12 Strategies For When You Need To Think About A Problem More Clearly
Feelings are not facts. A feeling can be valid — as in, something you are definitely experiencing — but feeling that something is true does not necessarily make it true. This is important to understand, because we see the adverse effects of this kind of thinking everywhere in our world — in politics and relationships, especially. There are some people who have yet to understand that just because you feel something that it does not necessarily reflect an objective reality. We can choose to be influenced by what's happening in front of us rather than what we assume and how we feel about it.
Immediately, some people will be closed to this idea. After all, we're instructed to create a life that "feels good," and to follow our feelings, and trust them. However, this is the kind of mindset that leads to chaos at best and destruction at worst.
When it comes to solving the real problems in your life, the trick is to think about them more clearly, not try to feel about them more clearly. When you're really in the thick of an issue, the work is not in trying to feel more, that only fogs your mind and renders you even more incapable of making a decision. When you're hyper-emotional, you're easily triggered. You're making assumptions that may not be real. You're running on fumes. Consuming, potentially suffocating ones ... but still, fumes.
So here, a few strategies for when you need to think about your life, or a problem in your life, with more clarity. Employ them at your leisure.
Write Down What Is Happening, Not What You Feel About What Is Happening
Here's the difference:
What's happening: "I went on a date with someone who I find interesting, I don't know how they feel, but we'll see where it goes."
What you feel is happening: "I went on a date with someone I really like and they haven't responded to my text so I don't think they like me probably because I am the literal actual worst, I'll never have love, I'll never be happy, I am embarrassed, I am so anxious about the response I'm going to get."
Do you see why it's important to be able to distill reality from all the feelings you've tangled up about it? If you can reconnect with what's really happening, not what's happening in your emotional life, you will be better able to make clear, informed decisions.
Remove Yourself From The Situation — Give Yourself Time
Does this situation need to be resolved within the next five minutes? The next hour? The next day? Determine how much time you can take to address it, and then do so. There's a difference between avoiding a decision you don't want to make and taking a healthy amount of time away from a situation to gain clarity and perspective.
Meditation, among other things, will teach you to evaluate feelings by detaching you from them. According to The Daily Zen's Charlie Ambler:
Meditation allows us to rearrange the entire mental fabric of living. This makes perfect sense, since it’s been proven to change the brain chemistry of regular practitioners. The mind is able to recalibrate itself and focus on what really matters: present scenery and circumstances.
Ask For Perspective From Someone You Trust
Not someone who will tell you what you want to hear, but someone who will tell you the absolute truth, as it's in your best interest.
Read Stories Of How Other People In Similar Situations Coped
Whether you're going through a breakup, contemplating a career change, or dealing with the general rough-and-emotional-tumble that is, you know, human life, there is writing and art that can absolutely speak to your situation.
Come Up With Alternative Ideas And Solutions
It can feel impossible to make a decision when it seems like so much is weighing on the outcome, or even harder to accept a situation when it seems like doing so is a death sentence. In reality, things are never black-and-white. There is a silver lining to your pain, there is opportunity in failure, there is a lot more to be seen than what's immediately apparent.
Develop An Emotional Action Plan
Give yourself the time and space you need to process your feelings outside of the context of the problem or situation. Give yourself a day to feel all those irrational things that keep coming up, to cry, to just let it out.
Draw Pictures Of The Problem
Draw images of what the problem is, draw images of what the possible solution could be. Draw stick figures, thought bubbles, places, etc. It's just another way to externalize the issue so you can see it from the perspective of reality, not your emotions about reality.
Compare It To The Past
How have you responded to similar situations in the past? What could you learn from such experiences? The way you justify your past becomes your philosophy for the future.
What Would You Tell Your (Imaginary Or Real) Child If They Were Going Through The Same Thing?
What you would want for your kid is an extension of what you'd want for yourself.
What's The Best Outcome? What's The Worst?
Believe, because the best is possible. Prepare, because the worst is too.
Consider The Situation From The Perspective Of Your Highest Self
Think about what you're going through as though you're already the person you want to be. How would future-you respond? What would they think?