“This is not your responsibility, but it is your problem.” — Cheryl Strayed
We don’t get to choose what kind of problems we face in life. Big or small. Maybe if we were able to catch the problem* before it bit us in the ⓐss we could have found a way around it. But that type of wishful thinking about making our past flubs and distress better is exactly what leads to more problems in the first place.
My problems are part of my story. Even if I wasn’t the cause of them happening. (‘not my responsibility’) I can try to deny it. I can wish for different problems. I can try to cope it away through over-shopping or over-working. I can blame the world. But they are still my problems and mine to solve. I’m the one suffering because of them.
Our problems are part of our story.
Taking ownership is our responsibility. And how we react to a problem is also our problem too. I think we all know that getting angry or sad or lost in our problems is like us throwing fuel on the fire. It’s hard to enjoy a campfire when it’s catching everything around it on fire too. We have to find to take responsibility for how we react too. Therapy. Creative outlets. Communication. Positive Habits. Small steps towards healing. Whatever moves us to the next leg of our personal hero’s journey.
*I have been interested lately in figuring out ways to build a more accountable network of friends and community around me so that I can spot potential pitfalls and problems before they accumulating 💩 buckets and tip over. A community of mutually constructive feedback. I’ll write more about this soon.
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
A Problem isn’t just a problem itself. It’s also the baggage we stack onto the problem. How we think, perceive and what we believe changes how the problem looks. (If a problem was like a sweater we wear, our thoughts, beliefs about the problem would be us wearing 10+ extra sweaters on top.)
Depending on how much stuff we pile on top of our problems, the heavier it becomes. (Think of it like an exponential: Problem^x)
But by stripping away everything but the original issue, we can more easily tackle it and not let it get the best of us.
Getting to the essence of a problem starts with understanding it. Asking questions is a great way to do this. It’s difficult to see something when you don’t have a full picture of what it is. Questions get to the heart of the issue.
Is the problem something within my control? Can I do something about it? (Sometimes problems are bigger than we are (i.e. changing the weather) and are better let go.)
What is the problem exactly? How many pages can I write about the problem? Can I describe it in a few sentences? Can I describe it in the size of a tweet? Can I describe the essence of the issue in one sentence?
What’s contributing to the problem? Is something else I’m doing (or not doing) making the problem (seem/become) bigger than it should be?
Who can help me with this problem? Who has found a way past this trouble before? Are there any books or resources I can use to solve this? (Help can come from anywhere, not just people we know.)
How can I use this problem to my advantage?
We can also look out for is negative or unhelpful feedback loops. Meaning situations where I can’t do X because of Y I can’t do Y because of Z and I can’t do z because of X. We’ve thought ourselves into a corner. Nothing useful happens when you are stuck sitting in the negative corner. To break the cycle, we need to find a different way to approach the issue. The best way I’ve found to do this is to ask a friend — ideally someone who you admire or you consider smarter than you. If we’re trapped in our perspective, then we can seek someone else’s (or multiple people).
“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
Alexander Graham Bell
There are times in life, where everything feels in doubt. Plateaus are inevitable. Ruts are par for the course. But when life punches us, there’s usually multiple blows. What do you do when you feel stuck in all areas of your life? What do we do when your health sucks AND your work sucks AND your relationships could use some work AND on and on it goes.
Take a deep breath. Maybe take three. Then, look at this:
Marcus Aurelius once wrote, “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive — to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”
In Marcus Aurelius day, the universe and its shining glory used to be a daily reminder of how small our problems really are in the grand scheme of things. Nowadays, unless you are in a rural area, only a few of the brightest stars peak out of the night sky to challenge us. But one look at this photo or photos like it can center and ground you to what matters.
The worst part about feeling stuck is how limiting our minds become. Instead of focusing on doing the things we need to do, we spiral in self-pity and waste time feeling bad, overwhelmed and despaired.
“Begin — to begin is half the work, let half still remain; again begin this, and thou wilt have finished.”
The quickest solution I’ve found is to focus all your efforts on one thing and check that off. Each time you check off something that’s been bothering you (whether its having coffee with a friend you’ve been meaning to call, eating health today, etc), the mental rain cloud clears ever so slightly. Our problems / obstacles are bad enough on their own, we don’t need to berate ourselves internally too with negativity, hate and harsh criticism on top of it all.
Focus on completing what’s in front of you. Some might pick the easiest thing to complete first, others might go for the most pressing issue. I usually sit down with myself and see which problem I’m facing is effect the other problems.
What’s the one thing I can work on fixing that will alleviate or perhaps even get rid of all the other problems I’m facing?
It doesn’t really matter what you choose to start with, as long as you start with something. I find it’s often the case that my problems turn into monsters, simply by me ignoring them or not actually taking the time to access them. Here’s a weird analogy: It’s like having a sore or cut in your mouth — it feels massive when you run your tongue over it, but when you open wide and look at it threw a mirror, it’s just a tiny little thing. Things in the rear view appear closer than they are. Problems feel bigger until you get a good look at them.
The last thing to remember is to keep going. Through all the ups and downs we will face in life, as long as we keep going and persevering, things will inevitably unblock themselves. It’s good to know that there are both ups and downs, not just downs. Again, the mind can play tricks on us, and we can skew our life only in the down moments and forget the good.
Remember: you are alive. You can think, you can enjoy and you can love. Perhaps tomorrow we won’t be (you never know). All the more important reason to live and be alive today.