Mindful Problem Solving

In my work as a therapist I help clients lower their stress response through breath work and thinking through options; hypothetical, outrageous or immediate rule-outs, to help lower the tension in any given situation. Using Mindful Problem Solving, we start by checking in with our breath and body, then state five to ten options out loud. This practice can help anyone in any given stress situation, to sift through options and find their way to a thoughtful or neutral response vs. a reactive, aggressive, damaging (to self and others) reaction.

Mindful Problem Solving is one of my favorite activities, I’ve practiced it for many years and it’s helped me to feel calm in the midst of chaos.

On Sunday we were invited to the Atlanta Falcons football game. This was my first time at Mercedes Benz Stadium, and I was blown away by it’s beauty. We were invited by my husband’s work friends, and they had a lovely suite in the center of the stadium. There were chicken tenders and diet coke, I was in heaven. It was a beautiful sunny day, the team was doing well, and it was nice to be with friends on this lovely Sunday afternoon.

Onto the stressful part…. the amount of traffic upon exiting the game! It’s a known fact that there will be traffic after a game in downtown Atlanta, but it’s a different experience to be IN traffic on a Sunday when you want to be home on the couch or getting ready for the week head. Mindfulness teaches us to be where our feet are. So, we’re sitting in the car on the eleventh floor of this parking garage, and we’re not moving. I can tell the tension is rising in the car, and a level of impatience and discomfort, so I introduced the Mindful Problem-Solving technique.

First, be accepting of where you are in the present moment. You are here, be here. Be with your breath. Come back in to your body and out of your thinking. Take a few deep, cleansing inhales and exhales. You are where you are supposed to be, everything else is a preference: “I prefer to be home”, “I prefer there to be no traffic.” Our acceptance of being in the here and now is also a friendly reminder that everything is temporary, nothing lasts forever, including our mood and the traffic. Soon we’ll be out of this parking garage, the cars will pile out of here like gum balls leaving a gum ball machine, it’s only a matter of time. In the time we have in the present moment, let’s think of our options. Can you list five to ten options? Here’s what we came up with:

  1. Park the car and walk to a nearby restaurant
  2. Park the car and walk to the nearby Ferris Wheel
  3. Stay in line and listen to music
  4. Stay in line and watch the Office on Netflix
  5. Have someone read an interesting story, book, or article
  6. Sing fun songs
  7. Play “I Spy”
  8. Ask our friends from work invasive personal questions
  9. Be angry, beep the horn, and stew in our moodiness
  10. Complain about the heat, the traffic, and the burden of this un-moving line of cars

Now, 8,9, and 10 are comical and an obvious rule-out, but if we’re struggling to reach ten items we can think about options we’d like to rule out. This process can also lead us to a place of gratitude. Out loud I shared what I’m grateful for: being invited and attending today’s game, spending time with great friends, the chicken tenders and mac-n-cheese were delish. I’m glad our team won, I loved seeing all of the smiles and energy from the fans, the DJ was cool, Chipper Jones and one of the Wayans brothers were there. I was grateful for the AC in the car and for this covered parking lot and the fact that we didn’t have to walk very far to and from the game.
After saying our gratitude lists out loud, the traffic began to break up, and we made it to the freeway. We chose a dinner option and headed over to the Buford Highway to eat the most amazing sushi ever at one of our favorite restaurants. This put a smile on everyone’s face, all thanks to Mindful Problem-Solving!

This activity involved the mind/body connection; to calm the body and the mind with cleansing breaths, to practice acceptance and surrender, and find that we do have options. We also looked at the fact that we create our own reality, and it is our preferences that cause suffering. I invite you to try this out the next time you’re faced with discomfort and prefer to be somewhere else.

I invite you to be where your feet are, all we have is now!




Lauren Corsillo, LPC