Stop Trying to Figure It Out©

Earlier this week, I shared the following Daily Wake Up Call:

“Stop trying to figure things out. Your ‘figuring’ brain likely created the problem or obstacle you’re trying to solve.”

While this concept is very clear in my mind, I received many responses from people saying that they didn’t understand it, that it wasn’t clear or that it didn’t make sense to them. As a result, I decided to share a little more about this powerful and simple concept, albeit one that is not always easy to implement.

Albert Einstein famously stated that “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” This is a brilliant perspective, but it has two significant challenges:

  1. How well will you be able to discern what thinking you used that created the problem?; and
  2. How do you know if your thinking is different?

These are critical questions to ponder, since the crucial element of Einstein’s proposition is that we must be able to identify and then use different thinking.

This challenge is also demonstrated in the long-embraced concept of thinking outside the box. Yes, we all need to think outside the box, but how will we know if we’re inside or outside of the box? By its very nature, being in the box can delude me into thinking that I’m outside the box when I’m still inside it. That’s the nature of the box. For this reason, we have to do much more than say we’re “getting out of the box” or “thinking outside the box.” We must find a way out of the box and a way to stay out of the box. In fact, as soon as I get out of the box (if I truly am out of it), am I not immediately back inside a new box?

If you’re thinking this is a big challenge, you’re right–but it’s not an impossible challenge. While it may require different thinking, more accurately it requires a different approach. Specifically, it requires that I get outside of my head and let go of my strong desire to figure things out, because the “figuring out” part of your brain will nearly always seek solutions that are consistent with your traditional or past thinking, which is the thinking that you’re most comfortable with and the thinking that has the least impact on your emotions (i.e. your comfort zone). The other challenge with the figuring out part of your brain and thinking is that it seeks out the solutions which make sense or which are logical to you. Yet, this type of thinking is likely the precise thinking that got you where you are (stuck, off-course or in need of different thinking). I hope you’re still with me and I hope you’ll hang in with me as we continue.

At one level, what I’m referring to is your intuition, heart and gut response to situations, challenges and solutions. While ideally these types of “thinking” and decision-making should work in concert with the logical, “figuring it out” brain, it’s way too easy for the brain and logic to take over the process. After all, it’s logical. However, many of the greatest innovations and solutions have come from and through people who were able to see and embrace solutions and approaches that most people thought were crazy or ridiculous (if they could even see them at all).

I also call this entire process of differentiated thinking “looking for the crazy.” In other words, assess your problem, obstacle or dilemma and look for the answer that makes no sense – what you or someone else may call crazy – and then dig into this so-called crazy idea to find the logic in it. When you can find the logic in the crazy, you are truly on to something and you’re likely moving closer to the different thinking or answers that you need.

I know this may be difficult to follow, so let’s look at some examples. One of my former clients was struggling in her job because of her poor and disruptive communication. One element of this dysfunctional communication was her excessive use of sarcasm. When we started exploring the drivers for her use of sarcasm, it came down to her desire for respect. She desired respect and she had a belief that sarcasm was clever humor, so she used sarcasm to show people that she was smarter than them. You know the outcome – rather than getting more respect, she got less. Crazy, right? However, let’s reframe it.

What kind of person seeks or needs respect from others? Answer: Someone who lacks self-respect. This very logical answer creates a new perspective: people who do not respect themselves would likely believe that they do not deserve respect and, therefore, they would create scenarios that would create less respect. This is the essence of what is called self-sabotage: you create the outcomes that you don’t want, but those outcomes “fit” the perspective you have of yourself or how you think things are supposed to be or turn out.

Many people struggle with this concept in terms of money or finances. While people say that they want to achieve greater financial success or security, they may have an inside story or belief that is inconsistent with financial success. For example, they may believe that they don’t deserve financial success, that having financial success is a bad thing or that people with financial success are not good people. Any of these beliefs is likely to cause a person to come up short of their desired financial goals without even knowing how or why they created this lack. In this situation, if they try to figure it out, they’ll come up with logical ideas and strategies, all of which will likely fail because the issue is not the strategies and ideas – the issue is an illogical and probably unconscious belief system or story.

If you’re wondering if this phenomenon is prevalent in all areas of our lives – business, finances, education, families, relationships, unhealthy habits, etc. – the answer is an emphatic yes! For example, for someone who says they want to quit smoking, there are likely inside stories or beliefs that are driving the desire to smoke, and these inside stories will be the biggest obstacle to changing or stopping the habit. While there will certainly be physiological addictions, all the strategies in the world may never put a dent in the inside (non-logical) stories that are at the core of the habit.

“Looking for the crazy” involves assessing what habitual behavior is continually creating the undesirable outcomes, and then trying to find the internal belief or driver for that crazy thing so the driver can be changed or at least brought into your awareness so it’s less like to drive the behavior. More than half the battle is being aware of the drivers (the stories or beliefs) of the behaviors that are not serving you.

Whenever I hear people say that they need to “figure something out” (especially if that thing is something they’ve been struggling with for some time), my cautionary bells go off and I invite them to not figure it out. Instead, I encourage them to look for patterns from their past that fit the current struggle and then to look for the source of those patterns. The process of debunking and getting past these inside stories is not always easy, but it’s often simpler than you think.

For now, I invite you to let go of the idea that the answers to your challenges, struggles or problems are things that need to be figured out. Instead, go looking for answers that don’t make sense or which seem a little crazy and then look for the logic or patterns within that crazy. That is most likely the place where you need to focus your attention in order to discover and uncover the deepest and most meaningful answers and solutions.

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