Struggling with family problems can leave you stuck, spinning your wheels. These creative approaches will help you break free.
Every family experiences their share of unexpected problems and tough times. It’s how we handle these challenges that can keep our families afloat and moving in a positive direction. But getting caught up in the daily grind may cloud our thoughts so we can’t figure out the best solutions.
Want to change your mindset and welcome new ideas that will make you a better problem-solver? Here are four creative ways.
1. Just do nothing. Seriously.
When you're grappling with a situation that's negatively affecting your family, it can be tough to get out of your own way. We're used to navigating life from our comfort zones, which leaves us stuck. When you look at a problem in only one light, it's hard to find innovative ways to solve it.
Psychologists have a name for this boxed-in way of thinking—functional fixedness.
One outside-the-box way to open yourself to fresh insights and solutions is to step away from your typical problem-solving process. Instead, try an entirely new approach. One of the best ways to accomplish this is—get this!—to do absolutely nothing at all.
Research shows that taking a break from your problem and allowing your mind to wander can allow for creative ideas and even an 'aha' moment.
Not acting may seem counter-productive. But research shows that taking a break from your problem and allowing your mind to wander can allow for creative ideas and even an "aha" moment.
The next time you're stressed about how to juggle an unexpected childcare dilemma or manage a car repair that's going to cost twice as much as you budgeted, give your mind a time-out. Instead of pacing the kitchen floor in a mild panic, take the dog for a long walk or sit down and do some mindless coloring with your child. By filing away the problem, albeit temporarily, you'll give your mind a chance to rest. Eventually, a solution may appear.
2. Try mindfulness
Another way to loosen up and channel your creativity is to become more mindful. Start looking at mundane, ordinary things in a different light.
Here's a good example—electricity! There are dozens of ways we encounter the gift of electricity daily. How often do you stop and marvel at the ways it improves your life? You flip a switch, and a light pops on and allows you to dive into a great book. Electric burners heat a pot of water so you can prep your family's favorite pasta dish. Being more aware of all the ways you interact with the world can foster your ability to find creative solutions to life's setbacks.
3. Tap into your dreams
A great night’s sleep is key to feeling energized, fresh, and healthy. In addition to maximizing your health, another great reason for hitting the hay is to experience dreaming.
See also: 5 Ways to Help Your Family Sleep Better
Dreaming is another way to gain insight into your problems. Dr. Berit Brogaard, Professor and the Director of the Brogaard Lab for Multisensory Research at the University of Miami, says you can "learn to control the narrative of your own dreams."
This is the result of your mind knowing that you’re dreaming as the dream happens. Professional athletes tap into this technique to improve their skills or teach themselves to correct a problem, like holding a baseball bat differently to make consistent contact with each pitch.
We’ve come across many individuals who regularly use lucid dreaming to tackle problems they find difficult to solve in waking life. For example, one author cures acute writer’s block by summoning the characters of the novel in his dreams. One of the characters might say, 'Oh, you shouldn’t kill Epstein in chapter 4 because we need him in chapter 12 to resolve everything.'
Although some people don’t remember whether they've had a dream, I dream almost every night. Most mornings, I awake and recall many of the details. Because of this, I’ve kept dream journals. In my dreams, I’ve gotten some of my best ideas for writing projects, handling health issues, and even ways to earn some extra money.
If you want to try putting your dreams to use in helping you solve a problem or two, here are some suggestions to get you started.
- Before you drift off to sleep, address the problem you’re struggling with and request a solution. For example, if you’ve misplaced your credit card, ask for guidance on where you might look to find it the following day.
- Write down a specific goal you need help with. “Show me the best way to fund our family vacation to the Grand Canyon this summer." Now meditate on the question a few moments before setting the paper on your nightstand.
- Keep a dream journal. By recording the details of your dreams that you remember upon waking, you’ll be able to start seeing patterns. This is a great way to problem-solve recurring challenges.
- Check online for free lucid dreaming info and apps to help you better understand your dreams.
4. Visualize your ideal solution
One of my favorite ways to problem solve is to visualize a happy outcome. I learned this valuable tool when I became a new mom. After five years of infertility and a beautiful adoption, the floodgates opened, and I had four kids in less than four years!
No matter what I was struggling with, when I began visualizing a positive outcome, I was able to become calm and centered.
Most days, my problems involved the logistics of caring for four babies and toddlers by myself without losing my mind. When my kids started school, I soon found myself overcommitting to the PTO and other activities. I didn’t have a spare five minutes to so much as read a coupon flier! No matter what I was struggling with, when I began visualizing a positive outcome, I was able to become calm and centered. Then, I could then carry on and deal with the situation at hand.
You can take visualizing to an entirely new level by combining it with a mental contrasting strategy, which guides you with the acronym WOOP—Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan.
Wish – Decide on your goal. Be very specific with the details. If you want to start a blog, don’t just say “I want to blog.” Instead, say “I intend to launch a blog for parents of kids with developmental delays. I will post two articles each week. They'll focus on how to support a child in his educational setting as well as how to help him have positive experiences in social and community settings."
Outcome – Use your imagination to visualize the best possible result of your efforts. Visualize your blog reaching 10,000 subscribers at the end of the first month. Advertisers are contacting you to pay money to place ads for products that will help families of special needs children. Other on-line newsletters are asking to buy your content for their sites. Readers are contacting you thanking you for your helpful and inspiring information.
Obstacle – What’s standing in your way? You can’t find the time to generate new content for your blog. You don’t have reliable childcare in place so that you can be free to write.
Plan – Put a solid plan in place for overcoming the obstacle and achieving your goal. “I’ll ask my mother-in-law if she can watch the twins for one afternoon each week." “I’ll call a neighborhood mom and see if we can trade babysitting once a week.” “I will put my phone in another room while I’m writing so I won’t be distracted.”
5. Ask your child for help
This last tip will either make you cringe or get you excited. One of my biggest, personal obstacles, when it came to problem-solving, was asking for help. Somehow, I had it engrained in my mind that I should be able to tackle the problems that came with parenting a large brood all by myself. I never wanted to impose on anyone for fear they’d think I was inadequate in my role as a mother. Wow, was I ever wrong!
If you’re faced with a challenge, elicit your child’s ideas for a solution.
It wasn’t easy, but I eventually learned how to speak up when I needed an extra hand or a break from the 24/7 mommy gig. Not only did I rely more on my husband, grandparents, neighbors, and friends—the best help I eventually got was when I relied on my kids to pitch in.
Problem-solving is no different. If you’re faced with a challenge like a disciplinary action gone awry with your teen or an expensive purchase that your middle-schooler is begging for but you can’t possibly swing right now, elicit your child’s ideas for a solution.
By doing so, she will begin to think less about getting her way. Even if just for a moment, she'll focus on how to solve the problem. She'll see how her needs and actions are affecting others, not just herself. And the bonus—she might come up with a brilliant solution.
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What are some ways you tackle problems in your family? Please share your thoughts in the comments section at quickanddirtytips.com/mighty-mommy, post your ideas on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT. Subscribe to the QDT newsletter to get parenting tips and more delivered directly to your inbox.