The Art of Distraction as a Critical Thinking Tool

Dear Colleague

Our focus for today is how to manage the intensity of problem solving, particularly when we get stuck.  What is the way forward?  Many of my doctoral students and writers struggle with a particular research point or writing a particular chapter or understanding a particular method or design.  It’s as if the answer is on the tip of their tongue or the solution is just out of their reach–elusive, ambiguous, ubiquitous..  The more they struggle, the further the answer seems to move out of reach. This level of frustration can often throw the person into a tailspin or downward spiral of desperation and panic.

The solution? The art of distraction.  The more we try to force ourselves to come up with the answer, the more stressed and the more upset we get—pushing the answer even further and further away.

INSTEAD . . ..

The art of distraction is along the lines of the cliche: a watched pot never boils. Said another way, the more we try and force the issue, the worse the situation becomes. So, stop. S-T-O-P.  Stop trying to watch the pot boil.  Stop forcing the issue.  Breathe.  Distract yourself in the most intense way possible in that moment.  Give your subconscious its job to do and then walk away.  Go clean the refrigerator, find a toothbrush and clean the grout, or clean out the junk drawer.  The more tedious the task, the more you will distract yourself from your problem.  You need to let it go; at least for a little while.  Why? When you are not actively forcing the issue, happily and intensely distracted, the solution will come to you.

AND be prepared (keep pen and paper handy wherever you go as lightning often strikes in the most unusual of places and the strangest of times!)  The more you are distracted, the quickly the answer will find you.  (You need to be prepared to capture the answer with pen and paper so as not to lose it again!  I once solved an enormous problem I was wrestling with at 10 pm at night in a hotel swimming pool!)

Give it a try.  When we stop hanging on too tight, the answer often finds us. *smiles*

Happy thinking.

Dr. Cheryl Lentz
The Academic Entrepreneur

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June 8th, 2018 by admin