The bootlaces had a will of their own.
Each time I pulled my shoestrings, the bunny ears morphed into a gnarled, knotted snake that took an extra two minutes of picking and muted cussing to tame. You might call it a first world problem. But this was my personal hydra.
Then there was the unscalable rock wall I’d been attempting for a year. I’d get 12 feet above ground; but every time I hit the crux, I’d grope and paw for the next handhold till my Elvis-legs and cramped arms gave out, sending me plummeting to the sand below. Every flippin’ time.
And no matter how hungry I got or how much food I bought at the store, I never had a meal when I really needed it. I practically had to take out a second mortgage with the Thai tab I racked up each month.
The frustration of being unable to solve my most basic problems made me feel like I couldn’t solve any problem. And this was the state I found myself in before the longest business lull of my life. It lasted nearly a year.
My problem was dead simple: sales had slowed to a torpor
This made the solution as simple as trying new marketing avenues -- video, podcasts, etc. -- and shelling out a few bucks for paid advertising plus a little pro consulting. Five hundred bucks would have given me the clients I needed to not go prematurely gray from financial stress.
But this resolution, clear as it may’ve been to you or anyone else, was just as unclear to me as my shoelace problem...or my rock climbing crux...or my ever-gnawing stomach.
I had fallen entirely out of problem-solving mode.
For every niggling issue that went unresolved, there was a voice in the back of my head that told me I couldn’t save my business. And as long as I neglected the former, the latter proved to be true.
So when I tell you that learning how to untie my shoelaces helped me solve my long standing business problem -- don’t judge: you really don’t know about these shoelaces -- you know I’m telling the truth.
Learning how to untie my shoelaces
I wish I could tell you that I had a brilliant satori and made a strategy for handling all of my problems, small and large. That I did it right. But I didn’t do it right.
I only came back into problem solving after I exceeded my frustration threshold.
One day, after months of mentally screaming, “WTF is wrong with these shoelaces?!” my rage boiled over and I did something different, pulling apart both laces simultaneously (as opposed to pulling just one end, as is usually sufficient for any non-godforsaken shoelace). My three-month problem was solved in an instant.
That small victory put my problem-solving gears in motion.
The next day I was hitting up my usual rock climbing routes when I approached the unsolvable bouldering problem. But instead of looking at it as impossible, as I’d done the year before, I went through every potential handhold combo before I climbed, settled on the one that seemed logical, saw myself doing it beforehand and completed it on the first go. Voila! Didn’t even break a sweat.
The day after that I woke up hungry and immediately took a couple hours to meal-prep, which solved my food problem. I didn’t even have to think about it. Suddenly, the things that seemed impossible for an entire year were now nothing more than “duhs” because I had my problem-solving mindset back. Because I learned how to untie my shoelaces.
I fixed my sales problem that week.
How you can get your problem-solving attitude back by prioritizing your small problems
If you’ve been dealing with some long-standing problems and it’s taking a toll on your confidence and finances, recognize that it’s not just your major issues, here. It’s a pastiche of stupid little problems (SLPs), like crazy shoelaces, that have bumped you out of problem solving mode.
I hope your SLPs aren’t as dumb as mine, but that’s beside the point. They need to be solved if you want to get your problem-solving attitude back and fix the issues that actually matter.
Time to brainstorm
All you have to do is take an hour to yourself and brainstorm all of your SLPs -- the dumb, dumber and dumbest alike. Mentally walk yourself through a day and look for the stubbed toes, spilt coffees and all the other piddling nuisances that frustrate you but which you could easily solve if you made up your mind to. Then write down every one, no matter how dumb it seems.
Some people will find it difficult to instantly bring to mind all this minutiae. If that’s you, create a ‘SLPs’ note tab in your smartphone and start writing out these minor frustrations as they occur in a day.
Once you’ve gotten clarity on your SLPs -- make sure to write them out in a list -- the next step is to brainstorm resolutions for each. Devote a couple minutes to each issue and find the solutions -- they exist! Then handle them.
It’s that easy.
Solving these SLPs will train your brain to persist when you encounter a roadblock and not automatically give up. Even just a day of knocking out the stupid stuff and you’ll notice that your biggest issues in life start handling themselves. That’s what happens when you’re in problem solving mode.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors.