Problems crop up all of the time. A problem is something that affects our lives adversely. When we win $100 in a raffle, we don’t consider it a problem, unless that winning is going to lead us to be tempted to purchase something bad for us. It is at the point that the thing harms us that the thing becomes a problem. In this example, winning the $100 is not the problem, purchasing harmful things is.
Understanding the Problem
Frequently we identify that a problem exists and then go about trying to fix the problem. Yet the point of identifying that a problem exists may mislead you in identifying what the actual problem is. In our example above with winning $100, one could consider that the problem is receiving $100, which enables a bad habit, or the purchasing of the harmful things, which is the outcome of the bad habit. However the problem is the habit and what drives that habit.
If we misidentify the problem, we can spend a great deal of effort in trying to fix what isn’t actually contributing to the problem. Wouldn’t it be better to be able to hold $100 and not spend it on harmful things? Avoiding $100 is not a good long term solution. However it may be a good short term step while addressing the long term problem.
Sometimes we want to lay the blame at someone else’s feet – they shouldn’t have given me the $100 – when the problem is actually our own. Sometimes we take ownership of a problem this is actually someone else’s fault – I shouldn’t have worn that outfit, or walked down that hallway – as if we can control their actions by what we do. Frequently though, we miss-estimate what share of responsibility we own vs the other, or try to give blame in a blameless situation.
It is important to not get caught in the blame game. Blame helps us identify what some of our strategies should look like, but it doesn’t actually fix the problem. So it’s their fault. Or your fault. Or both of your fault. Or an unforseen circumstance. Great. Now what are you going to do about it?
Evaluating the Problem
Once we have identified some of the causal components of the problem, we need to evaluate the problem. Is it an immediate life problem (not being run over by a truck), a life changing problem (such as renal failure), a social crisis (a fight with one’s partner or best friend), or a momentary problem (purchasing the wrong book at the store) and so on. Each of these requires a different level of personal resources to address it.
Where is the best location to spend those personal resources and how much should you expend? Should they be on surviving the moment? After all, there is no point in saving your money for tomorrow if you aren’t alive to use it… however you also shouldn’t put everything into surviving this momentary speed bump if you don’t need to either. It is also important to note that this isn’t a dichotomy. You can spend some personal resources now and more later on this problem.
Personal resources includes financial, social, psychological/emotional, and material resources. There are more, but these are the major categories. It is worth noting your personal resources for the bigger problems so you have a clear understanding of what you might bring to bear on the problem if it is needed.
I frequently see people burn their social bridges out by not addressing the real problem and being caught in a nasty loop, or over spend their finances on something that is actually fairly trivial, or fail to put enough resources into finding housing as their lease expires and so on. Many crises could be averted by carefully putting your resources into the solution more intelligently.
Evaluating the Solution
This is an important task to perform as you are implementing your solution and at the end of your solution intervention. Is your intervention working? Are your personal resources going to the right place and having the desired result? Do you need to adjust your plan? Did it actually work?
If you find your resources running out faster than expected, or no change is being noted in the problem, or you seem to be in a loop of repeat similar problems, then your solution is failing. It is time to stop, go back to the beginning and try again. Did you actually figure out what the problem was and a suitable solution?
If your solution was to change the world – good luck. It’s really big and you are but one person. There are many things that need to change in this world to make it better, and slowly they are changing because of the number of people putting effort towards that change. Feel free to join them for a long term solution. However between now and that long term, what are you going to do to adjust yourself to the world and situation you find yourself in? It is through changing ourselves that we change the world.