"The Navigator" News Blog

Sometimes You Have to Step Away

I have a theory, and it is that single-interest people rarely are the best at solving problems; to stay sane and be at your mental best, you need a distraction.  I had an example of this recently; oftentimes my car hobby provides a mental break from my sales coaching.  This time it worked in reverse.  I was fixing the power window mechanism on my ’96 Chevy Impala SS (this is a common problem on these cars), and I had an intractable problem.  To make a long story short, I needed to get a clamp aligned on the window track but the access panels didn’t allow me to align – so I was stumped and not a little frustrated.

I walked away to work on a work issue, not thinking about the problem.  I started working on a document for a customer – and 10 minutes later, I knew exactly how I needed to modify the clamp so that it would work properly.  The next night, a little welding, and I had exactly the right tool I needed, and the window was fixed.  I know that, had I just kept trying to power through the problem on the car, it would still be disassembled.  With that in mind, here’s Troy’s Process For Solving Tough Problems:

  1. Have a distraction.  You can’t make a mental escape if you have nothing to escape TO.  Your distraction doesn’t need to be anything specific; it just needs to be yours.  It should be something that resonates with you and that you can mentally absorb yourself in.  Without that absorption, you won’t get the mental escape you need.

  2. When the solution comes to you, let it come.  What I mean about that is this:  When your mind turns back to the problem that you were struggling with, there’s a temptation to completely flip back to that problem as soon as the germ of a solution appears.  Don’t do that.  The solution will come to you at its own pace; let it do so.  The unconscious is a wonderful thing.

  3. Don’t feel you have to immediately jump back onto the problem, unless you are on a deadline.  It’s tempting, particularly with work problems, to immediately drop your distraction and go back to solving the problem.  This might be a mistake; your subconscious will continue to turn the problem over and over and refine the solution.  In the case I’m referring to, I was tempted to quit working on the document and immediately begin modifying the clamp, but I didn’t.  That was a good thing, because by the time I was done with the document, I had a refinement that made the job 100% easier than it would have been.

This approach works for me.  In fact, it’s worked for me for decades, and for many other people I have worked with.  The unusual part about this instance was that, normally, my cars solve work problems, and not the other way around.

The point is that, sometimes, trying to power through a solution to a tough problem only makes the problem worse.  This is true in sales, management, general business, and in life.