Albert Einstein once said, “You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.”
To solve a problem you’ve obviously helped to create, you need to start with a new and fresh mind. For example, a woman thinks, “If I can change my job, my life will be better.” Possibly. But life doesn’t usually work that way. That woman is likely doing and thinking the same thoughts as always. Nothing new or fresh gets in. If you want to effect a change, get outside yourself and look at the situation with fresh eyes. See how you might assess your problem using a different mindset.
Try these six ways to think with a different mind and nudge your genius into action:
1. Break patterns. You find yourself walking or driving home only to jolt alert and wonder how you got there. The road is so familiar you followed it automatically. The same thing happens in your mind.
Your mind’s neural pathways are like roads connecting bits of information. You learn something by connecting the bits. Then you do it over and over until following that pathway becomes automatic, which enables you to effectively give a speech or swing a golf club.
Patterns are rarely easy to break, yet breaking a pattern is a splendid way to find a new solution to a recurring problem. Grocers entice us to overspend by stocking their stores in a pattern designed by shrewd marketing executives. But smart shoppers impose their own buying patterns, purchasing nonperishables first so their frozen foods won’t melt on the way home.
Break old thought patterns by trying new ways of doing a familiar task. Go to an unfamiliar coffee shop to brainstorm ideas, and you may discover fresh solutions.
2. Seek new patterns. The concept for today’s computers originated with hole-punch patterns used to weave ornate jacquard fabrics. On the huge early looms, holes punched in a paper pattern allowed hooks to penetrate and grab the thread at assigned positions, creating the intricate weave. Early census takers tweaked this pattern to create hole-punched cards, which recorded details about immigrants entering the United States. Later, IBM expanded this pattern to extraordinary levels.
Likewise, I use my nurse’s diagnosing pattern (assessment-diagnosis-intervention-evaluation) to successfully tackle issues in my business. This process of incorporating techniques and patterns from one discipline to creatively solve problems in another can result in ingenious solutions that might otherwise never occur.
3. Change a small action or behavior. Instead of going immediately to your computer when you get to the office, if that’s your habit, stop instead to write out a short list of what you want to accomplish. Then power up. Changing an action, even a small one, will often change your thought process. Shake up your internal genius and discover sensational new possibilities.
4. Challenge your obstacles. Let go of the notion that you don’t have enough time, energy, money or discipline to do what it takes to succeed. Ask yourself frequently, “What beliefs, ideas and activities are obstructing my progress? What must I change to abolish these obstacles?” My biggest obstacle is believing I don’t have enough time. When I challenge that thought I magically make more things happen.
5. Become your own other voice. Law school taught me to think of both sides of a problem, like boxers who anticipate an opponent’s every punch. The more you anticipate opposing ideas and their impact, the better you can strategize for success and avoid tactical blows. Successful attorneys spend as much time in the mind of their opponent as they do in their own. Whether it’s a career issue or a personal problem you’re resolving, practice being your own other voice.
6. Question every assumption. Another Einstein quote I like is, “The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Being the most computer-illiterate person in my office, I have no preconceived notions about what software can and cannot do. I think with an entirely different mind than our techs. Many times I ask them to make the software perform a certain way. After they tell me all their preconceived assumptions for why it can’t, I shrug and tell them to do it anyway. Two days later the software is usually working exactly as I envisioned. A questioning mind is more likely to get answers.
Beginning today, think about which mind you have working before you tackle a challenge. Your problems won’t disappear, and you may not find a solution instantly, but by keeping the possibilities in play, you allow your brain to easily hit upon a solution later. I’ve had to slip out of my yoga class to jot down ideas because I’ve had “Eureka!” moments in the middle of a pose. You may never think like Albert Einstein, but new patterns, new thinking and new behaviors will nudge the genius within you.