It's Puzzling

Over the Christmas holiday, I spent some quality time with our family. We were so happy to be involved with important family traditions we have grown to love. Some of these traditions included Christmas decorations, gingerbread house making, watching football, and puzzles.

The tradition of puzzles started with my family several years back. I am not one to sit still for long and my wife and daughter learned that working on puzzle as a family was a perfect way to enjoy family time. It was both quality and quantity time.

Through the years we have constructed many puzzles. This year as we were working one of the several puzzles, I began to ponder the idea of puzzles. It is common to say that something is "a puzzle," or we are "puzzled" by something that we don’t fully understand.

The use of puzzles as a metaphor for life goes back to ancient times. Socrates said, “The world’s a puzzle, no need to make sense of it.” Puzzles played a role in many ancient myths, which involved the protagonists worked to figure out some enigma or puzzle before passing onto the next stage of their journey.

I began to think about this physical example of a powerful metaphor for life. As you think about the puzzle box, the cardboard pieces, different shapes and colors, and the process itself the metaphor becomes easy to grasp.
You start, of course, with a large pile of randomized pieces. Thousands of them. At first it appears to be too big of a problem with no path forward. However, as you assess the situation you realize you do have clues. The picture on the box gives you an idea to a finished product. As you visualize you start getting a sense of groupings of the differently colored pieces and how they might work together.

Life is like this sometimes. We don’t always have all the answers and how it fits together. However, if we visualize the finished product we can start sorting the pieces to come together. In our lives our goals, ideologies, and dreams are the picture on the box. Our friends, family, opportunities and more are the pieces that come together to make the picture a reality.

So to reach big solutions we work backwards. In education world we refer to this as heuristics. This is the process of problem solving using shortcuts and allowing for efficient and speedy solutions. With puzzles, as in life, we tackle the big problems with small steps…visualize, sort, create edges, make connections, fill in the blanks, and enjoy the end.

I believe if we were willing to take on the challenges in learning and in life more like puzzles we would enjoy the process more and have better results. Take on big challenges by visualizing the outcome. Sort out what you have to work with and understand your resources. Start with what you know and build an outline for the finished product. Make connections with the things that are working and what you know. Then fill in the blanks and use the new opportunities to close the gaps. Lastly, enjoy the process and celebrate the conclusion.