18 And it came to pass that as I, Nephi, went forth to slay food, behold, I did break my bow, which was made of fine steel; and after I did break my bow, behold, my brethren were angry with me because of the loss of my bow, for we did obtain no food.
19 And it came to pass that we did return without food to our families, and being much fatigued, because of their journeying, they did suffer much for the want of food.
20 And it came to pass that Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael did begin to murmur exceedingly, because of their sufferings and afflictions in the wilderness; and also my father began to murmur against the Lord his God; yea, and they were all exceedingly sorrowful, even that they did murmur against the Lord….
23 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did make out of wood a bow, and out of a straight stick, an arrow; wherefore, I did arm myself with a bow and an arrow, with a sling and with stones. And I said unto my father: Whither shall I go to obtain food?
(1 Nephi 16:18-20, 23)
In the early 1900’s, psychologist Karl Duncker devised a cognitive test known as the “Candle Problem.” A participant is left alone with the following items on a table: a candle, a box of thumbtacks, and a book of matches. The participant’s task is to light the candle and connect it to the wall in a way that no wax will drip on the table below.
The solution is simple: empty the box, tack it to the wall, place the candle in the box, and light the candle. The reason that many people fail to solve the problem is because they see the box only as a container for the tacks, not a tool they can use in solving the puzzle.
Sam Glucksberg, a professor at Princeton University has shown that, when participants are given a time limit or offered money to complete this test, they are less likely to solve it. He postulated that the increased level of stress shuts down the creative part of the brain, leaving people unable to think about the objects in unconventional ways. (See the discussion of this experiment in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink.)
In the passage above, we see this same phenomenon. Nephi has broken his bow, and his brothers’ bows have lost their springs. The family is under extreme stress: hungry, exhausted, and unsure where their next meal will come from. Their thought processes become very rigid:
- Nephi’s bow is how we obtain food.
- Nephi’s bow is now broken.
- Therefore, we cannot obtain food.
This kind of inflexible thinking doesn’t lead to action. Hence, Nephi’s brothers and even his father resorted to complaining about their situation but did nothing to improve it. They had “hardened their hearts,” and they were therefore unable to think about their situation in different ways and find a solution to their challenge (1 Nephi 16:22).
In contrast, Nephi continued to exercise faith, which led him to find an answer: make a new bow out of the wood which was readily available to them. His brothers saw trees; Nephi saw the materials from which he could craft a new bow and arrows. His faith in God enabled him to overcome an unprofitable pattern of thought and see the things around him with new eyes.
Today, I will follow Nephi’s example of faith. When I encounter roadblocks which seem insurmountable, I will trust that God can help me overcome them. I will continue to search for solutions, believing that there is an answer, and that God can help me find it if I resist the temptation to harden my heart.