How many times have you been trapped by the obvious when trying to solve a problem? By the obvious, I mean the obvious rational approach or solution that is clearly in front of you. This solution to your problem would be great, except that it doesn’t work. I have certainly fallen into this trap many times. I try a solution that should work, but it doesn’t. Then I try the same solution over and over again with some variation in the hope that one of my attempts will magically succeed. It’s as if you were trapped within four walls.  You run against one and then the next and the next and before you know it you are running against the same one again. You are running so hard, and with such focus and intent, that you fail to notice the trap door in the ceiling.

One key to getting past the obvious is to try and reframe the problem. This is analogous to reframing a picture; by doing so, you can see the same picture in a completely different way. This exercise of reframing, or restating the problem in a different way can lead to the discovery of a completely new approach. It can disrupt the futile effort of pursuing the same failed idea over and over again. To push my analogy of the room a little further: my problem is not how can I break through the wall, but how can I get myself up to the ceiling, so I can enter the trap door. I used another analogy in my book:  that of trying to solve the problem of building a sturdy bridge across a river in order to transport goods from one side to the other. A reframe of that problem might be, “How do I get goods from one side of the river to the other.” That opens up many more possibilities besides a bridge.

The more you focus on the “obvious” solution (that unfortunately doesn’t work), the more it will reinforce itself in your mind to the exclusion of other approaches. If you’re stuck on problem, sometimes the best thing to do is to forget about it. Go to the beach. If it’s winter, go skiing. Your best chance of getting around the obvious is to engage in something completely unrelated to the problem and let your subconscious go to work. The work of your conscious and rational mind is really to feed your subconscious information. Then let the subconscious go to work on the problem while you are engaged in something completely different. You’ll be amazed how, when you are least expecting it, a perfect non-obvious solution will just pop into your mind. “Wow! How did I come up with THAT”, you will say. Or, “why didn’t I think of that before?”

Reframing and working the interplay between conscious and subconscious problem solving are two techniques for getting past the obvious. In contrast, continuing to run against the same walls over and over again will only make you frustrated, tired, and very sore. 

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!