Tag Archives: Problem solving

Problem solving – what happens in the mind

We all do enormous amount of activities with our minds: we think, we solve problems, we take decisions, we come up with new ideas. But for ,most of us the mind is like a blackbox. We just know that something has happened inside but do not know what and how and how long did it take.

Becoming aware of the thinking process is a key aspect of many meditation systems. I have tried to capture some examples on how thoughts connect in the posts: A thought formed….,How the mind associates thoughts…. and The problem of ‘interpretation’

 Last week I happened to come across a problem (reproduced below). As I looked at the problem, a solution came in to my mind. May be not the best solution, but I did something interesting. I tried to retrace what happened in my mind during the problem solving.

Reproducing the sequence here for you:

 Problem statement: (I think this is originally from www.systematic-innovation.comTRIZ is always encouraging us to think about designs with self-x capabilities. Below is a self-levelling picture frame. Nice concept, but terrible solution – who wants a system where they have to replace a battery!

The challenge here is to develop ideas for a much simpler – remember this is a low price consumer product – self-levelling picture frame.”

This is what happened in my mind:

As I finished reading the problem statement, the thing that caught my attention was the word “levelling”.

The word “levelling” reminded me of “balance” and there was suddenly a ‘sense of movement’ and ‘a pulley’ came to my mind.

 I could now see the picture frame hanging on a small pulley (and the pullye was attached to the nail)

But now I could see the wall too, it was a rough wall (it was not really visual, I could sort of feel the roughness) and I realised that the solution will not work on a rough wall. The frame should also be able to move on the surface.

Now I see a frame with four smoothe wheers on the back suspended on a pulley that is attached to the nail and this is my solution.

I do not know how long this whole sequence took to process in the mind. Perhaps few milli seconds, not sure. What is interesting to me is that the starting point (here the word ‘levelling’) often determines the nature and quality of the solution and perhaps this is what differs across people.

A careful observation will tell you that at each state, there is actually a connection made, which is like a choice from thousands of available options and these connections determine the quality of the solution. This is perhaps the reason why most of the systematic innovation techniques do not produce great outputs (some of you might disagree, fine), because they work at a concious level and muh of this happens much before the concious mind kicks in.

Is there anayway we can influence this subtle working of the mind? I think we will continue this in the next posts..


Surrender is a beautiful concept advocated by all the Indian religions. It is even placed superior to many of the spiritual practices.

But what does it mean really? What do one surrender? To whom? What happens after that?

I had my own problem understanding what surrender means. It is a tradition in India to offer your problems to a god, diety or a guru. This seemed to me the closest possible meaning of surrender, when I tried to undertsand this initially. 

This is how I experimented this.When I had a problem that I couldn’t solve or escape from, I said – God, I can’t handle this, I’m surrendering this to you. You take care. But it didn’t really work and soon it looked more like a ritual. I realized that such a surrender demanded complete faith (in whatever you surrender to), which was another abstract concept I needed to then understand. Without faith, the surrender was meaningless, because I doubted whether it would work or not and still continued pondering on it. Subconciously, I wished it would work, because my faith would grow then! So I had another chicken-egg situation. 

I dropped it for months till I became interested in  Mindfulness  and present moment. I decided to attempt to be ‘in the present moment’ for a week or so, just to feel it out ( I didn’t continue that for a reason; that’s for another post). As I became more and more mindful (in the present), surrender manifested all of a sudden! It was there in the present moment.

This brought about a totally diffrent meaning to Surrender. The real surrender is to drop all the resistance (to anything, may be after you failed to solve it or escape from) and just be in the situation. And the problem is no more there, simply because in present moment there are no problems.

Try it yourself. If there is a problem thats bothering you right now, just drop all your resistance to it, accept it fully and just be there. See what happens.(No cheating, be true to yourself, the acceptance has to be total and effortless)

I have tried this in some simple issues in my life and it works beautifully. But I think the challenge is to apply it to real serious issues (especially where ego is involved..)and that’s something I would like to start practicing.

Long way…

Why can’t we resolve our own issues by thinking?

In a way, this is a stupid question. All of face issues and there is no denying that we try to resolve them by ‘deep’ thinking. But the question is, does it really help us solve the issue.

(for clarity: what I mean by issues here are situations where we need to take a decision but not sure what. Typical examples are a relationship problem, making a job change, handling a conflict. I don’t really mean those issues that we solve say as part of our job)

I had lot of issues that I faced in life, and many were unexpected and threw me out of balance. Many times, they gripped my mind, in a way I was not able to shake them off. I played them in my mind repeatedly with slight variations. And I thought I was trying to think deep on the issue. This goes on for sometime and I am all the more confused and down. At some point, I feel I cannot handle this and I discuss the issue with my close friends or my spouse. Believe me, people are just waiting for you to ask their opinions. Most of the time friends and spouses give you advices that you want, not what you need.

And when I look back, most of those issues were resolved either by natures best remedy – time, or just by the way the sequence of events turned out to be.

Either way, what about the time, energy and effort spend on brooding over them?

Later in life, I realized that there has to be a better way to handle these issues. After lot of trial and error, I have found a working two step process for resolving such issues.

STEP 1 – Understanding the issue

            I found, typically when you approach an issue, you just don’t see the issue alone, it comes as a whole package. The first challenge is to segregate them. I try to think of these four elements:

  1. Relevance of the issue – is it something that needs to be resolved in the first place? Is it just a question of ego or solving it will impact my life in anyway? How significant is it in the whole scheme of things?
  2. My assumptions – What are my assumptions? This is the toughest part, especially when it comes to relationship problems. I would have assumed that someone doesn’t like me or he has a vested interest in doing this..
  3. My emotional involvement – This is also very very important. The emotional aspect makes it difficult to solve issues, especially related to relations. More emotional we are about the issue, less logical we are.
  4. The past and the future – How much am I influenced by what has happened in the past and my plan for the future. This is also important because typically we don’t see issues in isolation. We view them as continuation of something that happened in the past. This also means that we might be prejudiced. On the other side, the issue might be arising out of a fixed concept that we have about something in the future.

I put these things on paper separately and try to be as honest and logical as possible. Most of the time this step itself will help you segregate the real problem from all the mess around it and you have the clarity to solve it easily. But sometimes, this is difficult, especially when I am emotionally involved in the issue. The I go to step 2.

STEP 2: Taking alternative views

            I find someone whom I respect and who I am sure has a bigger view of life and experience. I ask  for a short appointment. Then I present him the problem in an ‘as a matter of fact’ tone and seek his views. This really works because the person is not emotionally involved in the issue and can really give me a very logical picture of the whole thing. This helps me overcome the emotional barrier that stopped me from seeing the issue. (Sometime it may be needed to repeat step 1 after this once again)

Believe me, you can solve things much more easily and effectively.

What I didn’t realize though at that time was that there is a feedback process working. When you do this a couple of times, your thinking patterns get modified and this becomes your natural way you think. Going forward, I would also expect the issues to come down significanly, because they were created by those same thinking patterns.

It’s a slow process, but works….