Most of us try to avoid or escape from our problems. I’m guilty of this as much as anyone. In my relationship with my wife, for example, I don’t like it when we’re having an argument. I want to keep the peace. In my work, I get frustrated when I’m facing a difficult challenge, or something stressful is happening. I want to get back to a relaxed state as quickly as possible.
On the surface, this seems like a perfectly reasonable way to live. Who wants problems in their life? Isn’t life about solving problems? In what universe would I actually want to have a problem?
Seek Out Problems
I do think life is about solving problems, but I’d like to offer a slightly different take on engaging with our problems. Here’s the idea: Life is about solving problems, yes. So, if we want to be on the cutting edge in our life, and impact the world in a positive way, we need to be seeking out and working on our (and the world’s) most difficult problems.
The Cutting Edge
In my own life, I won’t reach my highest potential unless I’m on the cutting edge, dealing with my most difficult and intractable problems. It’s the same way in our work and mission. We won’t achieve our greatest impact unless we are on the cutting edge, dealing with the world’s most difficult and intractable problems.
The Avoidance Trigger
The problem (haha, see what I did there), is that we tend to view problems as a bad thing, which triggers a reaction to avoid or escape the problems. If we’re moving away from our problems, we can’t engage and solve our problems.
3 Steps to Engage Your Problems
Here’s a 3-step process I have used to engage your problems rather than avoid them:
- Notice a problem. Some of us are so good at avoidance or escape that we don’t even notice problems anymore. There might be a major problem in our marriage, for example, but we just ignore it, hoping it will go away. We might not even notice the homeless person sleeping on the street, choosing not to think about a painful reality that doesn’t impact us personally. The first step to seeking out problems is to actually notice them. Be on the lookout for at least one problem today. Don’t shy away from it—stare the problem down full in the face.
- Notice your impulse to avoid, but stick with it. For most of us, the common reaction when we notice a problem is to do something to avoid or escape the problem. We might try to distract ourselves with another thought or activity. We might busy ourselves in our work or another task. We might turn to an addiction, such as drinking, drugs, or sex. The key to this second step is to notice your impulse to avoid or escape, and just sit with it for a bit. Feel what it feels like to have the impulse to escape, but not act on it.
- Solve the problem. This final step is where people earn the big bucks. If you can actually solve a problem (either in your own life or the world), it’s awesome. This is where you get the promotion, the new job, or the bonus. Solve your own problems, and become a better version of yourself. Help someone else solve their problems, and you will always be in demand. Solve a big problem in the world, and you will be remembered in history.
How do you normally think about problems? Do you tend to engage your problems or avoid them? What is one problem you are dealing with in your own life? What would it look like for you to take one step toward solving that problem? What is one problem that you have noticed in the world? What would it look like for you to take one step toward solving that problem?