Problem Solving

The more balanced way

"Time and money spent in helping men do more for themselves is far better than mere giving."

—Henry Ford

"The adolescent who insists upon a critical reexamination of conventional wisdom is making himself into an adult. And the adult whose concerns extend beyond family and beyond nation to mankind has become fully human." (1)

—Leon Eisenberg, 14 April 1972

Effective problem-solving requires the ability for you to break down the problem into simple parts (the L-brain) and then reassembling the parts in many different ways (the R-brain) until a solution is found.

This means you must concentrate on the task of immersing yourself in the problem and identifying all parts for long periods of time (the frontal lobes combined with your L-brain), followed by long periods of rest to allow the subconscious mind (i.e. R-brain) to juggle the parts properly and make holistic links. Then you repeat the process until all aspects of a problem from the deepest to the superficial level are understood. In that way, a quality solution to the original problem will become apparent.

In essence, you need time to solve problems. The more complex the problem, the more time you need to apply both your L- and R-brain.

You can quicken the process with adequate knowledge and experience about the problem and by relaxing the mind to allow you to switch between the L- and R-brain more quickly, and with it emerge a solution.

The technique behind effective thinking/learning/problem-solving involves calming the mind considered important to moving into the subconscious level and so help engage the entire right-side of the brain as well as the left-side. Then, after calming the mind, the mind is slowly brought to focus on the problem or item of learning and should be maintained in this focussed state for long periods of time (2).

Before you can focus on a problem, you should have a reasonable amount of patterns stored in the brain if you wish to find a quality solution to your problem. To acquire enough patterns requires you to bring yourself more into the conscious (or fully awake) state as this will help you to engage the left-side of the brain and all of your body to directly observe and analyse the environment and oneself.

Likewise immersing yourself in the problem through the L-brain can help to increase the amount of patterns stored in your brain.

The patterns acquired need not necessary have to be directly relevant to the problem at hand, but may help if you do.

Now to find a quality solution to your problem, the patterns you have available in memory as well as the problem itself has to be visualised and simplified while in the focussed and more subconscious state until you start to see links between the patterns and the problem. It is these links and the recognition of a larger, but very simple pattern or patterns which will provide you with the solution.

Visualisation can also include dreaming. Hence you will discover the benefits of a good night's sleep during problem-solving. But to increase the rate of speed in finding a quality solution, you must engage the L-brain as well, and that means you will need to be in the twilight state between sleep and awake/consciousness, or the balanced state.

Fall asleep and you will use mainly your R-brain, but you will not quickly reach a solution. On the other hand, stay completely awake and you will be using mainly your L-brain, but again you will not quickly reach a solution, especially if it is an unfamiliar or original solution you are seeking. Or if you use both L- and R-brain, a solution will eventually come. However, to quicken the process even more, go for the twilight state of consciousness and subconsciousness. It is the most powerful moment you have to solving any problem.

The Procedure

The procedure begins by calming the mind and focussing on a problem, a technique known in religious circles as meditation or in psychology as the hypnotic state. The technique may seem easy, but it is rather harder than it looks. The aim of meditation is to allow all the senses of the body to slowly take over. Let them become sensitive to the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and feelings of the item in focus. This increased awareness is called the meditative state and is how the body integrates with the mind and opens up all the communication channels between you and the item you are focussing on.

If done properly, the meditative state should be characterised by an unawareness of time and place and a complete lack of attachment to anything around you, even your own beliefs, except for the problem itself.

If it is difficult to relax properly when focussing on the problem, use, as a temporary measure, a different item of focus, such as the breathing of your lungs, performing a certain repetitive and relaxing movement, listening to a repetitive and relaxing sound, or creating a visual picture in the mind of some peaceful place or entity; these can all act as the item of focus in meditation (3). Even concentrating on the light of a candle can help you in this respect (4). Do this for some 5 to 10 minutes or until you are thoroughly relaxed and feel confident enough to visualise and analyse the problem.

Remember, maximum insight into any problem coincides with minimum stress. So learn to relax. But don't over do it! If you fall asleep, you will stop your left-brain from actively and productively focussing on the problem at hand and then it will probably take much longer to achieve your goal.

Once you reach this unperturbed and relaxed state, focus on the problem you want to solve and allow the natural process of simplification to occur. If you are properly relaxed and well-focussed on the problem, your brain will have already commenced the simplification process by uncovering many patterns in your memory as part of the link they have to the problem. If not, try to relax a little more. Otherwise you must take out what you believe are the most important and meaningful features to you from the problem and focus on those features first; or else gather more information from the conscious world to help you tackle the problem more effectively.

Remember the old Chinese proverb that says, 'a truly great man never puts away the simplicity of a child', so always attempt to visualise the problem creatively and as a simple picture so that you will know what features are relevant and need to be taken out for careful consideration.

The next thing to do in the thinking process is to organise the patterns that come to your mind and which seem linked in some way to the main problem. Try to organise the patterns in as many different ways as possible until you can see another larger pattern that clearly associates all these individual patterns. For example, if the problem concerns remembering a string of words (i.e. small patterns), consider organising the words in an alphabetical way (i.e. the larger pattern) as the chances of recalling those words and seeing how they are linked together are better than if they had to be learnt in a random fashion.

Or better still, create a memorable picture for each word (if necessary exaggerate and be creative in the pictures you make) and organise the pictures to tell a story. To remember the story and all the words with ease, simplify the story and pictures representing the words until everything is crystal clear.

As Ivan Barzakov and Pamela Rand, the Directors of Optima Learning Institute in San Francisco, USA, said:

"The mind does not perceive just detailed bits and pieces [i.e., our L-brain], but is constantly weaving a large pattern from our experiences [i.e., our R-brain]." (5)

Continue with this 'visualisation' technique on the selected features or individual patterns until you have fully simplified and understood every aspect of the problem to its deepest level.

Do not worry about whether or not you can remember all the features and patterns instantly. If the main pattern and its selected main features are well simplified and have meaning to you, you will remember all the features and the main pattern and how they relate to each other in due time. Remember, focus on what is important and find ways to make it interesting to remember. The more emotionally appealing the information is to you, the quicker and easier you can think back to everything you have learnt, and the stronger the associations are between each piece of important information. And the stronger the association, the more effective is your learning/problem-solving of the information. (6)

The next thing to do is to go back to the original problem and see whether you can incorporate additional information into the main pattern. This will assist you in testing the veracity of the main pattern you have created in your mind; in helping you to reinforce the main pattern; and in ensuring a quality solution to your original problem has been found in the main pattern. Do this well and a solution to your problem will soon become apparent from the general pattern itself (7).

Once a solution or 'moment of enlightenment' has materialised, look for alternatives. Try to perceive differently to acquire different solutions. Then use your emotions (for social considerations, which is often lacking in Western society) and the evidence (for technical considerations) currently available to you to determine which of several solutions is best to choose from.

A person well trained in the art of thinking/learning/problem solving can usually simplify a moderately hard problem right down to a very simple picture and uncover a simple solution fairly rapidly. But whether or not the solution is the best solution will depend on how much information has been taken into account in the acquisition, simplification and linking process.

Remember, the art of effective thinking does take some time to perfect and, although every problem has a solution, when that solution will come (especially if it is a good one) cannot be guaranteed. That is why adequate time to solve any problem must be given if a quality solution is to be found.

The chances of finding a good solution increases with practice and by gathering enough information. However, one must learn to be patient and relax. Always give time for your relaxing mind to acquire enough information, to be absorbed by every fine detail associated with a problem, and to simplify everything to its deepest level.

If you persist with the problem long enough, a solution will reveal itself in due time, either in a dream, in a fleeting thought, usually just prior to or after sleep, or in the things you see around you.

This is when the proverbial light bulb will come on.