Three ways to untangle a complex problem

On the drive back from Lake Tahoe last week, I worked on untangling a very mixed up mess of yarn for a blanket I’m crocheting.

The task seemed impossible, but I kept at it. And by the third hour, I prevailed.

I don’t know if it was the mindfulness of the process, but as I separated thread from thread, I learned three lessons that seem to apply to many of life’s complicated challenges.


Here’s what the yarn taught me:

1. Loosen first to create space. If I pulled tighter to try to get the job done more quickly, it made everything harder to resolve. But if I pulled the yarn apart, creating space between the threads, new pathways of detanglement appeared.

Likewise, maybe if we can release our rigid grip on how we think life has to go, we just might be surprised by a new solution appearing that we hadn’t seen before. I find this kind of psychological flexibility useful when I’m trying to calm a conflict.

2. Attack the problem from both ends. When I got stuck (and frustrated) focusing my efforts on one end of the yarn, I found the other end and started to work backwards. What I discovered was fascinating. As I untangled one end, it helped the other end too. So I started switching back and forth between ends to solve the puzzle faster.

This strategy could also work in penny-pinching times. Save on spending, and explore ideas for earning more.

On one end, you might make a list of all your expenses for last month and see where you could cut back. For me, it would mean less eating out. And on the other end, you might look at money coming in and brainstorm some ideas for having just a bit more income. I’d be pulled towards freelance projects I could do on the side from home.

3. Recruit help to solve it faster. As I was about half-way done, an 8-year-old voice called out from the back seat. “Mommy, what are you doing? Can I help?” I passed her a chunk of the tangle, and we worked on it together, having fun as well as speeding up the process.

In life, maybe we all too often try to take on big challenges alone. Is there one person who you might call on to help? All it could take is someone to listen as you talk things through, or maybe more hands-on assistance is needed.

Whatever may come this happy new year, let the yarn teach us to spaciously work together from both ends. If you relate to these insights or they help you in some way, please let me know!

Wishing you all the very best for the year ahead, with love.

6 thoughts on “Three ways to untangle a complex problem

  1. Hi Alex! Thank you for this post and the fab picture! Will be sending it on to my yarn-buddies asap! It’s so true about the tangled wool, cotton or our lives….we need to take a step back, look at the problems and ask for help too…which is one of my best failures! It’s always easier to get the job done quicker if I do it myself, but as I get burnt out, like over Christmas, I have to ask for others to step in and help.
    The job isn’t always done as well as I would like, but it’s another tick off the list!
    Btw: I actually like untangling wool!!!
    Happy New Year to you, Jon, your families and all Moodnugderers! x

  2. FIND A BUDDY to attend a doctor’s appointment with you – besides being a bit on the
    deaf side, I get sort of blind with the ol’ nerves ! Happy days find you all in 2015 !!!

  3. Dear Alex,
    thank you so much for all your positive and clever “nudges”, both yours and Jon’s, weekly mindful “gems”…Have a wonderful New Year’s Eve, my warmest wishes for 2015!

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