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The Great Problem-Solving Tool Article by: Earl Nightingale

All creatures on earth are supplied at birth with everything they need for successful survival. All creatures except one are supplied with a set of instincts that will do the job for them. And because of that, most creatures don’t need much of a brain. In the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Archibald MacLeish’s play The Secret of Freedom, a character says, “The only thing about a man that is man is his mind. Everything else you can find in a pig or a horse.” That’s uncomfortably true.

Take the magnificent bald eagle for example. To see one of them swooping down and pluck a live and sizeable fish from the water on a single pass is astonishing. More astonishing still is the eagle’s eyesight. And because of its need to see small rodents moving in the grass from high altitudes or a fish just inches under the surface of the water, its incredible eyes take up just about all the space in its head. For the eagle, its eyes are the most important thing, and everything else works in unison with them. Its brain is tiny and rudimentary. It doesn’t think or plan or remember; it simply acts in accordance with stimuli.

And it’s the same with most other living creatures. Even the beautiful porpoise, with a much larger brain, and the chimpanzee are easily tamed and taught. Only one takes 20 years to mature and has dominion over all the rest on the earth itself, and has today the power to destroy all life on earth in a couple of hours. Only one is given the godlike power to fashion its own life according to the images it holds in its remarkable mind.

The human mind is the one thing that separates us from the rest of the creatures on earth. Everything that means anything to us comes to us through our minds, our love of our families, our beliefs, all of our talents, knowledge, abilities. Everything is reflected through our minds. Anything that comes to us in the future will almost certainly come to us as a result of the extent to which we use our minds.

And yet, it’s the last place on earth the average person will turn to for help. You know why? You know why people don’t automatically turn their own vast mental resources on when faced with a problem? It’s because they never learned how to think. Most people will go to any length to avoid thinking when they’re faced with a problem. They will ask advice from the most illogical people, usually people who don’t know any more than they do: next-door neighbors, members of their families, and friends stuck in the same mental traps that they are. Very few of them use the muscles of their mind to solve their problems.

Yet living successfully, getting the things we want from life, is a matter of solving the problems that stand between where we are now and the point we wish to reach. No one is without problems. They’re part of living. But let me show you how much time we waste in worrying about the wrong problems. Here’s a reliable estimate of the things people worry about: Things that never happen: 40%. Things over and past that can never be changed by all the worry in the world: 30%. Needless worries about our health: 12%. Petty miscellaneous worries: 10%. Real legitimate worries: 8%.

In short, 92% of the average person’s worries take up valuable time, cause painful stress, even mental anguish, and are absolutely unnecessary. And of the real legitimate worries, there are two kinds. There are the problems we can solve, and there are the problems beyond our ability to personally solve. But most of our real problems usually fall into the first group, the ones we can solve, if we’ll learn how.

The average working person has at his or her disposal an enormous amount of free time. In fact, you’ll see if you’ll total the hours in a year and subtract the sleeping hours: If we sleep 8 hours every night, we have about 6,000 waking hours, of which less than 2,000 are spent on the job. Now this leaves 4,000 hours a year when a person is neither working nor sleeping. These can be called discretionary hours with which that person can do pretty much as he or she pleases.

So that you can see the amazing results in your own life, I want to recommend that you take just one hour a day, five days a week, and devote this hour to exercising your mind. You don’t even have to do it on weekends. Pick one hour a day on which you can fairly regularly count. The best time for me is an hour before the others are up in the morning. The mind’s clear, the house is quiet, and, if you like, with a fresh cup of coffee, this is the time to start the mind going.

During this hour every day take a completely blank sheet of paper. At the top of the page write your present primary goal clearly, simply. Then, since our future depends on the way in which we handle our work, write down as many ideas as you can for improving that which you now do. Try to think of 20 possible ways in which the activity that fills your day can be improved. You won’t always get 20, but even one idea is good.

Now remember two important points with regard to this. One, this is not particularly easy, and, two, most of your ideas won’t be any good. When I say it’s not easy, I mean it’s like starting any new habit. At first you’ll find your mind a little reluctant to be hauled up out of that old familiar bed. But as you think about your work and ways in which it might be improved, write down every idea that pops into your head, no matter how absurd it might seem.

The most important thing that this extra hour accomplishes is that it deeply embeds your goal into your subconscious mind, starts the whole vital machine reworking the first thing every morning. And 20 ideas a day, if you can come up with that many, total 100 a week, even skipping weekends.

An hour a day, five days a week, totals 260 hours a year and still leaves you 3,740 hours of free leisure time. Now this means you’ll be thinking about your goal and ways of improving your performance, increasing your service six full extra working weeks a year, 61/2 40-hour weeks devoted to thinking and planning. Can you see how easy it is to rise above that socalled competition? And it’ll still leave you with seven hours a day to spend as you please.

Starting each day thinking, you’ll find that your mind will continue to work all day long. And you’ll find that at odd moments, when you least expect it, really great ideas will begin to bubble up from your subconscious. When they do, write them down as soon as you can. Just one great idea can completely revolutionize your work and, as a result, your life.

Each time you write your goal at the top of the sheet of paper, don’t worry or become concerned about it. Think of it as only waiting to be reached, a problem only waiting to be solved. Face it with faith and bend all the great powers of your mind toward solving it. And believe me, solve it you will. This puts each of us in the driver’s seat.

Each of us has a tendency to underestimate his or her own abilities. We should realize that we have deep within ourselves deep reservoirs of great ability, even genius that can be tapped if we’ll just dig deep enough. It’s the miracle of your mind.

Everything fashioned by human beings is a result of goal setting. We reach our goals. That’s how we know that the diseases that plague us will be conquered. We’ve set goals to eradicate every disease that plagues us and eradicate them we will, one by one. We have never set a goal that we have not reached or are now in the process of reaching.


Learn more about Earl Nightingale and his all-time bestselling programs The Strangest Secret and Lead the Field.

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"First say to yourself what you would be: and then do what you have to do."

- Epictitus

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