showering, we don’t have to think about what we are doing, we are away from many distractions and I believe there is something quite magical about water, too. Cleansing ourselves in more ways than one, leaving room for new ideas.

Walking helps me. Getting out in the fresh air, seeing new things, distracting myself mindfully by what I can see, hear, smell and touch outside is calming for the nervous system and gives me a little break from the noisy thoughts in my head. While I am out there I can always put my dilemma to the trees, see if they come up with suggestions. Try it out for yourself!

Quick and easy

It is easy to get stuck in a problem. Things very quickly start to go round in circles. It is important to catch yourself as soon as you can, and shift away from that and be aware that you have the power in you to do that. You don’t have to continue to ride on that thought-carousel.

This takes practise! It is like learning to play the piano - it is a skill. You start where you are and you build up by repetition. You forget it one time around and do it the next time, and keep doing it until it becomes a habit.

When a problem hits and we start to focus on it, we can unintentionally black out everything else. This isn’t great, as everything else is where solutions lie and where we can find them, and that is what I mean by zoom out.

Pull your attention away from the problem and start by putting your attention on the space of possibilities and opportunities.

Pathway in the woods
A clear and beautiful pathway ahead. That's how I like it!

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