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The Tinkered Mind
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May 15th, 2020
A fairly intelligent person once pointed out that “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”*
Sure sounds smart, and it seems to plug into the infamous marketing slogan from Apple,
Both seem obviously smart, a no brainer. But how exactly do we make the shift? How do we crack the old mold of thinking and stretch out into new territory? Valid questions, but more importantly, what is the next step after such a question? Do we jump from such a question straight to an answer, or do we need to a few more questions, like stepping stones in thinking, to leap away from the old and into the new?
If we have dug ourselves into a hole, the answer is not to keep digging down, and digging up is nonsensical. But its exactly the sort of direction we need to go. If the only direction for our effort is bound to make things worse, how is it possible to make progress in the opposite direction?
In such a case, we are still not asking the right question. The cognitive leap requires zooming out a little on the options available. What about this question: Are their any other directions available than just down and up?
Such a question expands the mind. Our perspective zooms out, and this is where the old mold cracks. Digging your own hole, the action of it, whether it be a real hole in the ground, or a dead end habit of binging tv, or bad nutritional choices, or calling up that same toxic person during weak moments. In each, the decision always seems binary: should I do it or not? This is like being stuck in that hole. It’s akin to asking: should I dig or not?
When framed in this way, there doesn’t seem like much of a choice. We are active living, restless, beings that want to make progress. Given a choice between something and nothing, we’ll end up choosing that something, even if it’s ultimately bad. The key is to wonder if there are more choices. Is my only option to keep digging down?
As with many things, the answer is orthogonal. We must not go forward or backward, we have to think laterally. We need to ask if it’s possible to make progress going sideways.
If you’re stuck in the bottom of a hole, you can dig sideways and carve a spiral staircase into the round wall of the hole you find yourself in.
Say for instance a person has decided to give up smoking. The choice at first is binary: to smoke or not to smoke. This is a terrible game, and for most people, it will wear down on the psychology until the only choice that is actually an action (aka smoking) will win. But if additional options are added, something somewhat magical can happen. If the choice expands to include going for a run, then the choice is do nothing, smoke, or go for a run. That third option allows us to be proactive. To move sideways and shift out of the old model of thinking.
Forming the right question is merely a way of reframing the perspective of the situation. This is how questions can be so powerful and why it’s worth thinking about how we construct them and iterate them. If a situation can be reframed correctly, suddenly a way out illuminates like an obvious path. And when we find ourselves finally headed in the right direction, we wonder how we could have been so blind.