Talk to a rubber duck and other ways to solve problems

At some point in life we all face different problems and have to overcome them. But what do you do when you’ve tried everything and nothing seems to be working?

Insted, you could try borrowing some problem solving techniques from different industries. Here are three to try...

Talk to your duck 

Talking to a rubber duck is an activity you might find a programmer doing when they’re trying to debug some code. The theory goes that talking out loud about the issue can help solve it. Programmers realised talking to a non-programmer was just as useful as talking to someone who understood the issue, so they replaced non-programmers with rubber ducks. Now programmers tell their rubber ducks what the code they’re working on is supposed to do and what it is currently doing to work out where it went wrong and how to fix it.

Author and professor Dr Loretta Bruening says that she uses the same trick when “she feels annoyed, afraid, or unsure what to do”.

Dr Breuening explains the words we choose are part of our overall thought process and talking aloud can help us find different solutions we might not have previously thought of. She says: “It works because when you talk to the rubber ducky on your desk, you have to connect words to your thought patterns. This forces different regions in your brain to work together, and you’ll be able to come up with new ‘templates’ instead of relying on your old ones.”


Improvisation is a technique often used by actors, writers and directors in theatre. If they’re not sure where a scene is going, a director might ask actors to improvise the next part for some inspiration.

The rules of improvisation are fairly simple:

  • Say yes - always agree with whatever has been said initially, otherwise your scene will grind to a halt
  • Say yes and… - bring something new to the scene, contribute to the direction in which it is heading
  • Make statements - don’t always ask questions, otherwise you’re putting pressure on someone else to come up with the answers
  • There are no mistakes - no matter how an actor interprets what another has done, that is how the scene is going to go

So how does this apply to any other problem you might be facing? Learning improvisation skills helps you to think in a new way. You’re constantly looking for ways to bring something new to a situation, rather than shut it down. Improvisation teaches you to think more creatively, which can help you to find a solution to any problem you might be facing.

Flotation tanks

Once thought of as a new-age fad, flotation tanks have become increasingly popular in recent years. Some people swear by sensory deprivation to help them come up with their best ideas.

“It's about making a blank canvas in your mind so you can then picture something completely original. It's a little like the stage just before falling asleep, where you have a really vivid imagination and things just appear in your head,” Gary Mossman, a tattoo artist, told the BBC

Neuroscientist Dr John Lilly came up with the idea for flotation tanks, originally called sensory deprivation tanks, in the 1950s. It’s based on the scientific approach to deep relaxation called Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique (or REST for short). Dr Lilly realised that floating in a flotation tank triggered a deep relaxation response much deeper than normal sleep and enables people to drift into the ‘Theta state’.

The Theta state is achieved when brainwaves slow down to a much lower rate than when someone is wide awake. It is the same state as when a person is dreaming or has been hypnotised. It is often referred to as the ‘twilight state’ just before sleeping and just after waking. People can achieve this state by using flotation tanks, which can influence their subconscious to think deeper and more creatively.


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