Arriving at the Answer


In his article, The Importance of Vacation, Jonah Lehrer wrote the following:

When we feel distant from our work — when it seems wonderfully far away — we are able to think about work in a new way.

By thinking about problems in a new way, we can arrive at solutions we'd otherwise miss.

Jonah points this out as a benefit of going on vacation. While going on vacation can tickle your creative process when it comes to problem solving, you don't actually have to leave to get all of the benefits. Just feeling distant from the work is enough to get you to approach a challenge from new angles.

Jonah cites an experiment, the effect of spatial distance on creative cognition, where a psychologist ran two groups through the same set of insight puzzles, but told one group that the puzzles originated in a far away land.

Surprisingly, the group that was told the puzzles came from far away performed better. Why would simply telling somebody that the problem came from far away affect their ability to solve the puzzles? Jonah explains:

The sense of distance allowed these subjects to consider a far wider range of alternatives, which made them more likely to solve the challenging brain teasers. ... Instead of getting stuck and giving up, they were able to persist until the right answer appeared.

This is a technique that you can use, too. The next time you're struggling with a problem, do the following:

Imagine that the problem you're facing comes from a far away place.

Put some distance between you and the problem. With perseverance and a little luck, you'll arrive at the answer.

Photo by Stuck in Customs / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

One comment on "Arriving at the Answer"

  1. David on March 19th, 2012

    The article The Big Lesson of a Little Prince: (Re)capture the Creativity of Childhood at Scientific American suggests "Imagining yourself a child, it seems, can quite literally make your mind more flexible, more original, more open to creative input and more capable of generating creative output—a nice complement to past findings that laughter and positive mood have much the same effect."

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