I felt like screaming. That same old, seemingly-constant problem was back. The details aren’t important, but suffice to say, I experienced an avalanche of feelings, ranging from disbelief (AGAIN?!) to rage ($#*^@).
With time and its wonderful sidekick, perspective, I began to understand some fundamentals about recurring problems:
Sometimes they aren’t yours. Some of the most excruciating dilemmas to work through are the ones you don’t own. If you take on other people’s issues, you are destined for frustration and wasted energy. Your teenager regularly fails to do her homework. Sure, you can remind her of the consequences and offer some time management advice. But, in the end, it isn’t your battle. Ashleigh Brilliant said it best, “My biggest problem is what to do about all the things I can’t do anything about.”
Problems recur because I didn’t understand them in the first place. A team missed an important deadline, and lots of time went into figuring out what went wrong. Then they missed another milestone, requiring more discussion. After a couple of missteps, it was time to figure out the root of the problem, which turned out to be longstanding conflict between two key team members. Countless hours are wasted when we apply solutions that don’t get to the root of the problem.
Often what you perceive to be the problem is not the problem. The real predicament is how you cope with the situation. Consider these nontraditional approaches:
Sometimes it’s better to keep your problems to yourself. If you usually spout off about what’s going wrong, try keeping issues close to the vest for a while. Sometimes just talking about bad situations increases our emotional thermometers. Lou Holtz once said, “Don’t tell your problems to people. Eighty percent of them don’t care, and the other twenty percent are glad you have them.” Don’t bottle your feelings up forever; after a short respite, come up with a game plan to resolve the issue.
Don’t tweak, radically rebuild. Russell Bishop writes about the power to choose your reaction to problems, including the option of radically shifting away from old patterns of behavior. He says, “People keep trying to rebuild their lives using the rubble from whatever collapsed rather than choosing new materials instead.” Give yourself permission to shift your perspective and your choices. Seek outside input for new thinking. You aren’t stuck unless you choose to be.
Do exactly the opposite of what you’d typically do. This is a variation on the “radical rebuild.” You’ve gotten feedback (again) that you’re not a good listener. Instead of simply pledging to do better, act in ways that are the opposite of your habit and comfort zone. If you’re a talk-aholic, stop talking for a day. If you’re a directive leader, stop telling people what to do for a week and practice asking open-ended questions instead. You might freak a few people out – nothing wrong with that – and what an opportunity to learn new ways of thinking and behaving!
If you’re facing a slew of problems, it is easy to feel burdened, overwhelmed and maybe even a little sorry for yourself. You can wallow in these feelings or you can choose a new path – one that will allow you to eliminate those dilemmas, cope productively or recognize that they were never yours to own in the first place.
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