This is a problem I'm facing already during the entire course of my career (I'm 45 years old now): regularly I get stuck with something. I look at the problem and I can't find a solution. As I don't find a solution I ask for a collegue to help me out, and at the moment that my collegue arrives at my desk, I see the solution.

It all comes down to the ability to take a step behind and let go of the problem, but I have the impression that I'm bound to my problems like with an elastic band: I try to take a step behind but my mind keeps on getting the focus on it. When I give up and I decide to ask a collegue, my mind gets at ease, the elastic band gets broken and I see the solution.

Let me give you a typical example: I had compiled a program but it did not start up. This was due to the fact that I had compiled as a 32-bit program while the program was 64-bit. So, I re-compiled as 64-bit and copied the result again to the right directory (in a command prompt, using the "Arrow-up" key, but it was copying again from that 32-bit directory): so silly are my mistakes, and only after having asked a collegue I realised the issue.

Does anybody knows any tricks for easing my mind so that I can "let go" of my problems and see those easy solutions myself?

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    Get a rubber duck – Dan Pichelman Aug 16 '17 at 12:26
  • @DanPichelman : several people are making full answers out of this. It's the standard procedure, and works reasonably well. – gazzz0x2z Aug 16 '17 at 12:33
  • I used a combination of the rubber duck, Richard U's advice of taking a walk and a fidget spinner. Usually I only need one of those methods and I alternate which one I use so I don't get bored. – SaggingRufus Aug 16 '17 at 15:32
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    The answers are all great and work well. The problem stems from focusing on the topic to the point where you see what you expect to see, not what's actually there. Talking through it, to a person, inanimate object, or just yourself, forces you to see the details your mind's been overlooking because it could have sworn they'd already been taken care of. We've all been there, done that, continue to do it fairly regularly - welcome to the club! – FreeMan Aug 16 '17 at 18:05
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    My rubber duck is stackoverflow. Im on a very small team, so not really anyone to ask. So when I try to write the question in SO sometimes I got the answer just for trying to ask all the question details. – Juan Carlos Oropeza Aug 16 '17 at 18:35

Talk to the Bear

A previous project manager of mine told me that in one of his previous jobs, there was a teddy bear in the office.

If anyone had a problem that they couldn't figure out (much like your ones), they'd go an describe the problem to the bear. Doing so sometimes highlighted something missed, or another solution came to mind.

You don't have to use an actual soft toy, just talk it through in your head as though you're explaining to someone else.

Back at the start of my career, I used to annoy the team leader a lot by asking for help on things, only to supply the answer as part of my explanation.

I find that sleeping on things help too.


I've heard it described as the 'rubber duck' way of problem solving. You end up discovering the solution yourself simply by talking to someone (or something) about it. From your example I'd guess you're a developer or engineer of some sort? It can happen a lot in our field. Unless it's the same problem repeatedly getting missed, nobody should think less of you for doing it. (Dan's comment beat me to posting!)

If I'm dwelling on a problem too much, I find if you have opportunities to leave your desk for short spells, maybe to stretch your legs or go grab a coffee, they can help. I don't get a fix from coffee, but having my mind on another task and being away from my desk helps significantly. This can also lessen your stress over the problem and thus allow you see the solution easier next time around. You'll be looking at the problem with fresher eyes.

  • Some quick form of exercise is going to help this in two ways--one is that it gets you out of the problem for a few minutes so you can maybe refocus from a different angle, or at least reset your mental state. The other is that exercise has positive effects on cognition--it will literally help you think better. So stuck? Drop and give me 20 :) – Petro Aug 16 '17 at 18:20

I have this problem in spades. What all the advice you are being given comes down to is: Remove yourself from the situation, and regroup.

The rubber duck thing works, the plush toy thing works. For me, I get up and get a cup of coffee, or just go for a walk, or talk to someone not in my department.

The important thing is to step away from the problem for a few seconds so that you get out of the mode of trying to fix it. That is the reason that all of these solutions work. You need to remove yourself from the mindset that has you blocked. Try one or more of these suggestions and see what works for you.

  • what mean I have this problem in spades? – Juan Carlos Oropeza Aug 16 '17 at 18:33
  • @JuanCarlosOropeza it means he deals with this a lot, as do I. – Mister Positive Aug 16 '17 at 19:53

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