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Home » Confidence Building, Decision Making, Featured, Happiness, Headline, Managing Emotions, Motivation, Problem Solving, Self Esteem

The Idea System: A Simple and Easy Approach to Creative Problem Solving

Submitted by on November 19, 2013 – 11:05 pmNo Comment

IdeasimagesArticle #594

Author: J. T. Cane

Everyone has problems, struggles, difficulties and obstacles in life. There are ‘givens’ so to speak; traffic jams, waiting in long lines, conflicts at work, school, parents, relationships, friends, etc. The list goes on and on. Some problems can be dealt with directly and easily. For example, if you are in a traffic jam you can listen to your favorite CD, book, radio program or song station to take your mind off the situation. If you are having a conflict or difference of opinion with someone, you can set aside some time to possibly sit down and have a heart to heart talk with the person.

Now of course these are simple answers to relatively simple problems. When bigger decisions need to be made regarding more complex problems which may have a greater long term impact, we sometimes have a tendency to put these decisions off or just hope that the problem will go away on its own. Our gut usually tells us if taking no action is a good idea…or if the situation is going to get worse.

The sad part about putting off solving a problem is even though on the surface we tell ourselves “It’ll be fine”, our subconscious knows the true story. When the true story is the opposite of “It’ll be fine”, that’s when we start to experience unneeded additional stress in our lives. ‘Stress’ is one thing, ‘Stress we can do something about, but don’t’ is another.

Why we need to do something about problems

The more we avoid difficulties the less capable we become in dealing with future difficulties and hardships that come our way (contributing to low self-esteem). Unfortunately this personal approach to not taking care of problems can get worse. The more we avoid resolving issues that bug us, the more we might start to feel weak or helpless inside (our sense of inner control) and therefore more avoidance may result in the future. Sometimes people that complain a lot about certain conditions and not doing anything about it, are really demonstrating their inability to take action and as a result reinforce self-doubt (and low self-esteem/ confidence). It can become a vicious cycle. Think about it. Know anyone that has a pattern of complaining more than doing something about what’s bugging them? Do they procrastinate about getting things done and often make excuses? Time is time. You can spend time complaining; this allows a person to avoid using the time doing. To sum up, the less we do, we won’t do, the more we do, we will do. Newton’s Law of “A body in motion tends to stay in motion” applies here.

When we handle stressors, we take control of our thoughts and therefore our emotions. When we do something about a given situation, we exercise our sense of inner control. The foundation and starting point to self confidence is good self esteem or believing we have self worth or value; believing in yourself and ability to respond (responsibility) to life’s challenges.

The key to being ready to take on challenges and making it a habit is in the doing. Being capable (the capacity and ability) to take on problems can be analogous to lifting weights. If you lift light weights when you are training, that’s all you will be able to lift in the future. Or worse yet, if you say you are going to go workout and never do, when someone throws you a weight (a challenge or problem) chances are you’ll avoid (excuses) or drop it because it’s too heavy for you…you didn’t do the training for it.

A long time ago I learned the concept of, I can. It’s not rocket science. I think I may have learned some of the I can in my early teen years, but it became solidified when I went into the Air Force at age eighteen. Everyone has the concept of I can within them, because I can is the universal ability to grow…it’s automatically in us upon conception; it’s the same power which allows the stars to shine and the billions of galaxies to exist.  I can is about individual, unique potential and possibility, without comparison to another. When I was in the Air Force I thought the Drill Instructors made all of us do some pretty stupid and tedious things (of course I did, I was eighteen). Little did I know that the means led to a practical and very usable end. Upon completion of Basic Training, I felt like nothing could stand in my way of getting done what I needed to get done. It wasn’t anything magical, it was the repetition of doing, doing, doing things I don’t think I would have made the effort to do before going to Basic Training; the action of doing allowed me to strengthen and expand my belief in myself; more confidence, more self-worth.

‘Motivation’ means a reason to take action. Our belief in ourselves, comes from knowing why (the reason) each of us is here and then take action to live the reason in a fulfilling life (a future article). But to jump-start our understanding that we are capable of taking action we must start exercising the doing even with the simplest of challenges (as mentioned above, e.g. Air Force). After we get into the habit of facing and taking on challenges, we will be more willing to be courageous in expressing who we truly are and meant to be in this life– our purpose for being here. The simple answer is we have to build the muscle of confidence first to use it in a variety of ways. One other note worth mentioning is being aware of what confidence feels like. I am guessing that there is a good possibility that you brush your teeth from time to time. Have you ever brushed your teeth and not thought about it? Sure, all of us have. That’s what confidence feels like; it’s a ‘knowing’. There is no second guessing, or “kind of”, “sort of” doubt in doing it. Since you have done (the repetition of doing) it so many times, you don’t have to think about doing it. Your subconscious takes care of that on auto-pilot because of the neural pathways it has laid down over time. You have created a template so to speak which takes care of what needs to get done automatically. So the repetition of doing over time is what strengthens our confidence.

So on with the Exercise

The main objective of this exercise is to jump-start your problem solving ability. The nice thing about it is, it’s easy! It is the easiest problem solving exercise I have ever come across. This exercise is a great starting point for anyone who isn’t use to regular problem solving as well as for anyone who has used other techniques.

Something worth repeating is, stress you can do something about, but don’t is not good for us. Besides not making us feel very good– headache, stomach ache, acne, overeating, over-drinking, drugs, wastefully using time worrying, etc. there is plenty of research that supports the ill effects stress has on our health in the long run. Let this be your motivation to being healthier. So let’s see if we can get rid of some stress while solving problems in the process!

To make things more adaptable from our example of lifting weights, we will replace the word “problem” with “challenge”. It is also important to keep in mind your use of words when thinking about what needs to change (your problem). A “challenge” is really just a test or trial and infers the possibility and potential for change to occur.

As mentioned, this exercise is virtually effortless yet very effective.

First a little background why:

  • You acknowledge the challenge which gives you a sense of control back.
  • You don’t have to force yourself to stress about solving your challenge.
  • You solve your challenge at your leisure.
  • You take all the time you need to come to solutions.
  • You don’t have to be in a particular place to solve the challenge.
  • Your stress is gone, because you are doing something about your challenge, and becoming stronger in the process.

The wonderful part about this challenge solving approach is you use the most effective resources of your brain in the process. Many people don’t know that our subconscious is a lot smarter than we give credit. An example of this in the area of challenge solving would be when we forget a person’s name. We may spend a considerable amount of time trying to remember, yet the name just can’t seem to be found. We give up and get on with our day. Suddenly some time later on when we are relaxing, exercising, taking a shower/ bath it just “pops” into our head. Where did it come from, how did that happen?

What stress does to neural pathways

In layman’s terms, stress causes our neural pathways to narrow, meaning that neurons (thoughts) have less an ability to travel through the neural pathways. This would be likened to stepping on a garden hose when water is traveling through it. We lessen the flow of the water. When we are stressed (not the good kind), we have a hard time what I like to call, ‘connecting the dots’; we are not only narrowing the neural pathways, we are also narrowing our chances to think clearly. If you have ever gone blank while taking a test, you have had this experience.

What relaxation does to neural pathways

This brings us back to our example of why we remember things when it seems we are not trying to anymore– the (above) forgotten name popping into our head. How did that happen? When we are relaxed our neural pathways do something really amazing– they widen and can access more areas of the brain (the water in the hose flows freely). Have you ever come up with a “brilliant” idea and are amazed you thought of it? Wondering how the heck you did it? Chances are you weren’t trying to think and your brain creatively accessed some stored resources in your subconscious. This is where we need to give more credit to our subconscious. Our subconscious is continually working in our favor, it takes care of us– to survive. Think for a moment all the things we are capable of doing without thinking about it; breathing, blinking our eyes, standing, sitting, talking, writing etc. All of these are stored for use and on auto-pilot through a very well established learned and mapped template.

Exercise: The Idea System

Step 1

Find yourself a shoe box or something similar in size and cut a slot in the top of it big enough to slide a folded piece of paper inside. With a marker, write in big letters on all sides of the box the word ‘SOLUTION TO (FILL IN THE BLANK)’.

Step 2

Take a half sheet of notebook paper or something similar in size. Print in marker on the piece of paper in relatively large capitalized letters your challenge (problem) you would like to solve in the form of a question. For example, “How can I make more money?” or “”What are some ways to relieve my stress?” or “Where is a good place to go on vacation?”. The questions are virtually limitless. The reason for this is, our brain responds to questions like radar looking for something. Be clear and precise in what you need to solve your challenge, yet keep it simple.

Step 3

After you have written down your question, stare at it for a full minute, open the box, lay it face up, and close the box. Now for the fun part. Forget about it! What you did above was make something important for your brain to do something about. Your subconscious will remember the effort you put into this.

Step 4

In the course of the next 3-4 weeks at unexpected moments (usually when you are relaxed) pieces of information/ solutions are going to come to you regarding your challenge (remember your subconscious takes care of things that are important to you). The key here is to write down anything and everything even if you don’t know exactly how you are going to implement what you have thought of. This also means don’t put off writing it down, thinking you will remember later on. There are greater chances you won’t. Write it down on what ever is available– a piece of paper, napkin, corner of a bag, cardboard, toilet paper, etc. Nowadays you can text it to yourself, voice record it into your phone or email it, and then write it down later (this is very important) and put it in the box. Sometimes the answers can be big and significant. Sometimes they can be pieces of the puzzle you need for your solution. This is a form of free style brainstorming. Do not judge your ideas. Encourage crazy ideas. Also if this is a solution you can share with others, do it. The more information the better. It is very important that you physically write it down and put it in your ‘SOLUTIONS’ box.

Step 5

At the end of the 3-4 weeks (when you feel you have done enough) open the box and be amazed at how brilliant you are for coming up with such a variety of solutions, and solutions that can work with other ideas in the box.


This exercise:

  • Gives you your sense of control back by taking action to solve your “problem”
  • Strengthens your self esteem and confidence so you are willing to take on challenges in the future
  • Reduces fear of failure

Remember, all problems have a solution. Just because you don’t see the solution, it doesn’t mean it’s not there…it is. If you think of “problems” as just a challenge it can be understood that the situation or condition is only temporary. Also, sometimes if you take the seriousness off the “problem” and joke around a bit, it gives your brain more room to creatively find solutions.

Good luck!

About the Author

For over 15 years, John Cane has helped over 100,000 individuals  in areas of Self Improvement. John is a motivational speaker and writer who develops and implements confidence and self-esteem workshops in North Carolina, South Carolina, and New York. With a background in Psychology, he has six certifications in Personal Growth and Development.  His Journal Books, ‘Important Things I Remember from My Parents’ are used in schools and as an aid for adults in gaining strength in self identity in the United States and Europe.

John Cane, owner and webmaster of Self Help Guides is pursuing his Graduate Degree through the School of Existential, Humanistic, and Transpersonal Psychology at Saybrook University, San Francisco, California.

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