Monday, March 24, 2014

Problem Solving Secrets

I recently discovered a simple technique for problem solving that I thought you guys would love. But before diving in to this effective problem solving process, let me tell you the background story.
Lately, I’ve been struggling with this feeling of unproductive frustration. Maybe you can relate: feeling like you should be doing something, but you feel stuck, somehow unable to take productive action towards some end goal.
My problem is that I feel like I have a million things to do; yet I am finding it difficult to make any real progress with any of my projects. As a result, a whole day can go by without me making any progress forward.
Each day, when I look up to see that it’s already 3pm, I’ll start to feel frustrated at myself. I’ll feel annoyed that I had allowed another fruitless day to pass. I’d kick myself mentally for having “wasted” another precious day, which doesn’t help to inspire me to productivity or happiness.

Today, I had one of these frustrating days. Actually this whole week has been like this.
It baffles me that after all this self-improvement training, I feel stuck. *smiles* I feel like something is holding me back from wanting to take action. It feels as if this invisible force is pulling at my leg.
As with any unproductive emotions, these uncomfortable feelings act as an alarm bell, alerting us that we need to examine our lives. It’s letting us know that there is something new to be learned.

Simple Technique for Problem Solving

The life lessons embedded in these problems, or opportunities of discomfort, usually turn out to be life transforming and empowering for our overall wellbeing. And so, I’ve learned to trust these alarm bells and to welcome the lessons they provide.
Instead of continuing to sit at my desk feeling frustrated and allowing myself to be engulfed in the emotion—which is what I did yesterday—I jumped up from my desk, stretched out my body, and asked myself the following question, “what do I need right now?
The answer came with simplistic ease. “To relax”, my inner voice replied.
I went over to my—big, comfy—reading chair, opened my Kindle and started reading a book that Nadia had recently sent me as a gift. The book is called, “The Architecture of All Abundance” by Lenedra Carroll.
It just so happened that I flipped to a section where the author was talking about a simple technique she called “The 12 What Elses”.
The concept was expressed with such eloquence, simplicity and playfulness.
Basically, if you feel that you are stuck with a problem, ask yourself a question about it and brainstorm 12 answers to that problem. You can take one of the answers, turn it into a question and drill it further with 12 more answers. Keep going until you have the answer you need to feel better or solves your problem.

Example 1: Problem Solving Co-Worker Issues

A coworker was rude to you this morning, which caused you to feel upset. You can address this unproductive feeling by asking, “What could have happened that triggered the person to be short tempered with me?” Now, come up with the first answer that comes to mind, and keep asking yourself “what else?” until you have 12 answers (or more).
Some possible answers could be: someone from her family died, she is not getting enough sleep, she had a fight with her spouse that morning, her son is ill, she is not feeling well, etc.
By examining the possible reasons why the co-worker may have been short tempered, you start to view the situation with more compassion and perspective. Feeling compassion and sympathy is much more healing than taking the situation personally and fuming in resentment.

Example 2: Problem Solving Personal Direction

You can ask yourself “what is it that I want?” and brainstorm 12 answers. You can then drill it further by taking one of the answers, convert it to another question, and find 12 more answers.
For example, if one of the answers from the first question was “I want to find love.” A possible follow up question is “Where can I find love?” By the time you brainstorm 12 answers, you may be surprised with what you’ll find or learn about yourself.

Why this Question and Answer Process is Powerful?

As simple and trivial as this problem solving technique may sound, the results can be pretty massive. This simple process (which anyone can easily do) has the potential to open your mind up to a whole new realm of possibilities.
This simple exercise can help to shift your state of focus away from a train of thought that is limiting, to one filled with possibilities. I have found that it will also give you more clarity.
When we have a lot of unexamined thoughts (and limiting beliefs), they end up swimming in our consciousness, taking up mental space and physical energy.
I heard a clever saying recently that said, “no thought lives in your head rent-free.” It’s kind of true, don’t you think?
These unexamined thoughts are unconsciously running around in our heads. They become mental clutter. They cloud our capacity to think clearly and our ability to work productively.
I think the power of this exercise is to ask important and insightful questions which we rarely examine, and to answer them honestly.
Remember to be playful and not so serious (and adult like) when we are doing this. You can write down silly answers if they come to mind. Being playful with the answering step allows us to relax, and more easily access our inner wisdom—this will open up a treasure chest of possibilities and self-understanding.

How I Used This Process to Solve My Problem

Armed with my hardbound sketchbook—which I use as a journal–and my favorite black pen, I tried out the “12 What Elses” which I now call “The 12 Answers”.
I took a few deep breaths, allowed myself to relax, and knew right away the question I wanted to ask. I wrote at the top of a clean page: “12 Answers”. Underneath this, I wrote the question.
What am I afraid of?
I knew this was the question I needed to examine. I knew that fear was what had caused me to feel confused and thus unable to proceed with my work. It was the mental block I needed to uncover and to better understand.
I wrote the numbers 1 to 12 down the page, one on each line. Then I wrote an answer on each line next to the number. The 12 answers came very quickly and effortlessly, so I continued listing as more answers came.
Here are my answers (in the order they arrived in my mind):
  1. Not having money
  2. Wasting time (after investing a lot of time and energy into something to find it a waste)
  3. Looking stupid
  4. Failing
  5. Not being liked
  6. Taking too much time to do things
  7. Dying
  8. Not being happy
  9. Someone else messing it up
  10. Making the wrong decision
  11. Not having security
  12. Missed opportunities
  13. Screwing up
  14. Making a bad investment
  15. Not having time to enjoy things that are important
  16. Pain
By the time I was done, here’s what I felt:
  1. Shocked that I came up with this list so quickly, and amazed that all this fear had been swimming in my mind. No wonder I couldn’t make any progress: too many conflicting thoughts.
  2. I felt horrible, like having this knot in my stomach.
  3. I felt relieved, despite the knot in my stomach. Relieved that my fears and conflicting thoughts are out on paper, and I can finally examine them and set myself free.
Wow, pretty cool huh?
After looking over the list of fears, it’s no wonder I was feeling uncertain, doubtful, cluttered and confused. I had too many mental roadblocks.
First, I wanted to feel better. To overcome the knot-in-stomach feeling, I wrote on a clean page, “What do I want?”
Here are my answers to “I want …”:
  1. Peace & Serenity
  2. Clarity
  3. Security
  4. Certainty
  5. Laughter
  6. Time to do as I please
  7. Purpose
  8. Children
  9. Family & Closeness
  10. To learn
  11. To help people
  12. Prayer + Gratitude
  13. Love
  14. Simplicity
  15. Relaxation
  16. Release of things that don’t serve me
  17. Sunshine
  18. Support
  19. Order + Organization
  20. To be Happy
Once again, I was shocked by how quickly, smoothly and easily the answers came. And right away, I felt better. I felt peaceful, happy and thankful.
Doing this triggered a spark and inspired me to ask more questions. It was like following my heart, and my heart knew the right questions to ask; my heart knew the answers I needed to unveil to be well again.
Some questions I continued asking includes: what do I want to do? What do I need to do? I can arrive at X goal by doing..?
I noticed that the shorter and more direct the question, the better. Instead of “Why is it that I seem to have such a hard time becoming an early riser?” change the question to “Why is it challenging to wake up early?” Remove the filler words and get to the point. This will make it easier for our brain to comprehend and answer.
I just simply followed my inner voice. As if it was gently holding my hand, my inner guidance gracefully led me to a place of inner serenity and clarity. From this place of stillness, I knew what I needed to do.

Overcoming Limiting Beliefs

I went back to each of the answers from “What am I afraid of?” and asked:
  1. Is this statement true?
  2. Where/what/who would I be if I didn’t have this belief?
  3. (optional) What’s the worse that could happen? And if so, so what?
These questions are a modification to the self-inquisitive technique inspired from Byron Katie.
This is just a basic template. In addition to the first two questions, I made up questions as I went along by following my intuition.
The point is to examine each fearful belief with a magnifying glass. To examine closely its validity and to bring conscious awareness to the falsehood of each statement.


For the statement “I am afraid of not having enough money” here are the questions I asked and the corresponding answers. Comments are in parenthesis.
Question: Is this statement true?
Answer: yes, it is true for me.
Question: Who would you be, if you didn’t believe this statement?
Answer: I would be relaxed and peaceful
(Here, I realized how silly holding on to this belief is. If I just released this belief, then I could be relaxed and peaceful. Interestingly, being peaceful is the first answer under “I want …”)
Question: What’s the worst that could happen?
Answer: The worst that could happen, is I don’t have enough money to be able to buy food, pay for our house, and support our family.
Question: Is this realistic?
Answer: No, it’s not realistic. The worst that could happen is we move to a smaller house. I cannot see it being a possibility that I will not have enough resources to pay for food. There is always some job I could do for money, always.
(Here, it is clear how invalid and unrealistic this statement is. I can’t believe I’ve held onto this fear for so long. By letting it go, I’ve just freed up much bundled energy.)

Problem Solving Through Questions and Answers

I felt so liberated after the exercise (or playing the game of “12 Answers”). I felt—surprisingly—energized, and very much empowered.
By invalidating these statements of limiting beliefs or ideas that may be holding us back, we relinquish the energy this mental statement held, and as a result, we reclaim our personal power to move in the direction we desire, without mental roadblocks.
I wrote this article a week ago, and over the next few days since initially writing this, I noticed more issues starting to rise, which is both annoying and liberating. Annoying, because I just want to be free from all this baggage. Liberating, because now I get to shine a bright light over them, and I can finally examine and releasing them.
I am continuously working on this process, as more fears and questions and unexamined beliefs pop up.
Asking the hard questions and answering them honestly takes courage, and a conscious decision to face the truth. Even though avoidance of a problem gives temporary illusions of relief, not examining all these questions swimming in our mind comes at a price: fear, confusion, uncertainty, and stagnation.
If you want clarity, purpose and lasting happiness? Ask yourself the hard questions. Ask yourself the questions you’ve been avoiding.
You’ll discover that you have the inner wisdom and extraordinary guidance to problem solve any issues from life’s emotional turbulences.
Give the 12-Answers a try; either with questions to a problem you want to solve or one of the questions I’ve used as examples. Share your discoveries with us in the comment section.
Two more questions I’ve recently examined, and found the answers empowering: Why is it hard for me to focus? Why is it that I can’t wake up early? Good times! :)

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