Your Brain Needs To Solve A Puzzle. Give It A Good One.

Otherwise it will choose problems that can’t be solved

Deb Knobelman, PhD
4 min readJun 19, 2019


I was trying hard not to lose my sh*t this morning.

It takes a lot for me to lose my cool at this stage of my life. I have a lot of good mental tools that I use to shift perspective when the unexpected happens. And most of the time, I know that flying off the handle never gets me the results that I want.

But this morning, my team made an error related an important work project for the fourth time. For the fourth time we had to reschedule a meeting because someone missed a few key details.

At this point, I had used every tool in my toolbox to manage my own mind. I was all out. The anger and frustration were creeping higher and higher. I spent the morning fixated on what went wrong. My mind working feverishly on the Rubik’s Cube of all that had happened on this project in the past. Looking for some way to undo what had already been done.

Because I was working from home, in the middle of the day I took a break to drive my kids over to a friends’ house. They were going to spend the afternoon at a water park. They were bubbling over with enthusiasm, but I was silent and distracted. My mind was still working on the puzzle from this morning.

My kids asked me why I was being so quiet. (Another reminder that your kids see everything). I told them I was still thinking about a “work thing” from the morning.

And then my 8 year old asked, with genuine curiosity: Why are you still thinking about that?

In his mind, hours had passed since the event had taken place. How on earth could it still be in my head?

And I had to admit, he had a great point.

Why was I still thinking about it?

My brain had latched onto a puzzle. My brain, like most people, loves a puzzle. And often, working on mental puzzles leads to great, unusual, or unexpected solutions.

But this time, I let my brain pick the wrong puzzle. Instead of telling myself to focus on what to do next, or even to focus on all the current projects and tasks and activities on my plate. I let my brain obsess over something that went…



Deb Knobelman, PhD

Neuroscience. Wall Street. C-Suite. Parent. Recovering Nervous Nelly.