Laugh It Off

“Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you.”

Langston Hughes

The Martian is one of my favorite sci-fi movies. With a great cast (Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Donald Glover, Kristen Wiig, Mackenzie Davis, etc.) and directed by Ridley Scott, you know you’re in for a good time. I won’t go into too many details (no spoilers) but the plot is essential Mark Watney (aka Matt Damon) gets stranded alone on Mars and has to figure out a way to survive.

What I love about it most is Mark’s ingenuity and spirit throughout despite the fear and overwhelming odds of being the only person alive on the hostile red planet. His astronaut training keeps him calm and collected, but he’s not an emotionless robot either. He expresses the full range of human emotions—anger, sadness, happiness, pride, despair, and loneliness (of course. But he doesn’t let things linger and get him down for too long. Deliberate thinking. Movement. Problem Solving. And a good witty attitude.

When your back’s against the wall, and you’re surrounded by problems, what do you do?

Sometimes when you are facing a huge problem or a volley of problems, the best thing you can do is laugh and make dumb jokes. Using humor can take out the “piss and vinegar” of the situation. You’re not belittling the situation, but you’re not letting it break you either. By taking things seriously, but not too seriously, you can get out of your head and focus on creating momentum.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1078

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Clarify the Problem

“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

Eric Hoffer, philosopher

If I were asked to sum up yesterday’s post, The Cost of Lying to Yourself, with a single word, it would be self-honesty. (A hyphenated single word, but still…)

Avoiding or brushing off problems only makes them bigger.

But how do you solve a problem (like Maria)?

Well, first you have to look at the problem with a clear perspective. Any problem (really, anything) is the thing itself and also (additionally) how we think about it.

I’m a big fan of Kamal‘s approach to handling your mind if it’s running away from you fueled with negative and discouraging thoughts. In his book, Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It, the mental tool he discovered and found success within his own life was repeating the phrase “I love myself” over and over again. Think of it like drowning out the negativity by repeating something positive instead.

With a clearer perspective, we can get out of our own way and start making some progress towards resolving problems we are dealing with.

Next, we break the problem into non-overwhelming bite-sized chunks that we can focus our efforts on. If you’re still overwhelmed, then you haven’t broken the problem small enough yet. Baby steps. Just like that What About Bob Movie with Bill Murray.

The key is to focus only on the immediate action. Not the ten things on your todo list. Not the dozen other problems you are dealing with. Just the action in front of you. Keep the others away from your mind and physical space as much as you can.

Last we need to start catching little problems before they become big ones. This takes a lot of intentional living. When faced with anything, ask yourself, “If I ignore this will it potential become a huge pain later on?” “If I do this, what are the potential downsides and how can I prevent them from occurring?”

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1076

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Where’s the bottleneck?

“Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them.”

Henry Ford

When you’re feeling stuck, look for the main bottleneck. What’s the one thing preventing you from moving forward? 

The problem is we immobilize ourselves by trying to solve the problems 3 moves in advance first. ‘I’d love to save more money each month, but if I did that I wouldn’t have enough to pay for food and expenses, plus I won’t be able to get those new running shoes and I forgot I need to get my oil changed sometime soon.’

Sometimes we even convince ourselves that before we can fix this current problem, we must fix X Y and Z first. ‘I want to get a new job, but first I need to fix my health, but before that, I should really think about going back to school.’

Instead of dealing with the immediate problem, we’re thinking about a hundred other things on our todo list.

Thinking 3 moves in advance is great. But when it comes to solving problems we need to focus on them one at a time. Fixing the main issue may cause other issues down the line, but don’t worry about that now. Focus on the current priority. 

Put everything aside in your mind for a moment and focus exclusively on the priority at hand.

An alternative approach is to go around the problem and reduce complexity by finding a way to nullify multiple problems in one sweep by solving the underlying issue. (I believe this idea is from Tim Ferriss.)What’s one thing I can focus on/do that will nullify all the other (potential) problems.

What we need is a sense of priority. What’s the most important thing you need to focus on right now? We might have to deal with other things later, but that’s for later. Before is before. Later is later. Now—we are dealing with now.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1052

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The Quiet Solution

“The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”

Albert Einstein

When I’m looking for answers to problems, I usually seek out a book or find someone who’s had a similar experience. But that’s not always the way to go. More input isn’t necessarily beneficial.

Sometimes all we need is to sit alone in a room with ourselves, or out in the woods to find the answer we need.

As Thomas Edison once said, “The best thinking has been done in solitude. The worst has been done in turmoil.”

We might already have the answer we are looking for, we just can’t see it because we are too caught up in issue and the day to day business life.

Go talk a walk outside without your phone.

Sit in a silent room with some paper and a pen.

Find a quiet place to gather your thoughts and intentionally think and feel things through.

And it’s not just problems that solitude can cure. Some of my best ideas came from sitting alone in a room—reading, writing, thinking through my experiences.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #931

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Assess What’s Working

If what you are doing isn’t working, then something has to change.

What should you change?

Anything. Your habits. Your routines. Your perspective. Your assumptions—definitely your assumptions. Assess everything you are doing (or not doing) and understand why. Are you running from Paper Tigers? Are you avoiding your passions?

It’s okay if you don’t like what you find. But now what are you going to do about it? What you need is momentum. A little step towards progress and success, and then another and another.

Smarter people have said it better than me —

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

Mark Twain

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

Maya Angelou

It doesn’t matter what problem you are dealing with—use it. Make it a part of your story. Flip it on its head and make it something you are proud of.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #890

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Solving Problems Fast

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

Albert Einstein

Do you ever wonder why most exams, be it a high school math exam, college English final, or driver test are all timed?

I’m sure one reason is that time is money and not a lot of teachers want to spend three days waiting for students to finish their essays. An exam fits within our precisely timed lives.

But there’s another reason why exams are timed that we can take advantage of:

Tests are designed to ensure that the majority of students finish.

Or in other words, the exams are tested to be doable (Most of them anyway. I’ve experienced some tests that were diabolically designed to be anything but doable.) This isn’t something most of us think about, but it makes sense. What I find interesting is that last part: the majority of students finish. Put a random group of students in a room and most of them will finish within the time given.

Which got me thinking. What if most (or dare I say any) problem I have can be solved if I focus on answering it within a certain amount of time? Or at least come away with a possible solution I can experiment with?

The goal isn’t speed, I don’t care if I finish quickly. The goal is to give 100% of my energy and creativity towards coming up with ideas for a problem I’m facing while the clock counts down.

Just like how we want to fill a room with objects, or fill a closet with clothes (no matter how small or large it is), we also fill in time we have available.

So what would it look like if you only had an hour to think about a particular problem?

What about 30 minutes? Let’s go smaller. What ideas would you come up within 5 minutes?

What if you only gave yourself 90 seconds?

Think of a problem you want to tackle. It could be anything — work, health, productivity, creative — And then set a timer for 90 seconds.

Like:

  • What can I try to cultivate closer friendships?
  • Or if I only had a day to make $1000, what could I do or sell?
  • What bad habits are weighing me down and what good habits can I replace them with?
  • Or something more general, like what’s bothering me right now and why?

What ideas can you sketch out? Don’t leave anything out. Crazy ideas, boring ideas. Go weird.

The more ideas we have, the better chance we’ll come up with a great idea we can use.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #854

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A Problem Half Solved

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein

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).

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #828

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