Thursday, May 17, 2012

The joy of solving problems

Life's problems do not exist to beat you down. They exist to help you grow.
Do you ever go to the gym, stare at all the dumbbells lining the wall, and exclaim, "Dammit! Why are there so many weights here? I can't possibly lift all of them! Look at how heavy they are! Why can't they just have a few easy weights and let that be enough?"
Of course that sounds silly, but this is precisely how many people react to the various problems that surface in their lives.
"Dammit! Why do I have to be overweight? Why can't I just be thin and fit? Why are there so many delicious foods that make me gain weight? Why does exercise have to be so hard? I'm so sick of being fat!"
"Dammit! Why does it have to be so hard to make money? How am I supposed to get out of debt when I can barely pay my bills? Why does it seem like every time I start to pull ahead, my car breaks down again? I'm so sick of being broke!"
"Dammit! Why can't I find a girlfriend (boyfriend)? I'm a nice person, aren't I? I'm tired of lame dates with total idiots! Maybe I should just be celibate. Why does this have to be so hard? I'm so sick of being alone!"
"Dammit! Why can't I find a job I like? Why do I have to do stupid work I hate just to make money? What kind of life is this? How am I supposed to do what I love when I don't even know what that is? I'm so sick of my job!"
Any of this sound familiar?

Problems as Obstacles

The attitudes reflected above depict problems as obstacles. They are roadblocks, annoyances, and irritations. They get in the way of living. They interfere with your peaceful enjoyment of life.
Given this mindset, you should do your best to prevent problems from arising whenever possible. If a problem occurs, it means something went wrong. It should have been anticipated and avoided. An unavoidable problem represents bad luck or a cruel twist of fate. Or perhaps it suggests you held the wrong thoughts and somehow attracted it via the Law of Attraction.
If you currently have problems on your plate, then you should try to eliminate them if you can. Aim for the delicious nirvana of a problem-free existence — everything in its proper place and nothing to worry about.
This is a terrible mindset to hold. The longer you think this way, the weaker you'll become. This mindset puts you on a path with two primary branches.
The first branch leads to overwhelm. Eventually your life gets filled with problems you can't easily solve. You'll probably resort to some form of escapism to cope (such as via TV, web surfing, video games, excessive reading, alcohol and drugs, etc). You'll get that slow sinking feeling that your life is slipping away from you. When new problems arise, you'll become stressed, worried, or anxious.
The second branch leads to withdrawal. You gradually check out from the world in order to reduce the problems you'll face. You may justify this with words like simplification and minimalism. If some part of your life gives you too much trouble, you try to surgically remove it. You probably live alone and have few friends. You favor work that's easy, unchallenging, and unrewarding. The thought of living in a cave somewhere or meditating for days on end starts to sound like a good idea. All you want is peace, peace, peace, but you never seem to be able to stay there for long. Some annoyance always comes up.
There are other branches as well as variations of the two above, but for the most part, you're either headed toward stressful overtraining or long-term atrophy. Either way, the longer you run these patterns, the weaker you become. Eventually problems that didn't seem so big five years ago now feel like terrible burdens. "Dammit! Why did that light bulb have to burn out? Oh crap, I'm outta bulbs too. Now I have to go to the store. Ehhh… I'll do it later. I just don't have the energy to deal with this now."

Problems as Opportunities

Let me offer you a different way of thinking about problems that's a lot more empowering and a lot less whiny.
Problems do not exist to beat you down. They exist to help you grow stronger. Problems are like the dumbbells at the gym. If you attempt to lift them, you may feel tired in the short run, but you'll grow stronger in the long run.
When you think about the various problems and challenges you're facing in life, you may be tempted to assume that the goal is to reach the solution state — to get past the problem. But that's a very narrow and largely disempowering perspective. That's like saying that the point of going to the gym is to reach the end of your workout.
A more productive perspective is to consider that the activity of solving problems is what really matters. It's the activity, not the final solution state, that helps you grow.
Suppose that one of your problems is that you're broke and in debt. If so, I imagine that's a problem you'd very much like to solve. You may feel desperate to arrive at a solution as quickly as possible. But the greatest value is found in the activity of solving this problem, not in the end result.
One of the reasons I'm doing well financially today is that I solved the problem of being broke about 10 years ago. It was definitely not an easy problem to solve. I had to go through a lot of difficult intermediate steps to become strong enough to solve it. I made many adjustments to my attitude. By lifting those weights, I grew stronger mentally, and my finances soon followed.
Consequently, I know that if I ever found myself broke at some point in the future, I could solve that problem again, probably much more quickly than I did the first time. Even though I have more to lose these days from a financial perspective, I don't fear losing it. I know I have the strength to bounce back. My real gain wasn't money. My real gains were inner strength, knowledge, and skill.
What would my life be like if I jumped instantly to the solution state without actually solving the problem on my own? Suppose I won the lottery. At first it might appear that all my financial troubles were solved. But I'd actually be in a far worse position.
As I was going through that period of financial scarcity, I prayed that I didn't experience a cash windfall. I knew I had to solve the problem on my own. I didn't want to accidentally get a big inheritance and rob myself of crucial financial lessons and training. When someone gave me lottery tickets as a gift, I got nervous because I was worried I might win.
It was hard dealing with some of those challenges, but I could see that my problems served a greater purpose. They were helping to train me up.
Another benefit is that by solving these problems for myself, I've been able to write many articles to share what I've learned. I couldn't have done that if I bypassed all those difficult lessons.
Physical problems build physical strength. Mental problems build mental strength. Social problems build social strength. And all problems will on some level build spiritual strength (or strength of character).
This mindset has a positive long-term outlook. The longer you hold it, the stronger you become.

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