Here’s some intelligence that’ll keep you from running to the hardware store in the middle of your next project, and turn you into the neighborhood MacGyver.
University of Massachusetts psychologist Dr. Tony McCaffrey says the biggest obstacle to solving any problem is something called functional fixedness. That’s the tendency to think about things in terms of what they’re commonly used for, instead of what they could do, like, a quarter. Sure, you can spend it, but it could also be used to tighten a screw, or level a wonky refrigerator.
Dr. McCaffrey says it’s easy to overcome your preconceived notions about everything - all you need is a little practice mentally breaking down your projects and your tools into their smallest components. For example: Say you need to tighten the battery cables so you can start your car and drive it home, but all you have are your car keys, and a wrench that’s too big. But if you think of your keys as flat pieces of metal instead of things that unlock doors, you’ll realize you can use them to fill the extra space in the wrench so you can tighten the nut.
So, the next time you find yourself in a make-do-with-what-you’ve-got situation, stop and consider what you’ve got on hand. Your neighbors will be impressed to see you touching up paint with a piece of weather-stripping clipped in a clothespin, and you won’t have wasted the time it takes to run to the store for a new paintbrush.