Problem Solving

Terence Eden writes on problem solving: Reductive Thinking and the Unfairness of Spotify Payments How do you solve a complex problem? Render it to the simplest version, the physicist and their spherical objects, and solve their problems, then iterate with the next more difficult version. How many people fit on a subway car? Fill the car with imaginary 50kg spheres, then capsules, then vary the mass of the capsules to get a more realistic number.

Sometimes this works in our personal lives and sometimes not so much. I’m often too close to my own problems or those of my friends and family. Sometimes, I’m far enough to others’ problems to see a possible solution but see no way to gracefully introduce it because they are too close to the problem.

The obvious is hidden if we are standing on top of it.

My parents live in a dry and dusty area - not the driest, not the dustiest. They have a humidifier attached to the furnace and still sometimes complain of the dry air. When I visit, I see the dust. I know they hate to vacuum. Who doesn’t? It’s tedious and never-ending; we make expensive robots for those who can afford to not vacuum. Don’t get me wrong, the house isn’t “dirty” but it isn’t hospital-clean.

If they dusted and vacuumed weekly, instead of spot cleaning and a monthly regimen, I think their coughs and dry skin from the “dry air” would improve. They have difficulty seeing this problem and solution because their house is cleaner than some and they are used to it.

My therapist tries to get me to realize that the story I tell about myself is not the one others tell and that I treat others differently than myself. Much of my self-talk would be…improper, socially, to say to another person. Not the “get fucked!” thought directed at the distracted driver who almost hit me in the crosswalk, but the doom and gloom, the despairing, the hyper-critical thoughts. “The kitchen table is still covered in crap.” “You didn’t make a list and forgot the most important thing at the store.” “Why would anyone ever visit me?”

The simplest version to try and solve for this problem is the imaginary other: “Would you say that to a person you just met?” “A child?”. The iteration is then to co-workers and neighbors, then friends and family, then yourself. The practice is then to say to the self what you would say the other: start with the stranger and work towards your friends. What would you say to someone at the grocery store or on the bus? To your best friend? Say it to yourself, frame the comment or question that way.