Einstellung Effect

Have you ever been stuck on a coding problem and kept slipping back into the same approach to solving it? As a result, you're stuck doing the same thing as before, without any new insight or progress.


Have you ever been stuck on a cod­ing prob­lem and kept slip­ping back into the same approach to solv­ing it? As a result, you’re stuck doing the same thing as before, with­out any new insight or progress. 

It is a frus­trat­ing cir­cum­stance because you know there has to be a bet­ter or dif­fer­ent approach, but you feel blocked like there’s a locked door between you and a more pro­duc­tive strat­e­gy at solv­ing the problem. 

I faced this reg­u­lar­ly, and I have good news for you. There’s a rea­son! It’s called the Ein­stel­lung Effect.

The Ein­stel­lung Effect hap­pens when your first idea for some­thing is influ­enced by how you solved some­thing sim­i­lar in the past. That can be good, but it usu­al­ly pre­vents you from dis­cov­er­ing a bet­ter approach.

This effect impacts you when you’re fac­ing a new prob­lem or one that is square­ly in your area of exper­tise. It’s not a sign of a lack of knowl­edge or expe­ri­ence. But it can feel like it.

We are intel­li­gent crea­tures. We are for­ev­er in the hunt for effi­cien­cy and opti­miza­tion. As a result, our brains try to cre­ate short­cuts so we can process and out­put infor­ma­tion faster. 

Accord­ing to Dr. Lisa Feld­man Bar­rett, the author of Sev­en and a Half Lessons About the Brain,” the human brain evolved to man­age the body’s resources to ensure sur­vival. As a result, it like­ly did not devel­op to solve the most com­plex prob­lems using new approach­es. That would use too much energy.

In her book, Learn­ing How to Learn,” Bar­bara Oak­ley refers to this phe­nom­e­non as rut think.” It’s when your mind gets so used to run­ning along neur­al path­ways that it can’t eas­i­ly change. As a result, you become less flex­i­ble in your thinking.”

How do you get around the Ein­stel­lung Effect to a new approach to solv­ing the problem? 

  • Zoom out: Broad­en your view and think about the larg­er project and prob­lem you’re try­ing to solve. 
  • Take a break: Let that prob­lem sim­mer on the back­burn­er for a while. It could be an hour while you go for a walk or a day while you han­dle oth­er com­mit­ments and get a night’s rest.
  • Take a nov­el approach: Try an approach that seems unusu­al, sil­ly, below your expe­ri­ence lev­el or some­thing you’ve nev­er tried before.

Keep the Ein­stel­lung Effect in mind the next time you strug­gle with a code bug or imple­men­ta­tion issue. It’s how we’re made, but we can get around it!