Rubik’s Cube: Life Lessons

Solving the Rubik’s Cube is no small feat.

That’s what I always thought. The few times I’d gotten past the default “That’s not for me” reflex and actually messed with a Rubik’s cube, I quickly became overwhelmed by all the shifting variables. As soon as I’d get some of the same color together, I would mess it up by trying to move other colors around. It was unpleasant, and I had no interest in wasting any more time on it.

That was until this last time.

My kids brought the cube to me and asked if I knew how to fix it. And that’s when it hit me – Someone knows how to do it. In fact, a lot of people know how. And if a lot of people know how, there must be a system or formula to it. And if I can learn the system, I can do it too!

Any time you learn something new, those learnings can be applied to other areas of life and business as well. So I went after this Rubik’s Cube thing, staying aware of all the important lessons right in front of me:

Follow someone who’s done it before

My first mistake in prior attempts was expecting to be able to figure it out right then, not knowing that it took Ernő Rubik a month to find the solution after he invented the cube. So this time, I looked for models – people who have gone down this road before, so that I can learn from their experience. This was the most important part of solving the Rubik’s Cube, since I wasn’t interested in dedicating a month or more to this project.

Google revealed several experts on line, and many show the system, rather than specific instructions, for solving the Rubik’s Cube. I picked one, and suddenly half the battle was already won.

So it is anywhere else. One day I was talking to a friend about a project in my business, when I wasn’t sure what to do with all the variables. He asked me a question that pointed me down a much simpler road: “Who do you know of that has done this before?” I immediately thought of a few people who would know exactly what to do, and realized this wasn’t something I had to figure out on my own.

Do simplest steps first

In the past, the 36 shifting colors had been so overwhelming. But now I understood 2 very simple principles:

  1. 6 squares never move, so build around those
  2. You only need to worry about moving 4 squares to get started

4 SQUARES! That’s so easy! 5 seconds and I was done with step 1.

Now think of all the things, ALL the things, that you have to do this week. And all the steps involved with each one of those tasks. And now you’re probably totally overwhelmed and de-motivated.

Instead, ask yourself – what is the first action I can take to move forward on one of those things> What is the easiest, simple step just to get started getting things done? And how much lighter does that feel?

Stay focused on what really matters

As I continued working on getting 1 color done, I noticed that all the other colors were getting jumbled even worse thank they had been. I felt that sense of overwhelm coming again, as I paid attention to everything that was constantly changing.

But then I brought my attention back to that one color that I was working on. The other colors could move anywhere, and that was OK, because I only had to get 4 squares in place. Then 3. Then 2. Then only 1. And finally, while everything else was a mess, I had 1 side that was complete.

How many times, when we start making progress, we start to notice everything else – phone ringing, Facebook notifications, issues with kids’ school, computer crash, whatever. But like a ship in the ocean, with no land in sight, storm raging, sharks circling, if we just keep our eye on that compass pointing to where we want to go, we’ll get there.

Trust the process

I was almost done. Now, instead of having the first 4 squares in place, I had every square in place except the last 4.

The process to get the last 4 in place is something like this:

  1. Systematically jumble up ALL of the squares
  2. Keep doing it til one of the last 4 gets in to place
  3. Turn
  4. Repeat, mixing everything until all of the final 4 are in place

This was hard for me. Right when you are almost done, you have to “wreck” it.

The first time I tried it, I panicked. I had gotten farther than I ever had before, and then it all got mixed up and destroyed. I tried to reverse what I’d done, convinced I’d done something wrong, but that just made it worse. I had to start all over.

But the second time, I followed the instructions: “Keep doing this until they are all in place.” Everything got mixed up, it looked awful, felt worse. But I kept going.

Finally, just as the 4th and last piece got in place, everything else lined up, and Boom! As if by magic, I was done.

There is probably some complex mathematical algorithm under all this that makes it add up, but I have no clue right now how it works. I just know that if I keep doing the right thing, it all lines up in the end.

There have been many times in the past when I had the “plan” – a good, solid plan, but then things started to look messy.

Sometimes, I panicked at the mess and either quit or backed out, leaving a messy “failure” behind.

But other times, just a few magical times, I trusted the process and kept going through the mess. And it’s an amazing feeling when you come out the other side, everything clicks into place, and turns out great!

Overall this was a fun process, and felt good to get to the end of it this time. And for me, it’s a good reminder to learn things that don’t seem directly related to what I usually focus on, because the lessons can be applied in really effective ways.

If you’re interested in the exact process I used to solve the Rubik’s Cube, you can read it here.

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