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Problem Solving Skills

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  • Problem Solving Skills

    Dear everyone,

    How can we improve problem solving skills in general? We certainly have experts in a variety of scientific fields and personal development posting around here, so I'm hoping we could have discussion on how to solve problems in a variety of ways and possibly learn to transfer skills better from one context to another. For the record, I am currently sketching a mathematical textbook (or some similar format) that will feature an innovative pedagogical take on teaching University mathematics. In time I would like to present it to the Kwoon readers and show how problems are tackled in my chosen field.

    Besides the general setting introduced above, are there some particular Chi Kung skills in our school that help solving problems? The answer is empathic yes.

    Zen courses in our school are especially well suited for developing problem solving skills. In the Dublin Zen Intensive last February, we learned how to (1) clear our minds of irrelevant thoughts and relax, (2) create a sharp single-pointed mind, (3) expand mind to zero, and (4) let the mind flow for either spontaneous speech or problem solving. All these enumerated skills are connected and highly useful, but the first category is the foundation and included in all of our teachings. By clearing the mind and relaxing, we are ridding ourselves of prejudices (both subtle and gross) and opening our hearts for changes and new perspectives. By learning how to flow with either Chi Kung, Kungfu, or meditation, we also train mental swiftness and creativity if we naturally let spontaneous thoughts connect.

    Summing it up: first identify a problem, focus on that for a moment, and then let go is a good way to exercise our natural ability to find solutions. -Of course, it should be noted that not every solution is going to be a good one, but practice helps generating enough solutions that you can easily find a great one.

    It has also been mentioned that training Tiger Claws helps grasping intellectual concepts, which is a good tool for academics.

    A fairly recent entry of Sigung's Q&A series was excellent read and actually prompted me to write this topic. I have to confess that in the past my own train of thought has often meandered about detailing various circumstances instead of going straight for the issue: asking or crystallizing a good question that identifies a concrete problem. When the issue is clear, its solution is often near.

    Question 1

    Sifu, when you asked a student to define her problem you said that she described her problem instead of defining it. I believe it is very important for our students to know the difference between describing a problem and defining a problem. Can you please elaborate?

    — Sifu Sippe Douma, New Zealand


    This is an excellent question that will help many people. Many people cannot overcome their problems because they have never defined the problems, they only describe them. As you rightly said earlier, once a person defined his problem, the solution often appeared.

    Let us take an example. In a chi kung class, a student said that he could not generate a chi flow. He and many other people would regard that as a problem. He wondered how he could generate a chi flow. But that might not necessarily be the problem, though in many cases it was. He only stated the situation in which the problem occurred.

    In other words, he described the situation from which the problem arose. He did not define the problem. His problem could be one of the following:

    1. What should he have done to generate an energy flow?
    2. What should he do in a future course to generate an energy flow?
    3. Should he ask for his money back as he did not generate an energy flow?
    4. Why didn't he generate an energy flow?
    5. Should he continue to practice chi kung if he couldn't generate an energy flow?
    6. Another example may make clear the difference between describing a problem and defining a problem.
    7. To attend a particular party, those attending must wear some fanciful dress. A prospective guest says, "I don't have a fanciful dress."

    He describes a situation from which a problem arises. He does not define the problem. If he thinks "I don't have a fanciful dress" is the problem, he may think over it for days or weeks, and has mental stress, but will not have a solution, because he has not defined the problem.

    The situation is that he does not have a fanciful dress, and to attend the party he must wear a fanciful dress. His problem can be one of the following:

    1. He wants to find an excuse to tell the organiser he is not interested to attend the party
    2. He is undecided whether to attend or not to attend the party.
    3. He wants to buy a fanciful dress to attend the party.
    4. He does not want to buy a fanciful dress to attend the party.
    5. He does not know how to acquire a fanciful dress.

    After defining the problem, it is not difficult for him to have a solution. For example, if he has decided to attend the party, he can buy a fanciful dress, or borrow one from a friend, or make one himself, or modify his normal dress to make it fanciful.
    DECEMBER 2016 PART 1

    Simply beautiful answer. I would love to read Family members' thoughts on this fine topic.

    With sincere respect,

  • #2
    I was taught a technique in our "technology" class at school (in other countries such a class may be called design, engineering etc, it was to do with machines, physics, electronics, making and building things etc).

    The method was in our textbook I believe, but I think the source may have been Ed De Bono, not sure. As far as I can remember, it just involved trying to have a good look at the problem, try to get to grips with and understand the problem, think about and write down any relevant aspects, also any initial solutions etc that pop into your head, though don't worry if you don't. Then "let go" of the problem, and by that they meant just forget about it for a while, go and work on something else, go for lunch, take a walk or whatever. You can come back to the problem after your lunch or walk, or you can come back to it in a weeks time. You may find better solutions then jump out at you. If you give it enough time, you may find the solution jumps out at you when you are doing some unrelated activity like when you are having your walk.

    It is not foolproof or magic, but I think it works sometimes, I think there is something to it.

    One theory is that your conscious mind is only a small part of your brain, of your mental capacity, and that by going through this process, you are handing over the problem to your subconscious mind which is both more powerful, and which can be working in the background when you are doing something else. I have heard it described that your conscious mind is really only like the GUI or user interface to your subconscious!

    I don't rely on it, especially under pressure, but I believe in it enough such that if I am given a difficult task at work, or at university, lets say I am given a difficult task at work just 1 minute before lunchtime, or a difficult assignment at university just before I go off on holiday. The urge is to say "Ah that can wait till after lunch / after my holiday." I tend not to do that, I tend to at least read through the problem, whatever documents or emails I have about it, for even 5 or 10 mins, knowing that this just might give my subconscious enough to work with and solve the task for me over lunch or holiday.

    I think most people reading this thread will have experienced the solution to a problem presenting itself to them while they are sitting on the bus, whilst playing golf, famously whilst sitting on the toilet etc. That is, I believe, a natural manifestation of the same thing, and this is only a method to try to kind of manually trigger that process.

    I think there are similarities with Sifu's approach, both involve defining and thinking about the problem then letting go. One major difference is that Sifu's method seems to accelerate the process. I am purely speculating for fun here, but perhaps Sifu's methods to clear or focus the mind, perhaps they free up the resources of the subconscious in a deliberate way, rather than just waiting for it to happen, and this enables the subconscious to get to the problem and solution in a quicker and more efficient way?