When I first came to California last fall, I went to a grocery store and wandered down the cookie aisle. See, I love cookies. Love. Them. Especially Pepperidge Farm’s Milano cookies. Back home in Canada, you can get them in milk chocolate. And sometimes, sometimes if you’re lucky, in amazing dark chocolate. So imagine my surprise, my pleasure, when I came across the Milano section of the cookie aisle and was faced with upwards of 20 choices! Salted caramel, Boston cream stuffed, orange, raspberry… the choices were endless! I started to feel a little overwhelmed, a little lost, a little anxious. I thought to myself, I can’t possibly eat all of these! So what did I do? Did I make a couple of careful selections and be happy with them? No, I did not. I left in a panic.
Solving Problems Will Make You Strong Like Ox!
Of course, looking back on that now, I realize how silly that was. But I realized that this is how a lot of us react to problems. Think about it…
“I want to save money, but I can hardly stay ahead of my bills, and forget getting out of debt! Every time I start to get ahead, either my car breaks down or I get a huge hydro bill!”
“I want to be fulfilled in my career, but I hate my job, I can’t make money from my passion, and I don’t know what I love to do!”
“I want to be healthier, but all foods that are bad for me are just so good, and I hate every kind of exercise!”
“I want to fall in love with the right person, but I can’t meet anyone new, and every time I go out with someone, they’re all idiots!”
To put it in short form, the thing all these problems have in common is I’m sick of it.
Thinking about our problems like this makes it seem like they are obstacles to our happiness, roadblocks to love, irritations that get in between us and living the life that we want. And this thinking makes us feel like we have to eliminate all problems from our lives before we can be truly happy. That the only way we can be happy is to be problem-free.
This way of thinking is weak. It leads to either escapism (food, booze, drugs, TV, video games, internet, you name it), or checking out (living alone with few friends, unfulfilling work, maybe in the name of minimalism). The thing is, the longer we take either path, the more weak we become. Problems that at one time seemed fixable now overwhelm us, something as simple as changing the toilet paper roll becomes a burden, and we get beaten down.There is a way of thinking about problems that can empower us, though! Problems aren’t here to beat us down, they are here in our lives to build us up!
How To Change Your Problem Solving Strategy
It’s time to change your thinking. Think about problem solving like you might think about going to the gym. When you first walk into the gym, you’re not thinking about the end the workout—you’re thinking about the workout itself (well, most of the time!). Problem solving is just like that—it’s the act of problem solving that counts. It’s the workout that makes you stronger, not the end of it. It’s the solving of the problem that helps you grow, not the end result.
When I was a kid, I loved problem solving—word problems were my favourite part of math class. In fact, I’m still a total dork for logic problems. It’s been extremely helpful for me to take this love of problem solving into the real world. For example, I hate doing the marketing side of running a business. However, every marketing task I set for myself I see as a way to get better at doing marketing, no matter how much I don’t enjoy it. The point to me doing my own marketing is to get better at it—because the stronger I get at marketing, the stronger my business becomes.
Of course, I could choose to outsource my marketing, however the skills I’m learning now are going to serve me better in the long run. If I am to hire someone down the road to handle my marketing, the skills I am learning now will help me to communicate the wants and needs of my company.
So, what does that mean for you? How can you start using problem solving as an exercise to improve?
Here’s the thing: if you’ve been using escapism to avoid your problems, eventually you’re going to look at all the problems you’re facing and they might seem completely overwhelming. Maybe you’re overweight and out of shape, maybe you’re in a bad relationship, maybe you’re crippled by debt, maybe you hate your job. Or any combination of those problems, and more I haven’t begun to think of.
It’s okay to have that many problems! And it is possible to work your way out of them. The trick is to start with the smallest problems first. As you begin to clear out those minor problems, you will start to feel stronger and more hopeful, and you will be able to move on to solving bigger, harder problems.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to start small. Cleaning, organizing, repairing things—all excellent points of entry to building up that problem solving muscle. Clean the toilet, tidy your desk, organize your junk drawer, mend the sleeve of your favourite cardigan, clean out the spoiled food from your fridge. I’m sure you have a list of niggling little tasks that needs to get done.
Set aside a period of time for solving your problems—I am a fan of working in 20 minute chunks. I can feel like I can do anything for 20 minutes, even things I hate, like doing the dishes. Set a timer, and know that you are free to stop after your set period of time (however, if you find you’re in the flow and don’t want to stop, you can totally keep going!).
The more you practice problem solving, the better you’ll find you become at processing problems quickly. Think about a problem-solving session as a workout for your discipline, and you’ll not only get stronger with time, you will also approach them with a better attitude—they become something you get to do, not something you have to do.
Remember, it is supposed to be tiring, it is supposed to be stressful, or else you wouldn’t be growing. You wouldn’t be getting more awesome, every day!