How Does Your Attitude Affect Your Ability to Solve Problems?

· October 28, 2016

Sometimes even the simplest of problems can turn into a huge ordeal. This can happen because you’ve had a bad day, although having difficulty solving a problem is often due to your own mental attitude towards the problem.

Applying solutions that have worked in the past to problems that have similar characteristics is a smart thing to do. But insisting on using that strategy once you’ve already found that it doesn’t work with a particular problem is a very negative attitude to have, and it will prevent you from solving the problem. It’s more intelligent to use this type of strategy as a first option and then eliminate it and look for others.

How does your mental attitude affect your ability to solve problems?

A good attitude will save you a lot of time when it comes to solving problems. The first step towards taking this constructive approach involves using active coping strategies rather than avoiding, running away from, or trying to ignore the problem. In certain phases of a problem, it’s true that the best thing to do is to wait, if the next step doesn’t depend on you and there’s no point in trying to force anything. But the steps that involve waiting usually aren’t the first ones.

woman thinking

The second step involved in having a good attitude is the decision to be proactive, assume the responsibility, and find a solution, whether it’s to make the problem disappear, or to have patience and put yourself in a different mindset so that the problem affects you as little as possible.

The third step involves making a plan of action, a road map that will free up as many resources as possible to face the specific phase of the plan. This will free you from the stress involved in trying to take it all on at once, as if you were trying to eat an apple by shoving the whole thing in your mouth.

Your mental attitude can be useful

The mental attitude that pushes you to repeat past successful strategies can be very useful. By using strategies that have worked before, you can often arrive at the correct solution quickly. This can save time, but it can also create more problems.

In your daily life, your mental attitude can cause a relatively simple solution to become really complicated. But the opposite can also happen; making an important decision can also become complicated if you can’t open your mind to new points of view.

On a larger scale, mental attitude can prevent the discovery of important things due to a lack of flexibility in focusing on the problem. It can also lead to making the wrong decision due to not valuing alternative approaches.

Functional fixation

Functional fixation is a type of mental attitude that involves only being able to see the solution that involves the normal or expected use of the object. It’s a type of cognitive bias that can hinder your capacity to think of new solutions.

two people thinking

Functional fixation often prevents you from thinking of alternative solutions to problems by using different objects for different uses. This isn’t bad in and of itself, but it can be limiting, as it closes the door to many possibilities that could help you do things more easily or even resolve situations that aren’t as complicated as they seem.

One example of functional fixation is the famous candle problem, designed by psychologist Karl Duncker almost 70 years ago. The experiment consisted of giving the person various items and some instructions. The items were a box of thumbtacks, some matches, and a candle. The instructions said to attach the candle to the wall so that the wax doesn’t drip down. Afterwards, they measured the amount of time it took the subject to solve the problem.

Duncker found that the results changed when the exact same items were presented, but arranged in a different way. In one case, they put the thumbtacks inside the box, and in another they were separated. In general, people spent less time fulfilling the instructions in the second scenario, when the box of thumbtacks was empty.

This is because in the first case, it was assumed that the function of the box was to hold the thumbtacks, and it wasn’t seen as a part of the solution, as it had already been assigned a function. In the second case, when they received a thumbtack box with no thumbtacks inside, the box seemed like something that could be assigned a function.

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