Are You Trying to Fix The Right Problem?

The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.
— Captain Jack Sparrow

Think about anything that you want to change in your life.  Almost always it is a problem that you are trying to fix.  We are almost never motivated to change something that isn't broken.  If you love your job, you are highly unlikely to change it.  If you are killing it at the gym, you are unlikely to stop.

The great thing about trying to fix a problem - needing to lose weight, change careers etc. - is that it gives us the motivation to do something about it.  The bigger the problem, the greater the urgency to do something. 

The issue though is that most people approach change half-cocked. They are reacting to some pain or discomfort that they want to get away from it.  This will only get you so far.  For example, most people start New Year’s resolutions with good intentions but pretty quickly things fall by the wayside.  The vast majority of people who joined the gym in January aren't still going by St Patrick's Day (17th March).

So, could it be that our solutions are not always the best ones?  Perhaps because we are not trying to fix the right problem. 


Your Attitude Might Be The Problem

Often we will take huge risks or create massive change simply to escape feelings of dissatisfaction.  For example, you might feel like you want to leave your job because you just aren't challenged enough, you're overstretched or don't have enough influence.  Yet the solutions might involve jumping ship completely - having to take lower salary, changing sector or even having move home for a new job so having to build a life and a new circle of friends.  All with no guarentee that you'll be in an improved situation.

Rather than going nuclear straight away, there may be solutions available with far less risk and upheaval involved. By rigourously distinguishing the real problem, you'll be able to take a path of least resistance.  So, instead of leaving your job, you might, in articulating your feelings of dissatisfaction, speak to your boss to resolve what's not working for you, and make requests to eradicate your issues. The point is that the solution doesn't always need to be drastic.

The real question is are you actually trying to fix a situation/circumstance or are you trying to fix a feeling of dissatisfaction?


Fixing The External Rather Than The Internal

Say for example that I really want to lose some weight.  There might be medical and health reasons why I NEED to lose weight, but the real issue that I am probably trying to fix is that I don't feel great.

That is true of any goal or any change.   We ultimately want to FEEL better.  However, rather than focusing on how we can change our thinking or our attitude, we tend to focus on changing external circumstances to make things better.

That, my friend, is a dangerous strategy because you have no idea if going after that new job, starting that business or indeed, doing anything is going to make you feel how you want to feel.  It might make you feel better in the short term, but may not have the long term impact you want if you don't look at the internal as well.


The GPS Analogy

To create lasting change, in the simplest way possible and with the highest chance of success, think of it like a car journey using a GPS/SatNav.  To plot the trip, the SatNav needs to not only know the destination, but it requires an accurate starting point - where you are now.  From there it can plot the best route as it can actually see all the obstacles that might get in the way.

If you start out trying to create change without accurately distinguishing the problem, chances are that something unexpected is going to trip up your efforts.


How To Determine Your Start Point

So, how can you accurately determine your starting point?  Here are some questions to ask yourself...


  • What is the dissatisfaction that you are feeling?  Where does it come from? - Our feelings can be nebulous and hard to know what's influencing them. Simply looking at what's really going on for you can be of huge value. Our feelings are either the fuel to change or the thing that holds us back.  Many of us don't like looking at feelings, but they are the difference between lasting success and falling flat on your ass.
  • When did it happen? Often a single incident can lead us to catastrophise and generalise - we can write something off when perhaps it's not indicative of the bigger picture. The solution may be to voice your feelings about what happened instead of making escape plans.
  • Is the problem actually a problem?  - When we want to lose weight at New Year, is it because we actually need to or because everyone else is doing it so we feel we should?  Without looking at why something is a problem, you are going to waste time, effort and energy. 
  • Is the problem the ACTUAL problem? Or is it a symptom? - Problems are like weeds, if you don't pull them out by the root, they keep coming back.  So are you actually fixing the root cause of the issue.  If not, you might want to try the 5 Why's exercise.
  • Have you accurately defined the problem? - Try defining the problem by writing it down in 7 words or less.  This forces you to get to the heart of what the issue actually is. 
  • How do you know it is a problem? - Most of the time it is because of how we feel. So are you going to try your attitude and thinking first, or are you trying to change the external circumstances? 
  • What is the impact of the problem? – Looking holistically at what is in front of you and may just give you more motivation if you realise that the problem is impacting other areas of your life as well.
  • Is now the right time? - If you have got a ton of stuff going on in your life, this moment might not be the best time to make a major change such as starting a business or changing jobs.  Then again it might be the perfect time.


Taking time at the start of the journey to look at where you are might seem like a waste of time to many as they would rather just get going. 

However, doing so not only means that you actually know what you are REALLY trying to do, but it puts you in command of the journey and prepares you for some of the things along the way that might get in the way.  It can save you wasting a whole bunch of time, money and effort and save you from a heap of trouble further down the road. 

Forewarned as they say is forearmed, and you can only do that if you know that the problem you think you are solving IS the actual problem.


YOUR TURN: Leave a comment and tell what you do to know you are fixing the right problem.