We all know what it’s like to get really STUCK when working on an issue or a problem. Sometimes when it happens to me, I feel like I’m stalling out, as if I had been digging a hole and hit a big rock. The rock is too heavy to move; too large to get around it. It occurs to me that I should try to feel what’s it like when I actually touch the rock. Maybe even lie down on it.
But I don’t think that will work. I think the rock that is holding me back is another world unto itself. [The image conjured by Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte’s The Castle of the Pyrenees always comes to mind when I start on this particular chain of thought.] I can’t break the rock up into pieces or control it in any meaningful way. Maybe I should try to understand it. To do that, though, I have to make myself small. Very small. So small that I can penetrate the world that is the rock, almost swim inside the world that is the rock. I have to get inside and explore it.
Getting bigger doesn’t help. Backing away to “get perspective” doesn’t help. There’s a world there that simply isn’t visible from where I stand, shovel in hand, digging the hole. To make progress, I’ll need to get make myself small, literally get inside the problem world that has me stuck, so I can finally see what’s really going on, in all of its idiosyncratic detail. It may not be only the devil that’s in the details; the answer may also be hiding in the details.
Maybe this approach will work for you. Maybe not. Maybe some “problems” are just not amenable to solutions. Perhaps, as William Burroughs wrote:
“There are certain things human beings are not permitted to know — like what we’re doing.”
I prefer to think that Burroughs had it wrong, and the quote, attributed to Albert Einstein, gives the proper guidance when you get stuck:
“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”