If you’re familiar with my posts and/or book, you know that I’m intrigued whenever I find a link between faith, reason and problem solving. It was about eight years ago that I was chosen to become the program leader for a specific kind of analytical problem solving process for my job. The method is not so much about one time “break-fix” stuff, like “Why does my PC keep freezing-up?” It’s more about analyzing trends and seeing the “big-picture”, like “Why do the Dell E5450’s freeze-up 25% more often than the Dell E5480’s in the Asian market?”
It gets particularly “interesting” when people bring their emotional baggage into a problem that is taking a significant amount of time to resolve, and I think the same can be said when discussing faith. It pays to be patient and persistent because in the final analysis it’s all about finding “truth” objectively, regardless of feelings, strong opinions, past experiences or intuition; finding truth even when empirical evidence is lacking or impossible to obtain.
So years go by as they tend to do, I still continue to come across aspects of problem solving that can relate to the spiritual life, such as this article about three habits of creative problem solvers.
HABIT #1: THEY’RE COMFORTABLE WITH UNCERTAINTY
You may think a method of analytical problem solving is only about observable evidence. It is not. Most often it is physically impossible for us obtain all the data we would like to answer all the questions we have. In fact, I don’t remember a single instance when we had all the evidence we wanted at our disposal, therefore we need to learn to be comfortable with uncertainty.
Uncertainty can help us see things from a new perspective. Without a comfort level with uncertainty, we can become fearful and revert to a “fight or flight” mentality, which is detrimental to any critical thinking process. For problem solving, the “fight” instinct might lead to irrational thinking, jumping to conclusions and being overwhelmed by the scope of the mess. The “flight” instinct might cause you to give up, pass the buck or waste mental energy blaming others.
It can be similar with the spiritual life. Uncertainty about the future, all the evil in the world, all the conflicting opinions, what we should do, or who to believe, can result in a “fight or flight” spiritually. Fighting for your faith or just fighting to keep your faith without a clear understanding of your faith will lead to irrational thinking, jumping to conclusions and being overwhelmed by the scope of the mess. Flight from faith can be just that…giving up with a bunch of poor excuses. If you take the time to seriously study your faith, you will become more comfortable with uncertainty.
Here’s a helpful tip from the article; create large swaths of certainty in the rest of your life. The more habit and ritual you create in your day-to-day life, the more stamina you’ll have when uncertainty shows up. Have a regular prayer time each day, receive the Sacraments often (weekday Masses/confession), read spiritual books grounded in Truth, and perform corporal/spiritual works of mercy regularly. These spiritual habits will give you strength when in the face of uncertainty.
HABIT #2 THEY KNOW HOW AND WHEN TO RE-FRAME SETBACKS
Failure results in negative emotions like shame, fear and frustration. As a result many of us hide it. Hiding a problem, or a failed attempt to solve it, can delay the solution and potentially make things worse.
A good problem solver will not internalize setbacks; they will learn from them and perhaps even use any new data from the failed attempt for the next attempt. He or she is also humble enough to get others involved. Instead of thinking, “I failed; better make sure nobody knows” they will think, “That attempt failed; let’s learn from it.”—Big difference.
Catholicism and Christianity in general is a lot about forgiveness second changes. We are to strive for holiness, but oftentimes we are more interested in what we want than what is right or what is true, living more ourselves than for God. Sin is essentially a refusal to let God have His way in our life, so we have setbacks. Re-frame your spiritual setbacks and learn from them. Don’t think “I failed; better make sure nobody knows.” Re-frame it; only your attempt has failed. Ask for help. Involve others. Go to confession.
HABIT #3: THEY BELIEVE THEY CAN KEEP IMPROVING
The article refers to having a “growth mind-set” rather than a “fixed mind-set”. A growth mind-set basically believes that things can get better with effort, learning and help from others. A fixed mind-set sees no way to continue. Don’t think to yourself, “I’m not smart enough to solve this problem.” Instead think, “It is not solved yet, but it can be, perhaps with new skills, knowledge or help.” Add the word “yet” to your thinking. “There is no answer, yet.” or “I’m not sure what to do, yet.”
The virtue of hope is needed in the spiritual life to keep us moving. “I’m not as faithful as I should be, yet.” or “I’m not sure how to grow spiritually, yet.” We need a growth mind-set, but what effort are we putting in? What new knowledge or skills do we require to improve? How will we seek the help we need?
The Catechism says in paragraph 1821, “In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to ‘persevere to the end’…” We should take comfort knowing that it is always possible to grow spiritual if we understand the mystery of God as an invitation. The negative view of the term “mystery” will say that we can never hope to understand it fully and we will never be perfect (fixed mind-set). The positive view says there is an inexhaustible well of truth and love from which the soul can drink with the assurance that the well will never run dry (growth mind-set).
“Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them.”
– Henry Ford