Solving Stubborn Problems

complex puzzle

Whenever a particularly complicated and stubborn problem arises, it can be easy to get frustrated or feel disappointed by your inability to solve it quickly.

But it's important to remind yourself that you haven't failed to solve it—you just haven't solved it yet. You only fail when you give up and accept it as reality.

That being said, the answer isn't always simply to work harder. If you're trying to milk a cow but just can't for the life of you seem to get any milk, the answer isn't always to simply pull harder. It might be the case that you're pulling the wrong thing—after all, no matter how hard you pull on a cow's ears, it won't give you any milk. Or perhaps you are pulling on the right thing, but are pulling in the wrong way. Or on the wrong cow. Or even at the wrong time of day.

Instead of working harder and harder until you throw your hands up in frustration and walk away, here are a few skillful ways to approach a stubborn problem.

  1. Take a step back and re-examine the outcome you are trying to achieve. Begin again, but this time keep the "end" in mind.
  2. Change your scenery or setting. Take a stroll outside. If you were standing, walk into another room and sit. If you were sitting, walk into another room and stand! Or simply close your eyes for a minute.
  3. Get someone else's perspective on the problem. Preferably someone with no previous context or investment into this issue, so they can come with fresh eyes.

Stubborn problems require flexible states of mind. When the problem seems unmovable, you must be agile and light.

When it refuses to change, you must experiment and change around it.

When it looms like a mountain, you must be the wind—persistent, probing, sustainably relentless. Coming from all directions at a variety of speeds and strengths, until the cracks begin to show.

The prizes of life are usually at the end of each journey, not near the beginning; and it is not given to us to know how many steps are necessary in order to reach our goals. We may still encounter failure at the thousandth step, while success hides just behind the next bend in the road. We'll never know how close it is until we turn the corner.