The Journey Within: Fun Ways to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills

Problems are generally considered to be “bad things” but that’s not always the case. Yes, a problem at work, in your relationship, or with your finances is bad news, but some people thrive on problem-solving and, if you’re that kind of person, then problems can be very rewarding and exciting.

Let’s look at some ways you can improve your problem-solving skills. Not only do they help you to experience that satisfied feeling that comes from working out solutions, but they also provide the opportunity to flex your grey matter muscle so future problems are easier to tackle.

Rubik's cubeRubik’s Cubes
Rubik’s cubes are one of the best mental challenges out there for those who love problem-solving. While they might seem impossible at first, there is a simple logic to them and a “system” you can use. Once you’re familiar with the system, the challenge becomes much easier, and that’s when you start challenging yourself to solve them faster, with your eyes closed or with one hand!

An ambigram is a word written in a way that if you change the viewer’s perspective, by rotating, mirroring or reflecting it, the word reads the same way. You could also make an ambigram of your own name, for instance, and this might say your first name when it is read one way and your second name when flipped over. This requires a bit of ingenious thinking, but you’d be surprised what’s possible with enough trial and error.

Woman with iPadComputer Games
Studies have shown that computer games help to improve problem-solving ability. Action games can help our “rapid problem-solving” while puzzle games are great for encouraging lateral thinking.

Action Sports
Don’t care for computer games? No problem. The best place to study “rapid problem-solving” is in the world of action sports, like snowboarding, surfing, racer driving and others that involve last-minute reflexes and reactions.

While you might think these actions occur automatically and in the moment, they are a form of decision-making.

For instance, while it might be pure impulse to go around an obstacle, you still need to think about which way around that obstacle you want to go. This normally means considering which route is quicker, which has the most obstacles going forward, or which is easier to balance as you travel. And chances are you won’t be faced with one decision like this but countless ones.

So, how might you improve this kind of decision-making process? The answer might lie in “flow states.” Flow states are a psychological phenomenon that allow us to accurately make rapid decisions that we would not be capable of doing otherwise. During these states we’re completely focused on the matter at hand, and we’re able to perform flawlessly almost without thinking about it. The world seems to slow down, and we become untouchable. Interestingly, it’s very similar to the state of flow we get into when we’re very focused on a work project.

This state is triggered by numerous neurochemicals including dopamine, norepinephrine, anandamide and endorphins. It’s similar to the fight or flight response (which normally deadens creativity), but, in this case, you remain relaxed and in control the whole time.

So, how do you get into flow? The answer seems to be that you need to be completely focused on what you’re doing, which happens when:
a)  Your very passionate about it, and
b)  You believe your life is on the line.

The beauty about chess is that it involves both problem-solving and thinking ahead because it’s a dynamic and constantly evolving challenge. The difficulty in chess is only how cunning your opponent is — and that means you can try it no matter your level.

There’s something immensely satisfying about starting with a blank page and ending up with a functional program that you can use for productivity or fun. Programming involves numerous logic problems and, in many cases, essentially boils down to several puzzles you need to solve.

The Journey Within: Fun Ways to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills
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