Subjective vs objective problem-solving

To make a rough division, imagine there are two categories of problem-solving: subjective and objective.

Problem: Making wine taste better

  • Objective way: Refine the production process
  • Subjective way: Make the wine bottle heavier

In the context of wine bottles, our minds associate heaviness with quality, so either way can solve the problem. (Beware this trick next time you buy wine.)

Problem: Curing a headache

  • Objective way: Create a more effective chemical composition for the painkiller
  • Subjective way: Make the painkiller more expensive

In this and many other contexts, we associate price with effectiveness, so either way can solve the problem. If we believe the medicine is more effective, it really is, due to the placebo effect.

As Rory Sutherland puts it: “I don’t have a $0.79 headache, I’ve got a $3.99 headache!”

Understanding subjective vs objective problem-solving helps you cut through marketing bullshit, but it also helps you solve personal issues.

Problem: Get happy

  • Objective way: Get rich, buy all the cars and houses you ever wanted
  • Subjective way: Become satisfied with what you have

Problem: Get attractive

  • Objective way: Make-up, clothes, plastic surgery, tanning, gymming…
  • Subjective way: Self-acceptance

Problem: Stop being lonely

  • Objective way: Get more friends, organize events, buy a pet
  • Subjective way: Get comfortable being on your own

The key revelation is that subjective and objective reality are, to your mind, the same thing. So you can use your mind to solve (seemingly) physical problems, like how attractive you are.

We tend to default to objective problem-solving, but next time, try to go the other route and see if that’s better.

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