How to change your life with a Rubik’s Cube

What if I told you that by playing with a simple children’s toy, you could better handle difficult challenges at work and in your personal life? Would you try it or would you just read this and tell yourself “that’s interesting, but I don’t really think it would do anything for me?” I found a secret in a common toy that will help you unlock your potential for life-long learning, upgrade your tenacity, and improve your ability to solve difficult problems in life and work. There have been over 350 million Rubik’s cubes sold, making it the best-selling toy of all time. Yet it is estimated that only 1% of people above age 10 in the US can actually solve the Rubik’s cube.

Back when I was in college at Georgia Tech, one of the guys in my dorm had a Rubik’s Cube and he could solve it within a couple of minutes. I asked him to show me how to do it. Within about five minutes I realized it wasn’t something I was going to learn in 30 minutes and that was about the limit of my attention span.  Ever since then, I had this slight nag to want to learn the solution.

A couple of years ago my company had purchased a bunch of cubes to give away at campus career fairs and we had several of them laying around the office, but no one could actually solve them. They were usually just gathering dust on people’s desks. I picked one up one day and decided I would learn to solve it to test myself.  I was going to practice tenacity.  I frequently started things and didn’t finish, usually because I lost attention or something more interesting came along.  Or maybe that’s the story I told myself.

Let’s take a look at the challenge itself:

  1. There are 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 possible combinations for the pieces.  -It’s hard!
  2. The world record for a human solving a properly mixed cube is at the time of publication 5.55 seconds.  -It must be easy for some people!
  3. You are more likely to be struck by lightning than to solve the cube by chance, so if you tell someone that you solved it once by accident, you are most likely mistaken.  -Ok, good to know. I will be part of an elite group of cube solvers if I can do this.
  4. The cube is solved by applying several algorithms or sequences of moves based on the current position of the pieces. These can be intuitive motions or simple patterns that you use to manipulate the pieces into the correct positions. -I haven’t looked at algorithms since college, sounds complicated.
  5. You can find hundreds of solutions online and can teach yourself to solve the cube in just a few days with a little practice. There are even videos that explain the moves in slow motion. -Alright I can do this.

So how does this change your life? It won’t. Only you can do that. Change requires deliberate practice. This is an opportunity for you to practice.  But what are you practicing?

There will be countless situations in your work and personal lives where you will be met with a similar challenge. You will see something difficult, seemingly insurmountable, or time-consuming, but something you know someone else can solve. You will have three options: give up, ask someone else to do it, or do it yourself.

Give up: You start finding reasons why the task is not important. Your inner self, feeling insufficient, lazy, and/or disappointed in finding a challenge that is too hard starts justifying away the problem. Often, faster than you can even realize you felt that way to begin with. You are likely starting to do this right now at the mere suggestion that I ask you to solve a Rubik’s cube. You start telling yourself all the reasons why you shouldn’t do this in the face of difficulty.

Ask someone else: This might be a good option if you have an unsolved cube and you need it solved just this once and you will never mess it up again. But I have a feeling that if you are in this situation once,  it will likely happen again.  You can either take the time to learn how to solve this problem yourself, or you can rely on others to do things for you whenever you are in trouble.  Sometimes you will need help from others, and it’s a valuable skill to be able to ask for help when you need it.  But lets face it,  it’s not a good option for the task at hand.

Do it yourself: Ok you made it to the best choice for this challenge! Now the work begins.  This is going to be hard, if it were easy, everyone would already know how to do it.  But like all difficult things, solving a Rubik’s cube is as simple as executing several simple tasks in the right order.   The difficulty only lies in learning exactly what those steps are and in what order to execute them. Doing each of them is usually not difficult at all.  You can do it!  Links will be posted at the end.

I learned how to solve it in a few weeks and now I can solve my cube in less than 2 minutes fairly consistently.  I learned the basic mechanics of the cube and the notation used for explaining the possible moves. There were about 6 steps to the   I tried following the steps all the way through and kept getting frustrated as I got confused and messed up my cube and had to start over. I spent about a week just trying to get it solved step by step, following the guides I found online. I would memorize later, first I just wanted to get it solved once. It took a lot of tries just to get it solved even while looking at the instructions.  I then wanted to solve it without having to look at the instructions.  I would get closer and closer and after about a couple of weeks of practice, I started noticing patterns in the first few moves that I kept having to repeat as I was messing up the later moves. These visual patterns started to replace the cube notation I was trying to follow for the first few steps.  Then soon, the steps started to become second nature as my hands developed muscle memory.  The first steps became mastered through practice and then I was able to focus on the later steps.  Eventually they were each mastered and I was able to solve the cube consistently and without needing to look at the instructions.

I continue to practice solving my cube every so often and each time I remind myself of the seemingly impossible feat I had overcome with tenacity and persistence.  I remember how it felt as I failed and how thankful I am that I didn’t let myself give up. When I run into a challenge at work, I am now reminded of that feeling of defeat, and have started to apply this same tenacity to those difficult challenges. I have been teaching myself to identify when self-doubt is starting enter my thoughts and this enables me to attack these feelings before I let them persuade me from accomplishing my goals. Practicing in a manufactured situation such as this can enable you to be more prepared when a real situation arises.

Now if you are ready to accept the challenge:

How to solve a Rubik’s Cube

Here are some good cubes if you want to buy one. I prefer the DaYan models as they turn much faster and smoother.

The DaYan ZhanChi Black
This one is black with stickers and looks like the traditional ones you have seen before, but it is much faster and turns smoothly.

The DaYan ZhanChi Stickerless
This one has permanently colored pieces without stickers and is good if you get annoyed by the peeling stickers over time.

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