We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
This is such a simple idea but the real genius of this Einstein quote is what it’s saying if you read between the lines.
If you’re like most people, when you have problems, you follow the same old patterns of thought to solve them. But what Einstein was saying is that you need to learn how to think differently if you want to truly solve your problem. Here’s an example:
Ricky was one of those guys who always complained about there being more month left at the end of his money. You know, living paycheck to paycheck. When he runs out of money, he complains that the checks are written in disappearing ink because that’s what happens to his money. When he gets a notice from his bank that a check was returned due to insufficient funds, he loves to say, “but I still have checks left.”
Every time Ricky gets into another financial jam, his solution is always the same, “Looks like I need to work some overtime.” For Ricky, working more hours at his job means he gets more money…to spend. Even if it helps him catch up a little, he always ends up falling behind again. This is because he always thinks the same way which leads him to act the same way.
So if this cyclical thinking causes the same behaviors which causes the same problems to appear again and again, the only way to change this is to think differently about it. This will lead to acting differently.
Out of the Box and Into Real Life
So Ricky might need to try some out-of-the-box thinking to get a different perspective. For starters, he may want to think about what other options he has that will help him keep ahead of his finances. So if Ricky made a list of ideas on how he can do this, it might look like this:
- Look at my budget.
- (But make a budget first.)
- Look for ways to cut needless spending.
- Look for ways to save money on my bills like taking shorter showers, carpooling, etc.
- Hire a financial advisor (using overtime pay).
- Discontinue subscription services not being used.
- Don’t eat out so much.
- Limit online shopping.
- Quit smoking.
- Clip grocery coupons.
- Look for other ways to earn money.
Ricky could also consider starting a business in his spare time, like a lawn care service or handyman for hire. Rather than always working overtime at his regular job, he could work at his own business and maybe eventually do it full time.
Let’s look at another example.
Behavior and the Terrible 2s
Arlene and Marlene were 10 year-old twins. Mike, their father, signed them up for swim lessons over summer break. Every time he asked them to start getting ready to go, they fussed and grumbled, and just kept watching TV. Because they were usually late, Mike got more and more frustrated. It didn’t make sense to him. His daughters claimed they loved the swim class and couldn’t wait to get there, but yet they dragged their feet and were never ready on time.
Mike finally got sick of fighting with them so he grounded them and threatened to take them out of the class. Mike just figured they were “at that age” where young girls start getting difficult to manage. But this thinking didn’t help him much.
Mike’s thinking never changes. The girls were getting difficult and that’s the issue, as far as he was concerned. But the real problem was that Mike never really tried to understand why the girls were in no hurry to leave the house for swim lessons. Every time the girls protested, he would talk over their voices and TELL them what they were going to do…or else. Since Mike thought he had the whole thing figured out, he just reacted and nothing ever got better.
If your assumptions are all wrong, then your reaction won’t fit the problem and nothing will change.
One day, Mike had an appointment so his wife was going to take the girls to swim class. When Allison checked on the girls and saw them still sitting in front of the TV, and that they hadn’t even started getting ready, she asked them why. They exclaimed with glee, that their favorite TV show was on…the one with Justin somebody, who, apparently, was the teen heartthrob of the week.
“Listen, every week you’re late to your swim classes. How about next week, we record your show and you can watch it when you get home from swimming…you can even pause it at your favorite spots?” Of course the girls loved the idea and they were never late for swim classes again.
Allison, instead of making assumptions and thinking she knew what was going on, took the time to ask why the girls were slow to get ready for swim class. Thus, finding a solution was easy and the problem was solved.
We are so used to thinking the way we always think that it’s natural for us to try to solve all of life’s problems by automatically thinking the same way we always do. The Einstein quote is suggesting that we pause when we have a problem and be more mindful of how we approach solving it. If we keep thinking the same way we always have, then new solutions might be missed.
The more you think the same way that you always have, the more you’ll continue to get the same results. If you want to truly solve old problems, practice thinking differently.