A Story of Classic ‘In the Box’ Thinking
I lived in an apartment before we consolidated into a four-generation home. I loved my apartment except for one thing, there weren’t many electrical outlets, and they didn’t all work well. I know I could have fixed them, but as with most things that don’t cause enough discomfort, I just kept thinking about it.
Because of the outlet situation, I plugged my vacuum into the bathroom outlet, which was down a short hallway from the living room. It was high on the wall by the mirror. It wouldn’t hold the plug tightly and the plug frequently fell out. It was exasperating every time I vacuumed.
By the time I finished, I would be angry at the vacuum and the plug, as if they were living things out to make my life miserable. Occasionally I would yell at them. I was a victim of a home with lousy outlets! When I was ready to vacuum, I sometimes thought about how exasperating it would be. I was bugged before I started. You may be laughing, but I know you can relate!
One day my daughter stopped over and helped with the vacuuming. I noticed she plugged the vacuum into the kitchen, which was also off the living room. I was amazed because it never occurred to me to do that. I had always used the bathroom outlet. Despite being upset over the situation, I was busy and wanted it done so I could get on to the next thing. I never took the time to problem-solve the dilemma. This is an example of classic in the box thinking.
It took an outside view to help me see another alternative. The next day Jodie had a second idea. She showed me that if I wanted to use the bathroom plug, I could wrap the cord around the towel rack hanging just above it, and it would stay in. Imagine two solutions to my problem in two days after years of frustration. Both solutions were simple and doable.
I had gotten into the box when it came to vacuuming. Being frustrated, angry, and feeling like a victim of bad outlets had become a habit for me.
I am sure you are thinking how silly, how foolish to put up with a bothersome situation so long when there were easy solutions right under my nose. You are right, but that is what in the box thinking is…moving down one road filled with ruts and holes and not taking the time to consider other alternatives; feeling put upon, bothered, stuck, or victimized.
I am sharing this old experience because this happens in relationships and in parenting. A child is bugging us, we can’t figure out how to solve a problem in their schooling results, we can’t seem to fix our schedule, the kids won’t do their chores, we haven’t been able to make curfew work or manage the technology in our home, and the list goes on.
We’re all busy and sometimes do not take the time to step back and think out of the box to resolve the issue. It’s easier to put up with things that are bugging us until they become habits and cause real pain. It’s also easier to blame someone or something else, just as I blamed the vacuum cord and the plug. The real problem was easy for my daughter to solve because she wasn’t blaming anything, she wasn’t willing to be frustrated, and she was willing to STOP, look, and see what other options were available. Once we climb outside the box, all sorts of possible solutions emerge.
Thinking out of the box is associated with creativity, it causes us to move in diverging directions, consider a variety of solutions, and not feel like victims.
We all need help to get out of our boxes. We may find that help in a wise neighbor or friend, maybe even a helpful daughter. We might need a counselor or mentor. We can find solutions to issues that are causing us pain.
But we must:
• Realize that there may be a better way if we look.
• Be willing to accept other options when presented.
• Listen to the ideas of others. Sometimes ask your child.
• Get outside help if needed.
• Allow yourself to experiment with new ways of being or engaging with others. If it doesn’t work, there is no failure. Just try another experiment.
When we learn to stop and look at our problems in new ways, we can solve them.
Getting out of the box can lead to better family relationships and peace.