Very often in life, we come across some complex problem. The problem isn’t really complex. Unfortunately, it’s our thinking that gives it that colour of being complex.
When we fail to find a solution, we go to people that we trust to discuss the problem. These could include spouse, relatives, neighbours, friends, coworkers or even some counsellors. In many cases, people turn to spiritual and religious scriptures in the hope of finding a solution.
If we’re fortunate, someone whom we know can guide us on how to find a solution to the problem. That doesn’t make them genius in any way. Since these people view our problem from a different point of view and don’t need to worry, they are able to find the solution that’s hidden from us. If we had thought with some clarity in mind, maybe we, too, could have found the same solution.
This fact of life raises one major doubt. Why aren’t we able to solve a complex problem sometimes? Why do we fumble with a problem despite having all resources? I will explain the reasons now.
Reasons We Fumble with Problems
When we do something repeatedly for 30 days, it becomes a habit. And when we do the same thing for 90 days non-stop, it becomes a part of our lifestyle, according to psychology. This means that a period of 90 days is enough to shape the way we think and behave.
Therefore, when we face a complex problem, we try to find a solution using our behaviour and ways of thinking.
The famous scientist Albert Einstein said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
Albert Einstein’s words are used by lots of management gurus of our times. One of the variants of this quote is: “We can’t solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions.”
Regardless of which quote you prefer, two things are very clear. That our mindset views something as a problem. And the same can’t be used to find solutions we face today.
What Does This Mean?
So, what do Albert Einstein and modern-day management gurus actually imply with that quote? The answer is quite simple. They’re simply saying that we need to change our ways of thinking to find solutions to one or more problems.
Most of the time, it’s our own way of thinking that creates a problem. To add to our woes, our own thinking causes the problem to seem larger than life and continues to bother us till we find a solution. The more we think about the problem, the more difficult it becomes to find a solution, which leaves us unhappy and stressed.
This makes us often wonder, how do I escape the sadness and stress when a problem arises?
To be honest, there’re no simple answers to this age-old question. At the same time, there’re ways and means to resolve every problem that we face.
That way is called thinking outside the box.
What is Thinking Outside the Box?
You might have often heard this phrase: “think outside the box.” This phrase or its various permutations and combinations also appear in job posts. Employers advertise that they require “out of the box” thinkers for a specific role.
So, what exactly is this ‘box’ they’re referring to?
A lot of us would imagine that the box means our head or skull or brains. That’s not correct. Others will believe that thinking outside the box means we get into a ‘box’ when we encounter a problem, and thinking outside it means trying to get out of that situation. This too is incorrect.
Actually, the ‘box’ in question here is the nine-dot box puzzle that eminent American industrial psychologist invented, Norman Raymond Frederick Meier.
Understanding the Box
The nine-dot puzzle made by Norman Meier stipulates that the person trying to solve it should connect all the nine dots in the puzzle without lifting their pen or pencil and without overwriting over a specific line.
To solve it, players have to connect all the dots in one go without lifting their pen or overwriting any line. Once completed properly, the nine dots and the connecting lines appear like a box.
As I mentioned earlier, the person trying to solve the nine-dot box puzzle cannot retract their pen or pencil and nor overdraw on any specific line to connect these dots. This means they have to think in a different way to connect the nine dots. That’s exactly what is meant by outside the box thinking.
Any person that uses lateral thinking can easily solve the nine-dot box puzzle. This might sound confusing to most readers since nobody would normally know what I mean by lateral thinking and the uses of the nine-dot box. Therefore, I will explain both.
Definition of Lateral Thinking
In simple terms, lateral thinking means to think outside our known pattern. Lateral thinking is another word for thinking outside the box. The best thinking outside the box example is that the first reaction of a person that comes across a snake would be to retrace their footsteps and flee.
Another person might want to wait and watch, while the third would prefer to kill the snake. And the fourth person might wish to capture the snake and take it as a pet.
The fourth person is the lateral thinker. Because they didn’t allow their normal reaction of panic to overcome their senses. Nor did they want to harm the snake. Also, the later thinker believed it was futile to wait for the snake to pass.
This fourth person, instead of thinking from their usual patterns, did something unusual. That’s because few of us encounter snakes daily. And when one did appear, people reacted in different ways, except the later thinker who felt they could catch it and own it as their pet. That’s because they thought differently than the others.
A problem is similar to the snake that I mentioned above. One would seldom be seen. And when we come across one, we shouldn’t allow our normal reactions to overwhelm us. Instead, like the fourth person, we should see the problem as a chance to benefit. Or convert some disadvantage into an advantage.
11 Ways to Think Outside the Box
You might falsely believe that it’s impossible to think out of the box. That’s just a baseless fear. Actually, all living creatures and especially humans, can think outside the box. There’re 11 different and easy ways to think outside the box.
Obviously, practising these 11 ways to think outside the box and get the best results or solutions to any problem- small or big- would take some time. However, I can assure you that these 11 ways to think outside the box will help you to become successful in every part of your life.
1. You Don’t Own the Problem
This is the first thing to remember for How to think outside the box is that you don’t own the problem and nor is it permanent or everlasting. A problem is just a temporary difficulty or situation we face sometimes. And some problems are external such as weather or road conditions, over which we’re totally helpless. Therefore, there’s no point in brooding over such external problems.
We get into our problems because there’s a conflict or a fight between the way we see things and the way someone else views them. This means the other person or organization is also responsible for the problem, and you’re not the only owner.
In such a situation, one thing is clear. That only you can resolve a part of the problem which you created. Therefore, try to resolve only that portion of the problem which is caused because of your actions or mindset. I repeat you don’t own the problem.
Most of us try to resolve the entire problem as though we’re the rightful owners. That leads to frustration and defeat. We can’t solve the second part of the problem because it’s caused by someone else. Therefore, focus only on resolving your part of the problem.
2. View the Problem as an Opportunity
Usually, we view the problem as an unpleasant situation. It is something that we must resolve and get out quickly. Unfortunately, few people view the problem as an opportunity for growth and self-development.
You would surely wonder how a problem can serve as a growth opportunity? Actually, every problem has a solution. That solution is hidden from us because we don’t know our own strengths or weaknesses.
We believe in the perceptions of others for knowing our strengths and weaknesses. None of us assesses our own strengths for the best parts of our lives if we do at all.
Thinking outside the box means viewing the problem as an opportunity. Start to imagine what you could do and use this disadvantage caused by the problem to get some benefit.
This technique works through the pain and reward method. The problem is the pain, and the benefit is the reward. When you view a problem as an opportunity, solutions come faster.
3. Read a Lot of Books
Maybe you’re unaware that some of the top billionaires of the USA, including Oprah Winfrey and Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, to name a few, read at least one book daily. They read all kinds of books that interest and entertain them. In fact, every successful billionaire says that they became very rich because of reading books.
So, what is it in reading books that makes them rich? A lot, actually. But one of the main things we learn from reading books is out of the box thinking. The author and the characters in the book have different mindsets, and they resolve various problems during the course of the story. This teaches a lot to us directly.
When we have a problem, we can also use some of the things that we learned from the book. For example, I have once opened my car using a technique described in a spy novel. I had left my car keys in the ignition, with the engine and the air conditioner running, but pressed the full lock feature while exiting the vehicle.
The conventional or normal option would have been to ride a cab home and get a spare or get a key maker to open the car. Instead, I chose to try the technique I had read long ago in the book. The result was that I saved a lot of time and of course, some money too.
4. Rest and Relax
Which sane person can rest or relax when they have a problem? Nobody, for sure. In fact, all of us are so agitated when we have a problem that we experience stress and relaxation seems distant.
However, you can think outside the box by resting and relaxing. The reason is very simple. When a problem appears, our thoughts don’t function properly. They are agitated because we want to find a quick solution and get out of the situation. But when we rest and relax, we allow our thoughts to cool down. As such, the mind becomes clearer.
Once we have a clearer mind, thinking outside the box becomes easier. We begin to view a problem in a different way altogether. Such thinking helps us find solutions to the problem that were earlier eluding us.
Of course, resting and relaxing is not always possible, especially in cases where there’s a need for urgency. In such cases, take a short pause from what you’re doing and instead let your thoughts wander to something else, something more pleasant.
That clears the mental clutter and promotes clearer thinking. With clearer thinking, it’s possible to view the problem in a different way and find solutions quickly.
This way of thinking outside the box usually helps a lot. However, it requires a lot of practice to rest and relax when facing a problem. Hence, this is not an easy way to think outside the box. Yet, with a lot of practice, you will be able to master this skill within a short time and start thinking outside the box whenever you face any problem.
5. Doing Better than Others
Thinking outside the box is not related only to problem-solving. It also covers part of our everyday life. For example, creativity and designing depend a lot upon outside the box thinking. Even a simple act like gifting someone on a birthday or anniversary requires outside the box thinking.
How does one think outside the box? The technique here is very simple. Think that you wish to give a better gift than the others. Or that you want to make a design that’s so unique that a buyer will simply grab it and disregard others.
This comes when you decide to do better than others. You already know the common gift ideas which come from the boxed thinking and boxed mindset. When you wish to gift something better, you start to think of unique things that a person would love to get as a gift.
And with this type of outside the box thinking, you can actually find something superb that’s not usually given as a gift. The sense of competition always compels us to do better than others. Therefore, use this sense of competition to find a creative solution.
6. Drink a Glass of Wine
Yes, it’s official, actually. The National Library of Medicine of the US actually has a study that says that a glass of wine calms your nerves and promotes the ability to think clearly. In the US, a standard pour of wine is 147ml or some five ounces.
Here, it is important to remember that the standard pour for some wines can go as high as 450 ml, which is a volume potent enough to inebriate you and cause you to feel drunk. That doesn’t work when you’re trying to think outside the box.
A standard drink of 150ml of wine can actually help clear the clutter in your mind, help to destress and spur positive thinking. This, in turn, translates as outside the box thinking. Unfortunately, most people don’t stop at just one glass. Instead, when they face a problem, they tend to overdrink and hence, aggravate the problem further.
If you stick to a simple 147ml to 150ml glass of wine, you can feel relaxation within a few minutes. And as the stress goes down, your capacity to think rises. Spurred by the stimulating effect of alcohol in the wine, you can also find out of the box solutions for everything.
7. Sort Out Your Thoughts
A 2020 study by psychologists at the Queen’s University in Canada reveals that an average human has some 6,000 thoughts while awake on any given day. This number can go up or down, depending on various situations and circumstances but not very significantly.
These thoughts are a jumble of everything, from positive emotions such as love to negative ones such as anxiety, worry and hatred. Often, negative thoughts overwhelm our positive ones unless we’re experiencing some happiness. This directly means that our negative thoughts have more impact on our thoughts- whether they’re for solving problems or for creating something beautiful.
Hence, psychologists suggest that humans should sort out their thoughts. This simply means letting go of thoughts that don’t matter, retaining only those which are useful and sorting them out according to positive and negative. It takes further effort to eliminate or obscure negative thoughts and retain positive ones.
These positive thoughts help us to think outside the box. They can help us in various situations to think apart from the crowd, excel at something or solve a problem in a different yet better and acceptable manner.
8. Fitness Works Wonders
Fitness helps to keep our brain healthy and ensures proper and clearer thinking, according to a report by the American Psychological Association (APA). And brain health is the key factor that helps us to become out of the box thinker. Obviously, because the brain does all the thinking while the body simply does the action.
Therefore, the best way to promote own outside the box thinking abilities is to stay physically fit. Actually, the correlation between our physical health and mental health was proven by Ibn Sina, also known as Avicenna, a Persian philosopher and physician, as early as the 11th Century AD.
Furthermore, fitness doesn’t relate only to a daily jog or a visit to your gym. It also means consuming healthy and nutritious food. Psychology proves that persons who have superb brain health have better capabilities to think outside the box than relatively sicker ones.
Also read: Best Free Yoga Classed Near You.
9. No Quick Fix Ideas
When we look for quick-fix ideas for anything- whether it's creativity, productivity or problem solving, we’re actually booting out outside the box thinking. That’s because our entire effort is focused on finding a solution or an answer for something quickly, using our common thinking patterns and mindset.
Instead, allow the situation to cool down. For example, you can make a better graphic design an hour later or become more productive after a lunch break. Or resolve a problem after a cup of coffee. Using quick-fix solutions generally creates problems that require more fixing, which eventually translates as a waste of time, money, effort and manpower, to say the least.
Unfortunately, most of us believe in quick-fix solutions. Therefore, our mindset has to change completely and focus on finding the best solution, though it can take a few hours or even days. Unless there’s an emergency, using quick-fix solutions doesn’t help outside the box thinking.
10. Network with Professionals Abroad
Thanks to LinkedIn, we can now network with professionals in our field across the world. As a result, we can discuss our plans or ideas and problems with these professionals. It’s worth knowing that people from different cultures, religions, and nationalities think and act differently. I can say this for sure because my spouse is a Latina.
When you network with professionals around the world, you get ample opportunities to learn about how they work. Some of them would have lesser resources than you have. Yet, they perform to the best of their abilities. That’s because they know how to improvise and overcome any deficiencies.
Improvisation by itself is a result of outside the box thinking. By networking with professionals in your field in different countries, you can learn how they think differently. And you can somewhat adapt their thinking patterns to find outside the box solutions at work or home.
11. Brain Exercises
In this era of the Internet, finding superb brain exercises & puzzles is very simple and easy. You can easily find these brain exercises for free on various websites. As a matter of fact, you can download any of the 10 best apps for brain exercises and use them daily or at least regularly to boost your mental health.
As I mentioned earlier, brain health plays a key role in promoting our thinking patterns. And superb brain health actually helps us to think clearly, stay calm and above all, think outside the box.
You can also do these brain exercises during your spare time at home, during commutes if you take public transport or when you have a break at the office. There’re also several websites that offer such brain exercises & puzzles for free. In fact, I would suggest that you try the nine-dot box puzzle is the best puzzle to learn how to think outside the box.
Benefits of Outside the Box Thinking
You can use these 11 ways to think outside the box in every part of your daily life. Actually, it can enrich your life and help you live happier than before. One of the main hurdles that people face in living a fulfilling life is their old mindset.
When you think outside the box, you can discard that old mindset and find ways to look at your world from a totally different perspective. This adds to the pleasure of living as you discover new things.
Outside the box, thinking isn’t necessary merely for solving problems. It can help you everywhere. A salesperson who uses outside the box thinking can come up with innovative ideas to sell a product or service. A chef can prepare a superb dish with outside the box thinking. Or an engineer can design that dream car that everyone wants.
I strongly suggest you use outside the box thinking in daily life. It is one of the best gifts that you can give yourself, without any reason. If we look at world history in any field, it's always the persons that think outside the box that have made it great. You can, too, with these 11 ways.