The Secret to Problem Solving

Eureka! I just finished figuring out a perplexing problem with the current project that I am working on. In this case it happens to be state caching in the Ionic app I am building.

This is my first phone app and I am actually feeling pretty accomplished. In a little over a week I have a cross-platform app that has a login system, lets you take and upload photos(on iOS), and post listings that get saved to the firebase backend that I am using. Anyone can view all posts, but it also has a profile page that lets you view the things you have posted. The posts include a Facebook-like swipeable gallery that works like a charm.

After that long intro I will now get back to the title of this post. The Secret to Problem Solving.

The first time I can remember realizing this secret was quite a few years ago. I think was in middle school when I bought Legend of Zelda: Links Awakening. I quite enjoyed the Zelda games because of their mix of live action rpg along with the problem-solving dungeons. In fact, it is because of the dungeons that I am mentioning this at all. Why you ask? It’s because in one of those dungeons, I don’t remember which, I got stuck. I mean really stuck. I tried everything that I could think of to figure out how to get to the next part of the dungeon, but after retracing my steps over and over I didn’t know what to do. I got so frustrated, I’m pretty sure I spent several hours, that I finally decided to stop playing because there was no point anymore.

Other people probably would have just wandered around the rest of the giant map exploring all the other things that hadn’t been completed ye, but not me. I’m the type of person that likes to see what happens next. I knew that I couldn’t advance the story-line anymore without passing this dungeon and so I guess I gave up. I guess gave up is maybe a little final. I do remember that I didn’t play the game for quite a while. I may have moved on to other games for a week or so. However, I eventually decided to give it another try and do you know what happened? In about 10 minutes I breezed past the seemingly insurmountable obstacle and continued on with the game. And, well, I guess the rest is history as they say.

Did you catch what the secret was? Let me explain a little further.

Over the years this type of problem has cropped up over and over. I’m sure that it happens for everyone and is just the way life is. I have long since moved on to more important types of problems, like the programming one I just solved today.

This secret is simple. Just take a break. Set whatever problem you are stuck with to the side and do something else for a while. I have realized over and over again that every time I get stuck on something and get to the point that it is so frustrating that maybe I want to bang my head on the wall; I really just need to take a break. Almost without fail, when I come back to the issue later I am able to solve it in a relatively short amount of time.

I think it has something to do with how our brains work. Ok, I’m not a neuropsychologist (I looked that one up), so maybe it’s just how my brain works. Our brains are constantly processing data even when we are “thinking about nothing”. Many a time have I suddenly thought, “I just figured out how to solve that problem”, while doing some of the mundane everyday things. It’s similar to remembering someones name that you saw at a social function hours later after racking your brain for 10 minutes and coming up blank.  I think sometimes when we are working hard on a problem we can become over focused and get stuck in a sort of looped thought process. We keep trying the same thing and expecting a different result. The thing is, we don’t realize we are doing it. At least, not until we stop and move on to something different.

Sometimes we just need to take a break and change things up. That is the secret to problem solving.


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