Finding your own solutions

If you’ve been working your way through this website in its entirety, you may be thinking something like… “This bloke is just parroting the same advice that I’ve always been given, what a waste of time!”… and you may well have a point. When it comes to your problems, you are the expert in them, not me.

With this in mind, I’d like to invite you to consider looking at this problem in a different way. Rather than giving advice, I would like to invite you to search for your own solutions.

Photograph of a black boy with a colourful yellow and blue parrot on his right shoulder. The boy and the parrot look away from each other.
Not only is this parrot unhelpful, but she is also really heavy. Image by Anja from Pixabay

Problem variation

The consistent thing about problems, is that our experience of them is always changing.

Ask yourself, “How am I managing this problem at the moment?”, perhaps giving yourself a score out of 10 (where 10 is great, and 0 is terrible). Then think back to a time when you felt you were doing better, and then to a point when you felt like you couldn’t manage at all.

Let’s say you score yourself at a 5 right now, but last week you were at a 4, and a few months ago a 7. No matter where you are right now, chances are that your experience of managing these problems has altered. It is helpful to remind yourself of these changes for several reasons. At the most simplest level, it tells us that the really bad times don’t last forever. Also, by trying to figure out what we were doing when the problems felt more manageable, we can identify helpful behaviours.  Focusing on the positive actions we already take to manage our problems, no matter how small these might be, prepares us to take additional positive action.

Animated GIF of a series of blue waves rising and falling.
Get ready to surf the waves. Up and Down Loop by Matthew Butler.

What is it that I do, that stops me being at a 0?

You may be thinking, “Ok so he’s made me come up with all of these numbers, what now?”

Find a friend. It needs to be a particular type of friend. This person needs to be a pretty unsentimental soul. You can try and tell them what your problem is, but as soon as you get beyond the essential details, they don’t want to hear about it. They don’t want to know how difficult it is, or about the time when things seemed so bad that you thought you’d never get through it, so don’t even go there with them. They just want to know what it is that you do that helps keep you at a 5, rather than at a 0. So, please, oblige this so-called friend. Tell them, in painstaking detail, about the actions you take.

Next, because this friend is also kind of pushy, they are going to want to know what it is that you could do, that might help you get one step up on the scale. We’re not talking about solving the problem completely, but something that will bring you from a 5 to a 6. Again, you need to describe this to your chosen friend. And this friend isn’t going to let you off easy. If you say, I need to exercise more (for example), then they are going to say “Yeah? So what are you going to do to make that happen then?”. And again, in minute detail they are going to make you describe the precise steps that you are going to take:

  • I’m going to do this three times a week
  • I’m going to do it first thing in the day before I get distracted
  • I’m going to set my alarm
  • I’m going to do this with a friend so it is more fun
  • I’m going to text my friend and ask them if they will do this with me right now, etc., etc.
Photo of two dogs. The dog on the right turns to face the dog on the left who is staring forward.
Peggy are you listening to me? Image by Harry McGregor.

If you don’t have a friend like this (and seriously no one is going to blame you if you don’t) then any friend will do, they just need to follow these instructions.

Do your problem differently.

I am going to share an idea with you. I am warning you, it sounds really strange, and you may think this idea is going to be a waste of time, but I am sharing it because some people have found this helpful. It is especially useful to try this when regular solutions do not seem to help.

The idea here is not to stop doing your problem, but to do your problem (whatever it is) differently.

From the list below, try changing each of these, but only change one at a time. Its important to concentrate on changing just one element at a time, and making sure that everything else is kept the same. If you go back to your answers from the Reflection page, they might help you choose what to experiment with.

How could you change the timing of when the problem happens?

How could you change what you do before the problem starts?

How could you change what you do after the problem happens?

How could you change what others do before, during, or after the problem?

How could you change what clothes you wear?

How could you change where you experience the problem?

How could you change how you move or don’t move whilst doing your problem?

How could you change any other typical aspects of the problem?

An example. If, upon reflection, you identified that you were always in your bedroom whenever you missed your Tuesday 9am seminar, then for the next week you should try going down to the kitchen, or living room, at the time of your seminar, and miss teaching there.

Don’t change your PJs or whatever you are wearing. Don’t stop looking at your phone, or whatever it is you do. If you normally sleep in bed at this time, then you should curl up in a chair and try and sleep there instead.

This is an opportunity for you to be an experimenter. You need to approach this with an air of curiosity. Record what you experience, and then tell someone what happened. Did the problem change in any way? Did your feelings about this change at all?

This exercise sounds crackers, but I’d argue that it is invaluable. We are very used to tackling questions from a problem solving approach, but some solutions are not necessarily directly related to the problem. The bold action of making a change can bring surprising results!

Photograph of an hiker made of lego carrying a lego map and compass.
Become your own intrepid explorer. Image from Pxhere.

If you have tried any of the above techniques and would like to share your results, please get in touch. I would love to hear about it.