The other weekend, I re-read Bertrand Russell’s The Conquest of Happiness. It’s all about happiness (no surprise), but in an aside, Russell explains how he solves difficult intellectual issues.
I think I’ve followed this strategy myself — not because I cleverly realized it was a good strategy, but because I was stumped, so put aside a question out of sheer desperation.
Here’s his method…
“I have found… that, if I have to write upon some rather difficult topic, the best plan is to think about it with very great intensity — the greatest intensity of which I am capable — for a few hours or days, and at the end of that time give orders, so to speak, that the work is to proceed underground. After some months I return consciously to the topic and find that the work has been done. Before I had discovered this technique, I used to spend the intervening months worrying because I was making no progress; I arrived at the solution none the sooner for this worry, and the intervening months were wasted, whereas now I can devote them to other pursuits.”
I’ve used this when I’ve faced problems with structure. Structure! As a writer, I’m obsessed with structure. Often I have seemingly insurmountable structural problems, and I’ve found — just as Russell suggests–that if I think about it very hard, then ignore the problem and work on other things, the answer eventually presents itself.
This approach is a good example of one of my Secrets of Adulthood: “The quickest way to get from A to be is not to work the hardest.”
How about you?
Have you found that by putting aside a difficult problem, you were able to solve it? Even, perhaps, with just one night of “sleeping on it”?
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 8 May 2012
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Rubin, G. (2012). A Simple (or Lazy) Way to Solve a Difficult Problem. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 11, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/05/24/a-simple-or-lazy-way-to-solve-a-difficult-problem/