Week 9— Solving Problems
Or how to get better at playing Whack-a-Mole
90% of solving a problem is properly identifying the problem.
That’s not a secret, but it’s a lot harder than it sounds.
Let’s say your boyfriend plays video games all the time. So we think the problem is video games.
But it’s not.
The problem is we feel left out or ignored. Take away the video games, maybe it’s something else. (And is it really ALL the time?)
Let’s say the problem is being broke. That is definitely a problem. But it’s also the result of another problem, possibly the root cause.
Told ya it was hard.
It’s a lot easier to identify the cause and solutions for other people’s problems. Oh, we know exactly what other people need to do.
But ourselves? Not so much.
That’s because it’s hard to see inside ourselves. We all have a lousy point-of-view. Things that might be obvious to someone else can remain hidden from us for years, or even decades.
That’s why psychologists go to see other psychologists when they have a problem.
It’s not that they don’t have the expertise, it’s because when it comes to seeing ourselves, we all got the worst seat in the house.
There’s only two things we need to do if we want to successfully solve a problem.
First one…. GET HELP. We shouldn’t try to solve our problems alone. Professionals don’t try to solve their problems alone, and neither should we. I don’t mean we have to go to a therapist or psychologist. Not everyone can afford that, and not every problem warrants it. I’m saying get a friend or family member involved.
Think of the perfect person you know. Someone you trust, who has your best interests at heart, and ask for their help. Most people would be flattered! Work through the problem together and come up with an action plan.
Worst case, if you have no other options, use the internet.
Remember, we’re not the first person to have whatever the problem is, and it’s already been solved by others.
Just find out what they did, and customize it for yourself.
And the second thing we need to do… with this other person… is to ask ourselves a bunch of really tough questions.
And the first question we ask is WHY.
WHY do I have this problem?
WHY am I jealous?
WHY am I overweight?
What have I done — or not done — that led me to this point? What can I do different this time, that maybe I haven’t tried before?
Is the problem getting better or worse? Problems don’t appear in one day and they don’t usually get solved in one day, either. It’s all about improvement. If things are getting better, we might have already solved the problem! We’re just waiting on the results.
I’m going to focus on a single problem right now: Being broke.
First question, as always: WHY am I broke?
Um, lack of income.
Okay. WHY do I have a lack of income?
(pretend you’re a five year old)
Do I have a job? Do I need a better job? How do I get a better job? Do I have any skills? Can I get any skills? Can I improve the skills I already have? Do I have a degree? Can I get a degree? What kind of degree? What am I waiting for??
And then your head explodes.
But these are the kind of relentless, step-by-step questions we need to ask ourselves.
Being broke is not a complicated problem. It’s either going to be because of a lack of income (not enough coming in) or too many expenses (too much going out).
If we’re broke because we have too many expenses, get out a piece of paper and make a list of them. (When in doubt, make a list)
An accurate list. None of this rent, utilities, car… and miscellaneous.
The key is to figure out exactly WHERE our money is going. Trying to budget without knowing where our money is going, is like planning an invasion without a map. It ain’t gonna work.
I know cutting expenses and budgeting isn’t fun. It’s like torture.
Oh look, a list of everything I love about life. Honey, fetch me the blowtorch!
If we can’t bring ourselves to make a budget, the easiest way to reduce our expenses is to, um, stop spending money!
Question every purchase we make, no matter how small.
Pretend there’s a committee in your brain, and you have to SELL THEM on anything you want to buy.
“Please, sir, may I have a mocha latte?”
MOCHA LATTE??!! We don’t need no Mocha Latte! We had one yesterday! AAAHHHHH!!!!!!
(it’s a real hard-ass committee)
This also works for weight-loss. Go in front of the committee whenever you want to eat something.
DONUT?? We had a donut yesterday! AAAHHHHHH!!!!!!
And that’s about as much fun as cutting our spending (or losing weight) gets. But at least this way, WE are in charge.
We have to be our own police. Tough, but fair. That’s the only way to retain control.
Otherwise, problems have a way of getting out of control.
And finally, remember, not every problem needs to be solved. Some problems we can live with just fine. I wouldn’t know what to do without a few of mine.
And sometimes the stress and worry of a problem is worse than the problem itself.
But if we have a problem that’s got to go, just know if we commit ourselves, work with one or more other people, and ask ourselves honest and difficult questions, we can figure out and solve ANY solvable problem.
And that’s when we discover that solving problems is a bit like playing Whack-a-Mole. Solve a problem over here… a new one pops up over there. But hopefully the problems are getting smaller and smaller, and we’re getting better at whacking them on the head.
— I had a real clever way of dealing with problems when I was younger. I would ignore them, and hope they went away! Sadly, it didn’t work. It usually just pissed the problems off and made ’em bigger.
— We should try to fix our biggest problems first. The biggest problems have the most impact on us, and lots of times when we fix a BIG problem, the smaller ones take care of themselves.
— Most of us avoid facing our problems until we have no other choice. It ain’t fun.
— Rule of Life: Don’t EVER quit a job until you have a new job lined up. I learned that lesson in a roundabout way from an ex-girlfriend. Once she knew our relationship was going to end, she didn’t break up with me. She waited until she had my replacement all lined up and ready to go, and when the time came… when we talked about breaking up… she was 100% ready. That was soooo smart of her. She solved her problem REAL GOOD.
— If we ever figure out the root cause of a problem, we shouldn’t just mow over it and say, well, problem solved! It’s a weed. It may look like it’s gone, but it’s not. It’s gonna come back again and again and again, until we get down to the root, and pull it out.
— We shouldn’t blame other people for our problems. As satisfying as the blame game can be, it’s generally a waste of time and energy. It might tell us whose fault the problem is, but it does nothing to help us solve the problem.
Remember, if we don’t own it, we’re not gonna fix it.
— There comes a time when we all have to taste the bittersweet nectar of acceptance.
— Don’t beat yourself up, either. That’s life’s job.