Have you ever turned a problem over and over in your head, tried to work through it, to find a solution, but...nothing? It may be, to you, a hard, vexing, messy problem you feel you can't solve. That's where an important question comes in.
The human individual, with a decent brain, is a remarkably perceptive and powerful creature. So you can probably solve many problems yourself just by working at them. But as an individual, you are by your very nature, limited to your own perspective. That doesn't mean you can't consider others, or adjust your own to account for new information. But you can really only possess your perspective. In other words, you can see through others' eyes. Because your perspective is limited you will miss things. Angles, corners, filters, horizons, aspects of a problems and solutions that just never occured to you.
When I'm struggling with a difficult problem, especially one involving emotional and neurochemical unknowns, I like to ask:
Is there something I'm missing here?
This can be asked in the psychologist's office, of a friend, a coworker, or just a perceptive stranger. If your question is not about emotional matters, like "How can I find a better internship?" or "Can I make my own TRX straps?*" you could ask anyone. But if you're asking about emotional matters—"Why did that woman reject me?" or "How do I tell my grandparents I'm gay?" you should choose someone you know and trust.
Asking emotionally charged questions shows vulnerability, which is both why we often avoid them, and this is exactly why they're so important to ask. Showing your vulnerability reminds you, and the person you're asking, that you have a real emotional stake in your question.
Something to do with growing up
While sometimes I envy the horizon of a 24-year-old, I have a certain gratitude for being over 40 and having found, not too late, at least a few people with whom I can have heart-to-heart, sincere, deep conversations about emotional matters without the judgement or distraction that often characterizes the young. I've found that as I become more comfortable with myself, I'm also more comfortable sharing personal matters with others and getting their honest feedback, even when it's not what I want to hear. It matters especially when it's not what I want to hear.
If you're 15, 20, or 25, you may have a harder time finding someone who can really, truly listen. But they're around. And sometimes the only way to find them is to keep talking to new people until you find that one you really click with. I have friends I've known for years with whom I've never really "gone deep," but have also had probing and insightful conversations with people I've just met. These kind of connections are not predictable.
If you're stuck in narrow circle of friends, a small town where everyone knows everyone else's business, or just can't find the right connection, consider counseling. In some areas and cultures of the U.S., counseling for men may be looked down upon. You're expected to "man up" and plow on through your problems or repress them via alcohol, yelling at sports bars, or some other poor substitute for actually dealing with them. F*ck that. If you want counseling, find it. It's no one's business but your own. "Manning up" can also mean owning your problems and looking for solutions.
Next time you're stuck in a problem, ask the important question: "Is there something I'm missing here?"
*Yes, they're glorified tow straps.