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Motivation

How to Find Three Solutions to Any Problem You Encounter

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How to Find Three Solutions to Any Problem You Encounter

Investors ask startup founders during a pitch: What problem are you trying to solve?

Consumers these days subconsciously or directly want to know: How can you solve a problem I have?

A boss or colleagues come to you with a question: What is the solution to this problem?

It seems our modern lives are characterized by problems! Pain points all around! But consider this: problems keep people busy. If you’re trying to be productive, you hit a curve. If you’re pursuing meaning, you encounter adversity. And amidst all this, your ability to solve problems is called forth and tested.

How about you include in your design the very idea that you’re a problem solver?

Sounds like a good problem, right? Let’s make this notion a bit concrete by looking at some principles and steps to becoming a problem solver.

Define the Problem

Kumail Nanjiani recently appeared on the Ellen Show, and in this clip he talked about how he was angry all day, yelling at people, honking, etc. And then he had a glass of water and realized he was just thirsty. Dehydration was the problem.

It’s a funny bit. But it also introduces the first principle/step neatly. (Thank you, Kumail.) 

Define the problem. Spend time on it. Understand the dimensions of the problem. Get to its root cause.

To do this, employ the 5 Whys Technique. Developed by Sakichi Toyoda, whose son created car-maker brand Toyota, this method requires you to ask why 5 times to uncover a problem with multiple root causes. Or simply to arrive at the right question or problem. The fifth iteration is anecdotally observed to be enough in exploring cause-and-effect relationships. But you can go as high as sixth, seventh, eighth, and so on.

How to Find Three Solutions to Any Problem You Encounter

Credit: Buffer

Another handy tool is related to the Socratic Method. Wait, you’ve heard this one before. I’m referring to inductive reasoning. This kind of reasoning starts with a conclusion you want to prove to be true. 

Here’s how it can be applied. In charge of tourism efforts in your area, you conduct a focus group discussion on how to improve. You find out that a lack of transportation options is preventing people from exploring your sights. So you recommend close coordination with neighboring local areas to set up a point-to-point transport system.

In inductive reasoning, the premises seek to supply proof of the truth of a conclusion. You cannot, however, arrive logically at the certainty of the conclusion. By this approach, you can only obtain the probable cause of the problem. To better understand how it works, watch this Crash Course video on the subject:

Solo-Brainstorm 3 (or More) Solutions

You’ve reached the key step. This is important. A friend shared this with me, and it changed my perspective. If you’re given a problem or found one on your own, identify 3 solutions. I don’t mean, call a meeting and let people throw ideas. I mean, sit down, unleash your creativity, and come up with your ideas. It’s good exercise for your brain.

But there are also two reasons I’m encouraging you to go on an express solo-brainstorming session.

First, people’s creativity is unleashed when they’re asked to generate ideas privately. You read that right. Generating ideas is an individual task. You don’t need the company’s collective mind to birth ideas. Instead, teamwork is required when initial ideas have been gathered and sorted.  That is when you need more heads to build on ideas with the highest potential.

Second, and this is for the greater good, it’s more productive to present solutions instead of problems. Absorb that statement. Perhaps recall how someone—a colleague or a friend—approached you with a laundry list of problems. And that person kept ranting the whole time. While it’s also cool to ask if they want to brainstorm solutions with you, you’d probably have liked it better if they consulted you with solutions instead.

It’s like, “Hey, boss/friend/partner/parent, what do you think of these solutions to our/your/my problem?” Wouldn’t that be a good use of everyone’s time? And let’s admit, listening to rants can be draining.

How to Find Three Solutions to Any Problem You Encounter

Share Your Hypotheses With Others

So, you have defined the problem and identified possible solutions. It’s time to see if your ideas hold water. This is the part where the teamwork comes in (from the earlier example). But if you’re working on a personal problem, inviting fresh eyes is just as necessary.

If you have a framework that you want everyone to use, share it with them, too. The 80/20 method is useful at this stage. Instead of proving or disproving the validity of each hypothesis, you can determine the most meaningful ones. Which among the proposed solutions will create the greatest impact? This is a good starting ground, especially if you’re working as a unit and potential solutions abound.

Check out the image below for one way to approach this phase:


Credit: IBM

As you can see above, you’re now encouraged to validate your hypotheses. In fact, if you can test your biggest assumptions more quickly, the better. 

The example IBM gave relates to creating prototypes. But you can also try to apply that in your personal life. For instance, you can test your assumptions right away, such as in considering a more sustainable lifestyle. Just figure out how to do it without spending too much or wasting resources. Otherwise, it will kind of miss the point.

Analyze the Best Solution

Now, you may have reached the end stage of your problem-solving journey. At least for that one problem you’re working on. (There will be more to come. You know this.) 

You might be thinking: What end stage? Didn’t you already apply the best solution in the previous step? Perhaps the proper term for this phase is post-mortem. That has nothing to do with anyone dying. But it has everything to do with the solution you just executed. 

You should now evaluate if it was able to solve the problem. Are there aspects of the execution that you didn’t expect? What did you correctly predict? If it didn’t solve the problem, are you back at square one? Or can you move forward by integrating another hypothesis?

That’s a lot of questions! The questions never stop! I feel you. But it’s important to continue the process as long as your problem isn’t solved. But if you got it the first time, good for you. Now it’s time to solve another. What do you say about that, genius?

How to Find Three Solutions to Any Problem You Encounter

Bonus: Take Credit For What You Did

There’s a part of us that wants to share the glory with other people. Here’s an example. You’re interviewing for your dream job. The interviewer asks you to tell him or her about a time you solved a problem. Most people are hesitant to share their “most triumphant stories,” says HR expert Liz Ryan. They have to understand the person asking already knows you were working on it with a team.

“Just tell your problem-solving story and be proud of yourself for jumping in to make a positive impact way back when,” adds Ryan.

Two things to glean from this.

First, do not disqualify yourself from the job. You are a problem solver. So own your problem-solving stories. That doesn’t automatically mean you’re hogging the spotlight or discrediting your collaborators. Chances are you have solved a problem before, on your own or with others. How did you approach the situation? Is there something you can do to replicate what you did or revise it for future use?

Those questions lead us to the second point. And that is to keep refining your approach. Different problems require different approaches. Even one problem can be solved by looking at it from different angles. So, grow the confidence in your ability by trying out new things. Don’t rest on your laurels. You’re just as good as the last problem you solved.

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Motivation

Why Most People Give Up Just Before They See Results

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give up

When I was six years old, I remember giving up half-way on a math problem. I don’t recall who it was, probably a grade-school teacher who then told me a story of a man who needed to swim across a lake. The lake was 2 miles. He swam halfway and then got really tired and decided it wasn’t worth the effort. He turned around and swam back. 

I was aghast. “But he swam 2 miles either way! He could’ve just continued swimming forward and would’ve reached with the same effort!” It seemed like a pointless exercise and didn’t teach me much about giving up. When I think about it now, it’s not so surprising. We always tend to overestimate the journey ahead. 

We want tangible results

The moment we start a new project or skill, we expect results to follow soon. Most people don’t have an idea of what kind of results they want: just that it should be noticeable and experienced. 

If you recently started learning a new language, your idea of seeing results might be to speak fluently. That’s an undefined goal, and it’s difficult to say when that could happen. It could be a few months or a couple of years. But you’ll likely get frustrated before that happens. You’ll wonder why you’re working so hard but not seeing the results you want.

On the other hand, if your idea of seeing results would be to identify all alphabets correctly and pronounce two-syllable words, that’s a more realistic and well-defined result,, and you could accomplish it in six weeks with regular classes. 

Ensuring that your idea of ‘results’ is well-defined can help you identify the progress you’re making, however slow or little it is. 

The Plateau of Latent Potential 

A theory by James Clear (author of Atomic Habits) explains why progress is never linear. You’re making progress every single day, but you don’t always see these results. 

Just because you aren’t seeing results doesn’t mean they aren’t there. They are being stored in your potential. James Clear likens it to heating an ice cube from twenty-five to thirty-one degrees. An ice cube melts at thirty two degrees, but just because the visible result happens between thirty one and thirty two, doesn’t mean the heating that happened before isn’t just as important. 

This is especially true for fitness. Those who make drastic lifestyle changes often notice visible physical differences or increase in strength only weeks after committing to exercise. In those first few weeks where the body is making improvements too minute to be noticed, people often get discouraged, thinking that it’s not working.

Those that do stick at it, however, suddenly show results! To the people around them, it seems like an overnight success. Everyone acknowledges your results, only noticing your ‘thirty one to thirty two degrees’ without knowing the effort you’ve put in. 

Remember that the ‘Valley of Disappointment’, as James Clear calls it, is for a very short duration before you see the progress that you’ve been working so hard to get. We often have arbitrary expectations from ourselves: if we’ve been working hard we ‘should’ be seeing some kind of improvement! 

Having faith in yourself and re-evaluating your motives for getting the results you want can help fuel your motivation as you plow through the first few weeks (or months!). Before you decide something isn’t your cup of tea, make sure you’ve given yourself a fair chance. You’ve put in a lot of effort already. Your ‘thirty two degrees’ might be closer than you think.

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the blow that did it — but all that had gone before.” Jacob Ruiz

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Motivation

Why Some People are More Motivated than Others

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An Experiment

In 1998, Psychologists Claudia M. Mueller and Carol S. Dweck from Columbia University conducted a study on more than 400 students from the fifth grade. 

They made two groups of children and gave them a series of puzzles to solve. In the beginning, they gave them easy puzzles where almost all the children performed well. They then congratulated the children in group A, telling them that they performed well because they were smart and gifted

They also congratulated the children in group B, but this time told them that the reason for their good performance was that they put in a lot of effort and hard work. 

After telling the children this, they gave them another series of tests: puzzles that were more difficult than the first time. 

What they noticed was that the children in Group A got discouraged easily. After trying for some time, they gave up solving the puzzles. When asked about their experience, they said they didn’t enjoy solving the puzzles much.

The children in Group B spent more time trying to solve these difficult puzzles. These children also said that they had fun doing the exercise! They had higher levels of motivation and self-satisfaction even when faced with a challenge.  

Since the puzzles were difficult this time, the children in both groups were told the truth that they failed in some of the puzzles and then asked why. 

The children in Group A thought that the reason for their failure was that they just weren’t smart enough. They felt disheartened and were found to be performance-oriented. A few failures and set-backs were enough to make them question their abilities and lose hope. 

On the other hand, the children in Group B felt the reason for their failure was that they didn’t try hard enough. They were determined to try again and use a different approach or method to solve the puzzles. These children were process-oriented and didn’t seem to care too much about whether they succeeded or failed, and gave more value to the entire learning experience. 

What We Can Learn from It

The children in Group A had such low levels of motivation and self-belief because they thought they couldn’t control the situation. They thought they succeeded in the first puzzle because of being born with brains, but also failed in the second puzzle due to those brains not being good enough. 

Telling someone that they’re talented or gifted may sound like a compliment, but it is really saying that the person was just born with it, instead of giving them credit for their efforts! 

Since the Group A kids weren’t given true credit in the first experiment, they thought they had no control over their intelligence. Research also indicates that when children are constantly told that they’re gifted, they’re more concerned with justifying that label: “Am I really gifted and as smart as they say I am? If it’s true, why did I fail the test? Maybe I’m not smart.” They begin to doubt themselves. 

How does this apply to adults?

When we stop giving ourselves real credit for our achievements, it backfires and makes us much less motivated to accomplish more things in the future.

If you did really well on a presentation last week and told yourself, “I really did get lucky! It was an easy topic.”, then the moment you’re struggling with the next presentation, you’ll think that the only thing that’s changed is that this time your luck has run out! 

On the other hand, if you recognized your own efforts: “I stayed up all night last night and worked really hard on this presentation. I’m so glad I did well.” Then next time you’re struggling, you’re going to remind yourself that hard work pays off well (just like it did last week!). 

This is why the levels of motivation are higher in people who take credit for both their successes and their failures. Thinking that you succeeded because of forces beyond your control will give you a handy excuse for whenever failure comes around. 

Just like the kids in Group A and Group B, successes and failures happen to all of us. We have easy challenges and then more tricky ones. The point is not how well you perform, but how much you enjoy a challenge, and how motivated you remain throughout the learning process

So next time you succeed: take credit. And when you fail, do the same thing! You’ll be more motivated to keep trying, and have fun doing it.

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Motivation

Why it is Hard to Stay Motivated

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Change is the only constant.

How many times have we heard this in our lives? 

Do you realize this is not merely a saying but an experience every individual goes through multiple times during his entire life?

None of us know what the next second has in store for us. Right now you may be elated and you might find yourself in complete folds the next hour.

Relatable?

Well, these are the times when you need to chomp in a well-prepared meal.

No no, not your regular food, this meal has special ingredients which when cooked together, give you the dish called ‘motivation’.

It is extremely important to sense when our morale starts losing for if not paid attention to, it can turn into a habit and you might find yourself quite comfortable.

To be able to pull yourself out of lethargy, an understanding of what motivation actually is should be taken into consideration.

When defined, motivation is the power that activates the engine of success and moves you to act. It is not some external drive but comes from within and is very much related to your ambitions and desires in life.

Keep reminding yourself that this is a recurring process, you’ll have to be your own source of encouragement every day, sometimes even more than once a day.

Easier said than done right?

 I am aware.

However, a strong and logical mind is sure to overrule your emotions. After all, you are not your mind but much beyond that.

To be content and motive-driven, you need to have clarity. Like I mentioned above, a strong mind has control over your emotions and will help you keep track of your visions and goals. It is usually easy to get distracted by external factors but if you are sure enough of what you want ahead, nothing can come in your way.

Let’s see some things that you could do when you feel like there’s not much productivity flowing out :

  • The foremost thing is to stop and take deep breaths. A calm and relaxed mind is capable of viewing different point of views of the same situation. A moment of panic is sure to push you away and impact your ability to work.
  • After you find yourself quiet, drink two sips of water to give fuel to the brain.
  • Now, look closely at what you have in hand. An assignment to finish before the deadline? An examination to prepare for, due the day after? A project you just stepped into? Well, the list obviously is endless.
  • Having the work outline made, sit and divide it into smaller tasks, hence now you have shorter goals which are comparatively easier to achieve.
  • When a 4-5 hour project is broken down into sets of half an hour each, after the completion of every 0.5 hours there will be a sense of contentment and pride. The satisfaction thus attained will be far greater than anything else.

Now, this was just a little glimpse of what can be done or something that I usually adhere to. However, is this the only standard procedure? 

No.

Every individual is different and has his own psychological being. For some, a pep-talk would do wonders while for others just a 10-15 minute alone time is enough to get back to normal.

Therefore, don’t try to follow any steps mechanically. See various things, read about various things, and in the end, come up with different permutations and combinations that suit the best for you.

Enough of how to get motivated and why to get motivated. Let’s step into the deeper issue – ‘Not being able to work and to not be productive does not mean I am any less serious about my career. I am not making excuses just so that I can get off of responsibilities easily. Why does no one believe when I say this?’

The thoughts that we ponder over every time we are hit by a wave of disinterest. The problem is not anybody not believing you, the setback is of how society isn’t accepting of low workload times.

The pressure of watching every other person excel and hear stories of how people work 36 hours a day, has made this the notion of how one should approach his professional background.

The fear of not being able to report in time and the stress of being a few steps behind others always is daunting our subconsciousness. It’s high time we as individuals accept that this is what it is and it’s completely okay to be not okay somedays.

Embracing your own shortcomings will give you the courage to stand by yourself and fall back into action with double the motivation and power.

You know that these aren’t mere excuses, you know your mindset at that point in time and you know that you will give anything and everything to not be in this position and this is all that matters.

A sense of belief and confidence will automatically provide a boost and you’ll see yourself springing into ideas and creative techniques to give shape to the same project.

Hence, two things are the highlight of your gloomy days – One, that targets smaller goals to reach the bigger goal in less time and with less stress. Two, to accept and face the fact that you will have no willpower one day and it’s okay but at the same time knowing that you have to get back on your feet the next day.

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