Even those skilled at problem solving can lose their solution mindset, as I call it, and so it's important to recognize what it is and is not. Soon I will post on how to encourage a solution mindset in yourself and others.

What is a solution mindset?

Having a solution mindset means describing problems in a way that asks for how to solve them, moving towards a solution, rather than presenting them as irresolvable fact. Since it's pretty obvious that having a solution mindset is necessary for problem solving, the focus here is those weird yet common cases where people don't do it, which I'll call solution avoidance.

When someone is described as a complainer, anxious, argumentative, or has a habit of blaming others, they are likely avoiding solutions. It's not wrong to point out problems, or make criticisms. What feels bad is when the problems are described as absolutes, or part of someone's identity, with no effort made to move towards a solution. When effort to approach a solution is made, it is usually appreciated, and it changes the whole tone and eventual outcome to become more positive.

An anecdote.

For instance, when I recently was locked out of my apartment, my head was full of (panicked comments,)(panic-bullets) statements of problems without searching for a solution.

(start panic-bullets)

  • I don't have my phone!
  • I can't contact my roommate!
  • I don't know anyone around here!
  • Why did my roommate lock the door?!

(stop panic-bullets)

As these thoughts seeped in, I recognized the solution avoidance, paused, took a few deep breaths, and told myself to have a solution mindset. Then instead of irrefutable statements, (I asked myself questions, and had a conversation.)(solution-bullets)

(start solution-bullets)

  • How can I contact someone without my phone?

    I could borrow someone else's...

  • How can I contact my roommate?

    I may have someone else's phone number memorized who knows him...

  • Does anyone around here know my roommate?

    We did visit some neighbors once who know his phone number, and he knows someone who works at the Panera down the street...

  • (as I was walking towards a solution) How can I prevent this in the future?

    I could memorize my roommate's phone number, and give it to people whose phone number I already have memorized...

(stop solution-bullets)

Eventually, I walked over to Panera, had someone who worked there contact the person we knew (who wasn't working that day), who then met me there and helped me get in touch with my roommate. Later, I made sure my family had my roommate's phone number so I could contact them as well if I ever forgot it.

What are common avoidance situations?

There are many typical situations where a solution mindset would help. Here's a few solid examples:

  • (Anxiety.)(anxiety)

    (start anxiety)

    Colloquial anxiety, or commmon "worrying about problems" can become solution avoiding if it's pure worry. Consider The School of Life's response.

    The clinical concept of anxiety features patients who "dislike uncertainty and unpredictability," feeling unable to search for resolution. Consider the ADAA's description.

    (stop anxiety)

  • (Road Rage.)(road-rage)

    (start road-rage)

    It's easy to feel anger while driving at the other drivers or just rush hour traffic in general. Feeding that anger is solution avoidance, when you don't ask what you can do to improve your experience.

    Consider how to share the road with raging drivers from two very different perspectives, a defensive driving expert and a motorcyclist.

    (stop road-rage)

  • (Regret.)(regret)

    (start regret)

    Regret is both what motivates one to become better, or what cripples one to focus on a problem that can have no solution: the past. Consider Vsauce's take.

    (stop regret)

  • (Game Toxicity.)(game-toxicity)

    (start game-toxicity)

    In general, there is an atmosphere for many video game communities where players find themselves unable to work together, often culminating in rage quitting. Consider Extra Credit's take.

    For specific games, the issue becomes more focused by certain subcommunities or game designs, and advice can become more specific. Consider Heroes Academy discussing Heroes of the Storm.

    (stop game-toxicity)

  • ("Don't talk about Politics and Religion.")(politics-religion)

    (start politics-religion)

    These two topics so often devolve into argumentation that perpetuates itself, each side repeating the stance of "You should just agree with me because..." This often arises from false dichotomies.

    For politics, consider the middle ground between "Liberal vs Conservative," and for religion, consider the middle ground between "Science vs God."

    Note that deciding to avoid the topics in social situations is a solution to the problem "We're not enjoying our time together." but is solution avoidance when the problem is, "We can't seem to find common ground."

    (stop politics-religion)

Aren't there unsolvable problems?

Is a solution mindset bad in some cases?

Unfortunately, there are times when the problem at hand simply is unsolvable. This, however, is not a time to dispose of your solution mindset. Instead, you have identified that your perception of the problem is too vast or specific, too demanding, and it is once again time to take a step back and reevaluate. It may be time to dispose of your main goal, or simply set it aside and make subgoals.

For instance, when I ask myself "Why can't I work on anything today?" I typically take a step back and ask instead, "What am I considering work today?" or "How can I encourage myself?" For another case, when people say they "want to solve world hunger" they typically have set a direction to head towards, with the majority of their efforts solving smaller problems that support that potentially unachievable goal.