Stuck? 5 Tips for Creative Problem Solving

When you think about creativity, what comes to mind? Perhaps it’s art, music, dance or other performance. Perhaps it’s people with blue streaks in their hair and a penchant for sipping espresso while enjoying dark offbeat films.

This may be one expression of creativity, and certainly, research has shown the benefits of creativity to enhance health. For example, a large review study published in 2010 showed evidence of positive health effects of music engagement, visual arts therapy, movement-based creative expression, and expressive writing.

However, there is another form of creativity that may not be as widely celebrated but arguably has benefits to health and wellness as well. Let’s call it creative problem solving or the ability to come up with non-traditional solutions to common problems.

Consider this – every day is filled with numerous choices we must make, each with a probability of failure. Statistically, it would be near impossible to go through life without making the “wrong” choice at least a few times. More likely, we make ill-informed decisions daily, or at least weekly, and these can compound into common burdensome problems.

Think about these common scenarios:

  • the man who wakes up one day at 52 years of age wondering how the hell he ended up in a mid-level management position when he had once wanted to be an artist.
  • the woman who suddenly realized she was not 5 or 10, but 100 pounds overweight.
  • the person who realized that after 15 years of marriage and two children, that their spouse was and has always been a terrible match.
  • the entrepreneur who, having poured their life savings into a business for years on end, is now stuck with a failed business and overwhelmed with debt.

There are countless other examples, but these scenarios all share a few commonalities. First, the people in these scenarios didn’t just suddenly come upon these problems. They arrived there over time through a series of decisions. Perhaps the first decision set the trend for the next. Alternatively, perhaps they made a slew of bad decisions, one right after the other, that led them astray.

The second commonality among these scenarios is there is no easy way out. It is for this reason that each of these people most likely feels stuck, paralyzed or, for lack of a better term, screwed.

Small changes aren’t easy. Major life overhauls are worse.

In every bad situation, there is likely a set of obvious next steps to take. Sometimes those will be satisfying. But other times they won’t. And if you feel like there is no good road ahead, it’s very easy to fall into a state of depression or apathy, suffer from debilitating stress and insomnia, lash out at loved ones, and/or exist in a permanent state of distraction. Physical health consequentially deteriorates, which places a further burden on oneself but also family, friends, and the greater community.

One might argue that our health care system is paying for our mistakes.

This is when creativity comes into play. Sometimes to find the best next step involves thinking outside the box, inventing solutions where there appear to be none.

How do you do this? Here are 5 tips to think outside the box when solving problems.

1. Use your network

If you’re relying on just yourself to solve a problem, you’re already at a disadvantage. Study after study has confirmed that groups come up with better solutions than any one person alone, no matter how smart that one person is. So, tap into your network and ask for advice, including people whose opinions and lifestyle may routinely differ from yours as they may have a solution you may have missed.

2. Consider mindset

In times of turmoil, our problem may feel entirely about our circumstance, However, mindset plays a big role not only in handling the current situation but maneuvering out of it with ease. For example, in the case of the “failed” entrepreneur, if they realize how much they learned in the process of trying to build a business, identify the strengths they displayed in their work, it might help them transition to a new career with greater ease. In other words, find the positive and use that to guide a path forward.

3. Get out of your zone

You’ve heard the saying that some of the best ideas come when you’re in the shower or on a walk? This is because once you cue your brain into this need for an idea, it’s always in play. But sometimes what we need is a novel experience to cue creativity. So, I know nobody feels like rushing out to sky-dive or try tango dancing when they’re feeling stuck, but getting out of your zone and doing something different might just help spark an idea or solution.

4. Check your pride at the door

As a coach, I often see pride as an obstacle between where a client is and where they want to be. Sometimes a bad situation requires pride to be put aside in order to extricate oneself and move on. Whether it’s a marriage gone sour, a business that belly-flopped, massive weight gain that went unnoticed, or other situation – just admit that things went bad, mistakes were made, and that it’s time to move on. Don’t hold onto a bad investment – in the case of a person, job, bad habit – just because we’re too proud to admit wrong. Humility rules in behavior change.

5. Be a time traveler

When we’re stuck, we’re most likely to be almost myopic in our life view. We don’t see past moment zero. A great way to spark creative problem solving is to look far into the future to your goal life. It has the effect of helping to break past the four tight walls of today and show us the life that might be possible. By going into the future to where we want to go, it then allows us to set a blueprint to get there. Let’s say you look 10 years ahead. Step by step, you can outline what needs to be done 1 year prior to your goal life, 2 years prior, and so on until you reach where you are today. Try this method and see if it makes the path ahead a little more clear.


What are your creative tips to get unstuck? Reach out and tell me your ideas or experiences.

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