The Problem With Problem-Solving

“Life has to be about more than just solving problems” — Elon Musk

A problem-solving oriented mindset sounds as good and prolific as it gets, something big corporations should search for in their employees, a killing skill for everyday life management and a vital asset for coping with difficulties.

A problem-solving mindset presupposes some essential virtues like creativity, curiosity, persistence, responsibility, critical & practical thinking. You most certainly consider it as one of your best weapons in that skill arsenal of yours. You put it in a prominent position on your CV to immediately attract attention.

After all, problems arise all the time in our everyday life, and we have to be able to give solutions as soon as possible to prevent them from piling up and lead to overwhelming chaos ruling our life. So a problem-solving mindset is good, right?

I had a conversation with my father the other day, and I realized something. We were casually talking about our day, and he was praising himself for some reason, I can’t recollect what it was, but it probably was about something that had broken down, some machinery, which he managed to figure out and eventually fix.

My father thinks like an engineer. His dream was to have his automobile repair shop, so problem-solving is at the core of his being. He lives for the thrill of the “eureka” moment, when the solution manifests itself as if from thin air.

Someone, who has been so motivated to solve problems and fix situations and generally cope with life’s unexpected troubles and demands throughout his whole life, you think, should have his life in complete order. He should be one of those people that have figured and sorted everything and themselves out since long ago.

However, if you knew my father, you would see that, after all those miles he has crossed, he still has some distance to cover. He keeps on with the same familiar pathologies in his routine, and he complains a lot, but he is reluctant to make changes. And then, during our conversation, I had a small “eureka” moment myself.

The so much beloved and praised problem-solving mentality of my father, the one he is always bragging about, the one he believes is his biggest asset, is one of the leading reasons behind his bad mood and exhaustion.

As you would probably have noticed yourself, humans love puzzles. They love riddles and sudokus and crosswords. Why is it that the case? To put it in simple terms, when you solve a riddle or complete a puzzle you feel good about yourself because you have accomplished something that is difficult and requires mental effort and patience. It’s rewarding. It’s the release of the feel-good dopamine in our brains that is responsible for goal-orientation, motivation and reward recognition among others.

Most of the times meeting a goal is rewarding enough on its own, so what happens when solving problems becomes a goal in itself?

It turns into an unproductive obstacle is the answer.

You end up getting addicted to the excitement resulting in giving solutions, sometimes so much, that instead of problems finding you, you unconsciously begin to search for problems to solve them and get your fix. You either search for them or make them more difficult than they have to be or, even worse, create them. That can’t be healthy, and it can turn out masochistic and energy draining.

So a problem-solving mindset can easily turn against you, but there’s more to this.

You are always a step behind

Chances are the problems that arise today are mainly a product of some negligence of the past. If you mostly focus on solving problems, in fact, you get locked up in a loop of always attending to past mistakes. You move forward looking backward, and that robs you of time and energy to plan and prepare for the future.

It’s about context and balance

You cannot toss this function so easily though, neither should you, to be honest. Instead, it’s better to be aware for when it’s not that functional anymore.

Problem-solving is deeply embedded in our programming, and it’s there because it is a feature essential for survival. It’s what helped our ancestors distinguish the eatable from the poisonous seeds, build shelters against the cruel natural phenomena and come up with sharp tools and weapons to hunt or scare away the beasts.

But since survival has become something so trivial and certain in our time thanks to medicine, science, technology and human civilization in general, problem-solving evolved into something tricky, because, depending on each situation, it can be either something useful or a problem on its own.

That is because problem-solving is a survival mindset and stands in the way when you want to get out of your comfort zone into the unknown, where all the magic happens, but also where all the dangers lurk, and thrive.

It can be harmful to your well-being

Well-being both starts and ends with self-knowledge, but the catch with problem-solving is it tricks you to focus on your surroundings. If you are on most occasions unknowingly the architect of your suffering, like in the case of my father, then you never really solve the real cause of your problems;

YOURSELF

You look outwards instead of inwards; thus you don’t take responsibility, and you don’t learn from your mistakes, so you keep on fixing things while you are the one that breaks them in the first place. You cure the symptoms, but not the actual disease. The cycle never ends, and you are never completely healed.

It deprives you of vision

Problem-solving is so focused a process, so narrow and limited, that it blinds you to the bigger picture. You need to understand that you don’t have to solve every problem that comes in your way. Not every issue requires your attention and some you have to accept and move on. Otherwise, you ‘ll never go anywhere.

Look forward. Create potential. Actualize what it could be.

A new mindset is required, one that aims in the future by attending to the present with the construction of solid foundations. We must understand that prevention is the best medicine. We must see the bigger picture. We must live right today and make a better future for everyone, because “life has to be about more than just solving problems.”

Think. Create. Inspire.

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