Recently, I came across this graphic of a quote by Albert Einstein on the relationship between our thoughts and our problem-solving strategy:
If you are unable to view the graphic, the text of the quote is:
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein
What a simple, yet profound thought. How often do you go through life with the same focus and mindset, hoping for different results that never come? I think all of us fall into this trap at one time or another. And, in fact, this is the whole premise of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) – that our behaviors and choices are profoundly impacted by the way that we think.
So, if this is a problem for you, how do you actually begin to change your thinking? I think that a good place to start is by asking yourself a few key questions:
1. What are my immediate thoughts about this problem or issue right now? Before you can change your thinking, you have to be able to figure out what exactly you’re thinking in the first place! Jotting down your thoughts about a particular problem can really help show exactly how you are thinking about the situation.
2. What is the evidence for the way I am viewing this situation? What is the evidence against my view? Similar to writing a pro/con list for solving a problem, sometimes forcing yourself both to justify your own perspective and to play devil’s advocate to the alternate perspective can give you new insights into the issue.
3. If I had a friend with this problem, what advice would I give him or her? Asking this kind of question of yourself can help you take on a different perspective on the problem. Sometimes you are so close to the problem and so emotionally invested in a particular viewpoint that you may have difficulty seeing alternatives for yourself. Looking at the situation from the perspective of a friend can be a great way to practice changing your thinking.
4. What is one alternate view I can try to apply in this situation? After generating some ideas about other ways to view a situation, just pick one and go with it. Sometimes you can get so bogged down in coming up with alternatives, that you become paralyzed in actually making a change. Just focusing on one small change at first can help get you moving in a different, more productive direction.
So go for it – see what changes you can make. And if you still find yourself stuck, therapy can be another great tool for understanding your own thought processes and finding ways to make changes and solve problems in your life.
And, at the end of the day, remember this other often quoted adage: