Dismantling Problems

Dismantling Problems

Not all problems are problems, unless you are an imperfectionist. Then all problems are equal, and each one "has to" be fixed.

When I woke up staring at the dead bugs in my ceiling lamp, I suddenly realized that despite all the growth I've had around perfectionism, at first glance, I was still seeing problems everywhere I looked! Little ones and big ones that all needed to be solved—dead bugs in ceiling lamps, crumbs on the counter, elderly family members in need of help, national and global issues, etc. 

But I must have been ready to take the next step to dismantle the hold that "problems" had on me, because in the same moment I realized that "problem" was actually a perspective—a way of framing things that I don't like or don't want in order to elevate their importance so that I "have to" take action.

If done consciously, assigning importance to things you don't like or don't want can be a handy tool.

On a community or global level, identifying something as a "problem" is a great way to create agreement and common action. On a personal level, it helps you prioritize...if you know you are doing it.

As an imperfectionist, I didn't. Everything just showed up as a "problem" already—all equal, all 10's on a scale of 1-10, so prioritizing was impossible. That explained my recurring feelings of overwhelm. For years I joked with my family and friends about how dust was my nemesis, but inside the paradigm of "every problem is a 10, and a 10 requires action" (or a great deal of effort NOT to take action), nemesis was the perfect word.

Language of Listening® coaching skills are designed to help you shift your perspective fairly quickly to see what works, what is right, or what is perfect about almost anything. So in the case of elevating everything to the level of "problem," I asked myself what worked, what was right, or what was perfect about that?

One thing I saw right away was that needing to fix everything helped me become an exceptionally good problem-solver, which is a valuable STRENGTH. The other was harder to see. It turned out to be that "problems" served as a continuous source of external motivation for doing things.

You might wonder why I thought I needed external motivation in the first place.

As a young child I didn't. Like many kids, I was always in action and loved doing things just for the sake of doing them—meeting one of the three basic needs: experience. As I got older, drawing was one of those things I loved doing. I remember absolutely relishing the activity of drawing (process), until people started to ask me what I was drawing (end goal with measurable results). That must have been the moment when drawing for the sake of drawing felt threatened, because I remember distinctly starting to ask people what I should draw, and feeling like I couldn't draw anything unless they told me.

When end goals and results became the reason for drawing, I suspect that I generalized that to all activities and decided that "doing requires a reason/goal." With that life lesson firmly in place, it would make sense to grab a bunch of reasons and lock them in place as strategies to ensure that I would still get to meet my need to "do," no matter what. And what better reason to "do" than to identify something as a "problem" that needed to be fixed!

Busy became my nature. I even remember thinking as an adult: "We don't do what's important, we just do what's next." But even knowing that, nothing changed for me. Now I know why—I couldn't tell the two apart. Important and next were both 10's.

Since from the very start, I hated the idea that "doing" needed a reason/goal, I subconsciously fought against it all my life. Consequently, I struggled with goal setting (never able to answer the question, "What do you want?") and never felt like my results counted or were enough (classic imperfectionist view).

Why never enough to count? Try this: if results are the reason to do something, then that reason would disappear if you achieved the result, so you would no longer get to do that thing. That's one of the big problems with external motivation—it expires when you reach your goal, and you're afraid you can't motivate yourself without it. (Hint: Wanting something is your true self-motivation.) The other big problem is that if subconsciously "doing" matters more to you than getting results, you will unknowingly give up results to be able to "do."

However, thanks to this new awareness, I've been doing more of what I want and astounding results are showing up everywhere. And the strategies that held the "doing requires a reason" belief in place are starting to unravel. My "seeing everything as a problem" strategy is one of them. Come to think of it, I haven't even checked the ceiling lamps for months...

And by realizing that "problem" has simply been my way of assigning importance to something I don't like or don't want to justify taking action on it, I also realized that my "shoulds" or "rules" have been my way of assigning importance to things I do like or do want to justify taking action on them. While both are excellent strategies for external motivation, I don't need either as long as I remember that my own likes and wants matter, and are motivation enough. This allows me to "do" for the sake of "doing" and get results, too!


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