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Letting Your Thoughts Marinate


It’s inevitable in life that we’ll run into problems; that we’ll come up against something that we don’t quite have the answer for. A question that doesn’t have an immediate answer. In the rush of our everyday lives it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that an answer or solution needs to be accompanied with speed. How many times have you been in a situation and misspoke or made a mistake and given someone the wrong answer and thought that if only you had more time you would have gotten it right or answered differently?

He who thinks little errs much… Leonardo da Vinci

This problem is something I think we all run into from time and time and unfortunately the more chaotic our lives are the more susceptible we are to the effects of thinking everything needs to be done right now. One has to look no further than the campaigns against texting while driving to see how bad this has gotten. We assume that everything is so important that we’re putting ourselves and those around us at risk over what is usually just a simple conversation that another 5 minutes isn’t going to hurt. Instead of always assuming a sense of urgency, what if we all took a pause and thought first about how important these decisions are and how fast we really need to react?

So how do we get there? How do we reframe the everyday of our lives to regain a proper sense of urgency and help us in making decisions?

Think through the problem at hand - are you even answering the right question?
One trap I think we run the risk of falling into is assuming the premise of the question or request someone has brought to us. Is their request even valid? Is it something that we should be responsible for even if it is possible for us to help? Often times framing the question ourselves can help us understand what it is we’re trying to answer and also identify if we’re even the best person for the request. Before going any further make sure you understand the problem at hand and why, or if, it’s a problem in the first place.

Ask as many questions and collect as much information as possible.
Do you fully understand the question and what it would take to come up with an answer? Why is this request coming to you? Collect as much information as you can think of instead of immediately trying to solve the problem yourself. Sometimes simply talking through an issue with someone instead of offering a solution will allow them to think through it as well and possibly come up with a solution themselves. If that doesn’t happen, just make sure you get as much information as you can.

Back away.
Here’s the hard part. Stop. Back away. Tell the person you need some time to think (or in some cases tell yourself that if it’s your own problem). Let your mind work on the problem in the background while you work on other things. It’s amazing what power our subconscious can wield if we just give it the opportunity. There really is something to the old adage of “sleeping on it”.

Decide and act.
Now that we’ve done all this thinking it’s time to do something with it. Having considered the options, thought through the information at hand, what’s the best option? Make sure to follow through on the things you’ve committed to and get them off your plate. That helps to not only make sure you’re making progress on tasks in your life but also opens up “mental space” for the other things you want/need to work on.

It still amazes me what a few extra minutes spent on a problem can do. Take a big financial decision for example. Do you react when the market reacts or do you step back first and analyze the situation? How about for a big purchase? The extra time, while seemingly stressful at first, could end up saving you money or helping to avoid a big mistake. So the next time you have a problem to solve or a question to answer how will you react? Will you focus on speed or on answering the question?

We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them. Albert Einstein

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