“You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.” ~ Albert Einstein
Hmmm…Einstein was a genius, so perhaps we could learn something from him about solving our own problems. But how can I use a different mind, when obviously I only have one?
One way is through creativity – stepping outside of our usual way of thinking. According to the IFS model, creativity is a quality of Self, and it’s one that is often stifled during our development into adulthood. We develop parts to protect us from being admonished, embarrassed, or left out, and these parts can become extreme and also keep us from being creative. In other words, many times it may have felt unsafe for us to express ourselves creatively if that expression caused us to be punished or separated from our peers, so we learned to “fit in” by conforming. If we continue to conform to what we believe others expect of us, we can develop extreme parts such as perfectionism and people-pleasing. As we work with our extreme protector parts, Self comes forward and creativity returns, little by little.
I recently had a burst of creativity that amazed and entertained me. I had made a note card on my computer with a picture of a beautiful waterfall on the front, and sent it to a friend as a thank you note. He liked it so much that he asked me to make 50 more for him to use as personal correspondence. As I started to print them two to a page, I noticed that the picture on the right side of the page was off-center. I was not happy with this, as these would be given to someone else, and I never wanted him to think I couldn’t make something perfect! (my part that didn’t want me to be embarrassed or seem “less than”)
So I tried everything I knew to fix the alignment on the right side – I reread the directions on the template, reset the margins, copied and pasted the picture again, manually moved the picture, reduced the size – and all I accomplished was wasting more paper (which I hate!) and becoming more frustrated. I felt like screaming, “I am smart! Why can’t I figure this out?!” But you see, I was stuck because I was trying to solve the problem with the same mind that created it – my analytical, thinking too much, read the directions and stare at the screen over and over until I get this right – mind.
With nothing else to try, I gave up. I let go of trying to “fix” the problem by centering the picture on the right side of the page. I decided I could just print the note cards one per page, on the left side only, and leave the right side blank rather than waste ink printing that side off-center. So I fed the first page into the printer and printed out the first note card, beautifully centered and on the left side of the page. As I took it out of the tray and started to tear off the blank side, WHAM! – the creative mind said, “Turn the paper over, feed it through again, and the perfectly aligned note card will print on the other side of the page.” I absolutely laughed out loud, sitting on the floor of my office. Such a simple solution, yet I could NOT get there until I let go of my old way of thinking.
Admittedly, the extremely distressing problems in our lives involve something more serious than printing perfect note cards, but the path to the solution is the same – original, creative thoughts and ideas. Many times in my life when I have stopped struggling with trying to perfectly solve a problem in the way I believe it would be best, the solution has come to me in a completely different manner, usually a much simpler and better idea than the one I struggled so hard to use. So the next time you feel overwhelmed by a problem and frustrated by your lack of ability to solve it, try letting go of fighting in the same old way. Perhaps some creativity will be sparked, and you will be able to “think outside the box” into a different and better solution.
At Southlake Counseling, we can help you discover and get to know the parts that may be keeping you stuck in the same ways of thinking and behaving, in all areas of your life. To learn more about how this process of self-awareness can work for you, schedule an appointment today and start your own journey out of frustration and into creativity and freedom!