If you think about it, there’s certainly no shortage of problems in everyday life. The way we often entangle ourselves in unnecessary difficulties is when we rush to get rid of the problem by attempting whatever solution first comes to mind. That’s no way to be an effective problem solver, and it definitely detracts from your quality of life. But why does it matter to take your time solving problems? Here are some answers.
Speed leads to error.
Whenever I am in a hurry to be done with a problem, I always regret it. For one thing, not taking my time to analyze what needs to be done most often leads me to try to jam through just any solution. That’s neither smart nor effective. Speed is never good — on the highway (going too fast, that is) or solving problems. Take your time. Your solutions will work better when you spend sufficient time getting the plan together.
You’ll likely have to do it over.
The worst thing about rushing through a problem to get it over is that you’ll probably spend even more time doing it over. I’ve experienced this so many times it should be permanently etched in my brain. I can hear the voice of my dad telling me, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” He was right about so many things, especially when it comes to taking my time to figure out the right approach.
The problem isn’t really solved.
Employing a half-hearted or ill-thought-out solution to a problem doesn’t solve it 99 percent of the time. Not only will you waste more time than if you’d carefully mapped out what steps to take and thought it through to calculate any what-if scenarios, but the problem remains. I don’t think there’s anything worse than seeing the disappointment of others when they’ve looked to you as a supposed expert and you only made things worse by being too hasty.
An interesting study by researchers from Aalto University identified “lazy grounding,” a new approach for computers to solve complex problems with artificial intelligence. Briefly, the idea is to completely map out the labyrinth and only then starting to work the way out of the labyrinth. It would seem that this concept is equally applicable to human problem-solving.
You’re too close to it.
Another expression springs to mind: “You can’t see the forest through the trees.” How appropriate this is when you’re in the middle of a problem. You’re probably too close to it to be objective. Here’s where it’s absolutely necessary to step back and gain perspective. If you think the doorway needs to be only the size of the elephant’s tail, you’ll soon regret your too-small entry/exit. If you can’t see the big picture, taking all aspects of the problem into consideration, you need distance to help you see more clearly.
On the other hand, sometimes you’re close to or already at the solution. Harvard University researchers identified a phenomenon they call “prevalence-induced concept change” that appears to exist when a problem’s prevalence is reduced, and people whose job it is to find, and fix problems can’t tell when the problem has been solved.
Talking about it can help.
You can’t expect to always have every answer or solution to problems. Whether big or small, or an accumulation that piles up to make you doubt your ability to do anything right, talking about it with someone you trust can help. As Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers discovered, their ability to solve a problem improved once they got out of the lab and had in-depth conversations with other researchers and people using the technology their research was based on. Getting an objective opinion about the situation you find yourself in and what may need to be considered is always sound advice. If nothing else, you’ve added space between you and the problem. Maybe that’s all you really needed to finalize the outline of a plan of attack.
Maybe you need a break.
How often do you feel pressured to get a problem solved when you know you’re flat out of creative ideas, crushed for time, or so drained physically and emotionally that any solution you try now is destined to fail? Just as being too close to a problem is counter-productive to solving it, so is attempting to resolve problems when you desperately need a break. Take a short hiatus from problem solving to get your energy back, clear your head, and come back refreshed.
Indeed, since problem-solving is part of the brain’s executive functioning ability, clearing your head is a good idea, along with getting adequate nutrients, plenty of water, sufficient sleep and lots of exercise. Healthy body leads to healthy brain — and better decision-making skills, especially in older adults. In addition, researchers at the University of California — San Diego found that rapid eye movement (REM) sleep enhances creative problem-solving. So, catch up on some quality sleep to dream up some creative solutions.
Well-crafted solutions are something you can be proud of.
If you want to build up a portfolio of effective solutions to common problems, the more time you take to ensure they’re as solid as possible, the better the likely outcome. As your problem-solving repertoire grows, so does your self-esteem and self-confidence. Furthermore, you’re more likely to be seen as the go-to person for creative and effective problem solving. This is especially useful in organizations that prize employees who can accurately identify a problem and determine what will work best in solving it. Such craft can only come with time and practice. In addition, sharing solutions can lead to much better outcomes, according to research published in the journal Cognitive Science that found that being surrounded by imitators — others who are also looking at ways to solve problems by mutually copying innovation — generates innovation and diversity of solutions.