“People who believe a problem can be solved tend to get busy solving it.” – William Raspberry
When problems require solving and you’re fresh out of ideas, there’s no need to endure sleepless nights filled with anxiety over the situation. What can help, however, is making use of time-proven problem-solving techniques that anyone can use.
WRITE IT DOWN
So you don’t have to think about it all night. How many times have you tossed and turned throughout the night, endlessly replaying in your mind different reasons why you have to get this problem solved? Worse, when you have the problem pressing this way, it’s tough to drift off to sleep. Besides the problem itself, you worry that you’ll forget you have to tend to it. This puts into motion the non-stop cycle of ruminating about the problem, waking from a fitful sleep to wonder if you’ve forgotten about the problem, to beating yourself up over not already solving the problem, to other extraneous problems that may be exacerbated or arise from the unsolved problem.
No wonder you can’t sleep. In addition to not sleeping well, the next morning’s no better when it comes to having a clear head with which to attempt to resolve the problem. Indeed, you’re right back where you started: big problem, no solution.
A handy technique is to write down everything you can about the problem, including what it is, how it started, what you may have done to cause it or make it worse, what other solutions you may have attempted that didn’t work, and what you believe you need to find a solution.
PAMPER YOURSELF BEFORE BED
While pampering yourself before going to bed at night may be the last thing that comes to mind, it should be one of the first. What’s happened already is nothing you can change right now. On the other hand, what you most definitely can do is give yourself good self-care in the form of a relaxing bath, having a laugh with family and loved ones, reading something enjoyable, meditating, going for a walk in nature, watching the sunset, listening to soothing music, even eating a meal you prepare with love.
When you indulge in self-pampering, think of it as a much-needed and well-deserved opportunity to be proactive for your overall health and well-being. It very much is that, and so much more. The nature of self-care, which is the essence of pampering, provides healing balm to body, mind and soul. It is reassuring, comforting, uplifting and enriching.
It’s also free, readily available, and easy to do. Amazingly, many a solution occurs while you’re in the middle of such pampering. It’s almost as if by magic. How can this be? When you’re mind isn’t so obsessed with a particular problem to solve, it allows creativity to flow, and from that wellspring is where problem solving arises.
VISUALIZE A PROBLEM
And let your subconscious do the work. A 2016 study published in Frontiers in Psychology refers to this as the incubation effect, which occurs after setting aside the problem and allowing the mind to process seemingly novel solutions that occur as intuitive insights. Most of us never think about how powerful an ally our subconscious really is. Yet, a fascinating thing happens when we let our bodies rest that has as much to do with revitalizing the mind as it does allowing the body to replenish energy. We do, however, need to give our brain the raw materials with which to work. Not that the mind won’t circle back to what’s yet unsolved, but giving it a little nudge is like having your homework assignment written out already so you know what needs attention.
The best way I’ve found to get a handle on a creative solution to a problem is to visualize the problem before going to bed, knowing that I’m much more likely to wake up with a solution or approach to try tomorrow. The visualization of the problem, along with writing the problem done, are what jumpstarts my subconscious into problem-solving mode. That frees me from the tortuous sifting and discarding of do this or don’t do that I’d otherwise engage in throughout what should be my sleeping hours.
Researchers at the University of Lancaster studied the ability of study participants to solve problems after getting eight hours of sleep and their findings pinpoint the value of sleep to allow your brain access to the vast amounts of knowledge it holds. Tapping into those useful bits of information and putting disparate items together often is the result. They referred to this as most likely occurring do to spreading activation.
TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY
Another tip I’ve found helpful is to remind myself that tomorrow is another day. Perhaps I was overworked or too distracted or pulled in too many directions today to tackle the problem presented. Maybe I wasn’t tasked with finding the solution to the problem until late in the day or got the assignment on my way home from work, school, or elsewhere. There’s certainly nothing like a last-minute problem to solve to ruin a night’s sleep.
It’s also happened to me that I’ve exhausted a list of potential solutions to the problem and they were either insufficient, didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, weren’t appropriate to the situation, worked somewhat but then failed, or some other combination that resulted in the problem still needing to be solved. Also, problems often become compounded, with the initial problem morphing into an even bigger one, or the problem you started to solve became unrecognizable beneath competing ones.
When this occurs, instead of giving up and telling your boss, spouse, friend, teacher, loved one or family member that you can’t solve the problem, give yourself the night off and remember that you’ll have another opportunity tomorrow to revisit the problem. You’ll be fresh and likely have a clearer head to perhaps see the problem in a different light.
A slightly different spin on the fact that tomorrow is another day is the recommendation to enlist others in a brainstorming session to solve the problem. When you’ve got allies looking at potential solutions, you may be surprised at how quickly novel approaches arise. In fact, advice from top problem-solving solutions organizations includes brainstorming as one of the effective ways to find your way past problems.
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This article was originally published on Psych Central.
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