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When your back’s against the wall, finding the real problem requires sophisticated skills (even more than finding solutions). If you’re too close to the problem, you sacrifice the insight to identify it accurately and discover effective solutions. Here’s how to manage the distance for clearer perspectives and better results.

You solve problems every day, all day, right?  Problems are a part of the fabric of life.  Your skill in clearly identifying and solving them is directly related to your effectiveness and success.

People engage me as their coach for support and help as they solve “problems” related to future growth, meeting a challenge, breaking out of a “stuck” experience, or correcting a deficit.  Problems come in small and extra-large sizes. Often the solution is simple or routine. But, in this volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, finding the best way through many of today’s problems is often difficult.

***Click here to listen to this article through our Discover Your True Course Podcast channel.

Problem-solving becomes more difficult when you resist the mental work needed to identify the problem clearly and accurately.  Identifying the problem is often neglected because it requires highly advanced skills and hard work.  You can settle for shallow, fuzzy descriptions of the problem or substitute symptoms for the real problem.  But, if you don’t do the work required to identify the problem clearly, you’ll waste time and energy in attempted problem-solving.

The cliche, “You’re too close to the problem,” may be true more often than you realize.  Your proximity (how close to or far away from the problem you are) can enhance or inhibit your ability to identify and solve it effectively and efficiently.  Sometimes you need more and sometimes less distance from the reality of the situation.  This “proximity” can be mentally manipulated to allow for better problem-solving.

There are at least six areas in which it’s important to manage your psychological proximity.

  • Social (Distance between self and other people)
  • Temporal (Distance between the present and the future)
  • Spatial (Distance between physical location and faraway places)
  • Experiential (Distance between imagining something and experiencing it)*
  • Hypothetical (Distance the probability or certainty that something will happen)**
  • Emotional (Distance between your sense of risk and reward; security and danger; caring and indifference)

As you work on small or extra-large problems, you can be too close or too far away at any given time.   If you are too close, you will focus on the concrete, the details, and the feasibility.  If you are too far, you will focus on the abstract, the big picture, and desirability.*  It’s important to consciously cycle the distance between close and far away as it best provides creative insight into the issues.

What are some tips for using psychological proximity to help with problem identification and problem-solving? 

Watch for our mid-May ezine, where I’ll offer you a tool that includes questions and techniques I use with clients in solving problems.  You can experiment with it on your own and see if it helps.

Meanwhile, if you have a problem of any size that has your back against the wall, contact us, and we’ll give you our best help and service for finding the real problem and effective solutions.



Concepts related to my idea of psychological “proximity” are also contained in the literature on construal theory and psychological “distance.”

*Hamilton, R. (March 2015) Bridging Psychological Distance. Harvard Business Review.  Retrieved from on April 24, 2023.

** Liberman, N., and Trope, Y. (2008). The psychology of transcending the here and now. Science 322, 1201–1205. doi: 10.1126/science.1161958.  Liberman, N., Trope, Y., and Stephan, E. (2007). “Psychological distance,” in Social Psychology: Handbook of Basic Principles, Vol. 2. eds A. W. Kruglanski and E. T. Higgins (New York: The Guilford Press), 353-381.

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