I Can Solve Your Problems Better Than Mine

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of Hyperactive Multimedia at http://www.hyperactive.to)

Last week in a conversation with a friend I mentioned “you know how it’s easier to solve other peoples’ problems than to solve your own?” I was using this as a lead-in to a longer discussion, because he has some problems (in my opinion), and I’m really convinced I know how to solve them. I can see very clearly how he’s getting in his own way, self-sabotaging his own efforts, and refusing to face an aspect of himself that he should just confront directly.

“No,” he replied. OK, I thought – guess that ends that conversation. I didn’t pursue it any further.

Turns out you really CAN solve other peoples’ problems better than your own. According to a recently published research paper by Evan Polman and Kyle Emich, people were better able to engage in the abstract thinking required to solve complex problems if they believed they were making decisions on behalf of someone else. With greater psychological distance, a larger proportion of test subjects were able to develop workable solutions.

So when faced with a dilemma… ask someone else for advice. And make sure they’re not too close to you, meaning they can remain detached enough to present a solution based on resistance-free abstract thinking.

Here are some additional articles about the Polman & Emich (2011) study:

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