How most problems are not like math problems

When it comes to math equations, there are defined solutions to a problem which are always right.

If you add two and two together you will, most certainly, get the solution four. You don’t have to worry too much about attempting to find any different solution, because the existing one has been determined for you by mathematical experts. In math, there are simple, straight‒forward solutions that don’t require much creative thinking to discover.

On the other hand: organizing your closet, driving to school or work, and negotiating, all have a nearly infinite number of solutions.

You can find dozens, if not thousands, of ways to organize your closet, to drive to wherever it is you need to go, and to negotiate. There isn’t always a best way to find the solution to these situations. You can try one method of approach to most of these situations and, even if you find a solution that works, you can still try a different way repeatedly.

There are quite a few things in life that can be creatively pursued like this, with a seemingly infinite number of possible solutions.

Yet, thanks to a psychological issue known as fixation, we tend to approach most of our daily activities like a math problem: thinking there’s just one right solution that should work.

What happens is that we find ourselves often doing the same things – staring at an unfinished assignment, or repeating ourselves in an argument, or pressing the same buttons on a difficult video game – and we get stuck, the solution never comes, even though we feel as though it should.

The solution to fixating like this is to realize that the solution we think should work isn’t as defined as that of a math equation. In reality, there are many possible solutions for what we’re trying to do. We simply need to be open to discovering what those solutions are. That’s what creativity is for.

So, today, try something new with the situations you find yourself in.

Not only will doing so help you understand that there are a lot of potential solutions to the problems you face, you may actually discover that what you’ve been doing all along isn’t the easiest or most convenient or most fulfilling way to do it anyway.

Math dances illustration by Dylan Ng.