Using Mindful Problem Solving To Reach Our Potential

 Photo by  NeONBRAND  on  Unsplash

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

For most of us, our thoughts and emotions are entwined in a spaghetti-like mess, knotted together. If anyone was to suggest that we had a weakness or a deficiency, rather than allowing those comments to trigger a reaction of objective thought, normally the thoughts elicit an emotional response. We can feel defensive, angry, depressed, undermined, inferior.

We are unable to look inwards because, when we do, this chaotic frenzy of thought and emotion prevents us from seeing ourselves in a true light. Instead we are clouded by emotion, and rather than seeing ourselves, we just feel the chaos. Just thinking of our faults or weaknesses might make us react with bitterness or feel threatened or inadequate, when in some circumstances it’s more beneficial not to react emotionally at all.

By adopting a practice of mindfulness and, if it’s useful, meditation, we can start to disentangle our thoughts and our emotions. Rather than thinking and feeling all at once, we can remove ourselves from that swirling maelstrom and observe it with at least some degree of objectivity. We can never be completely objective about ourselves, but when we stop to breathe and calm the raging mind – and at least attempt to step away from our ego – we can begin to see ourselves. We can see our strengths, the gaps in our understanding and knowledge, and we start to look at our obstacles in a different light.

Automatic responses become habitual. When we are faced with a goal, project or a dream that we haven’t even attempted to reach, our emotional defences light the fuse and the canon fires out the excuse without a second thought. I haven’t lost weight because I can’t afford the gym membership. I haven’t got my pilots license because I don’t have time to take lessons. I’m just not good at languages. I’m not clever enough to build an app. Someone like me never does something like that.

These are a reflexive defence that may have evolved from mankind’s time in the jungle to protect us from carnivorous beasties, but today they hold us back. But if we can interrupt those excuses before they come blurting into our heads and out of our mouths we can at least give some thought to the things that we want to achieve and how, just maybe, we might be able to achieve them.

When we use the practice of mindfulness to separate our thoughts from our emotions and bravely look inwards, we can see what we have to offer, and where we are lacking. This information gives us a path to follow, allows us open our minds to new ideas, and see how we might be able to make adjustments.

If I spent less money treating myself to pizza or cinema trips every week, I might be able to afford a gym membership. If I didn’t watch football every weekend, I might be able to fit in a flying lesson once a month. Perhaps I can download a beginners guide to Spanish. I wonder how you learn to code? Maybe someone like me does do something like that.

Mindfulness and self-awareness allow us to see the things that get in the way of action. In the past, when something got in the way, we would automatically react emotionally, throw up our hands and give up. But now we recognise the obstacle, see what can be done to overcome it, and make a judgement based on this new information.

Ok, maybe the commitment needed to become an astronaut might be too much for you to go for. At least you know that now. But those other things – the dream of starting a new business, learning a new skill, ticking that thing off your bucket list – maybe they are more doable than you allowed yourself to think. And maybe, just maybe, you can have a go at doing them.

It’s a process that can be applied to all sorts of problem solving, both within you and out there in the world, in your job, in any endeavour you engage in.

  • Mindfully separate thought and emotion
  • Interrupt your excuses
  • Consider the obstacle
  • Assess ways to overcome it
  • Go round, go over, go under, go through, or go a different way
  • GO!

What are you waiting for?