Turn Problems into Solutions – Four Approaches to Solving Problems

“Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my own experience. No other person’s ideas and none of my own ideas are as authoritative as my experience. It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming me.” – Carl R. Rogers, On Becoming a Person, 1954

When I was a teenager, we had set meal times and would actually sit on a table together at least twice a day. Our family brunch on Sundays would often lead to a conversation about a “problem”. My dad was studying to be a Carl Rogers client-centered therapist at the time and I am not sure if he sometimes tried to use a questioning method or if he was just very skilled in giving me and my sister the space and safety in which we could just “let it out”. 

Having this kind of open environment in which you would be able to talk through anything is a family tradition which we still live with when we are together. Even though my dad and sister have left this earth already a long time ago, my mum, my aunt and I often sit down and just talk through anything, we love to analyze why a person shows a certain behaviour and how we can solve relationship issues. For me, this is so normal that I sometimes need to remind myself that it is not at all “normal” but rather extraordinary, especially in the German context. I would assume other families have a stronger discussion around political topics, money issues (how to save it) or even more mundane topics like sports.

I, on the other hand, have realized in a conversation with friends that sharing problems and openly talking about feelings, insecurities or areas of your life where you might not feel like “Wonder Woman” could be misinterpreted or it could come across as if you don’t really know where you are going. 

Which is funny, because right now I feel completely safe and on the right path of my life. I have a strong sense of alignment between my strengths and my life’s work. Insecurities of artistic types are normal because we expose ourselves to critiques a lot more often than the average business professional but most companies also train people to use other words than “problem” or we are not allowed to use words such as “drama”. 

It took me years to weed out the “corporate speak” in my writing and even a word like “alignment” creeps me out a bit as it feels “corporate”. This year during a meditation I chose the word “Roots” for my word of 2021. Solving problems is one of my roots and hence I wanted to share four beliefs behind problems with you.

Problems remind us of Math in High School

When I think of problems I think of my favorite math teacher (who also died rather young) and his gigantic triangle. He had the outer appearance of a garden dwarf but he was a great math and physics teacher. He even made me like physics at some stage. In math we had to solve problems all the time and sometimes this would cause stress. I can’t remember this from school or university but I know that I personally don’t like those psychometric tests which are sometimes still used in banks and consulting firms to weed out candidates. The classical IQ tests focussing on calculations in your head can be stressful if you grew up using a calculator. “Being bad with numbers” is a common stereotype of women and often used against women. I’m concerned that women might often not be “bad with numbers” but with the pressure of solving a mathematical problem without using EXCEL or without a calculator and under time constraints. If you take this into consideration with a bit of practice and a good teacher every math problem usually is solvable. And this is exactly what I mean with a “problem”. It’s a riddle that is complex and will need time, practice and different angles to be solved. Do you like crossword puzzles? Could you imagine an upcoming “issue” or pickle to be approached like a crossword puzzle? Write down all the pieces, paint a picture and see if a solution shows up.

Problems seem to be too complex to solve

Sometimes solving problems alone is not possible. Problems might seem too complex to solve. You might have a machine in front of you and you always follow the same steps and always end up with the same error messages. For this kind of problem you either need Google or you need to ask someone who understands the machine better than you do. You need to potentially try several times and several different approaches. You can write down what you did to solve the problem, you can ask a bot for help or you can ask around in your network. Maybe someone else has encountered the same problem and has a solution or a workaround. My advice is usually to break the problem into smaller tasks or to paint an image to understand the components and how they are interconnected. Are you confronted with a problem you cannot solve? Which steps have you taken and tried already? Would it be time to ask for help? If you aren’t getting help, should you escalate the issue to the next level now? What is at stake? Can you allow yourself a bit of discomfort?

Problems harm our “Wonder-Woman” self-image

Having problems is often associated with shortcomings and hence harms our self-image of being a perfect “Wonder Woman”. However, this self-image also creates a lot of harm, especially when life isn’t perfect. For example, when I was in my thirties and forties not being able to get pregnant, nor holding my marriage together in two locations with two careers was a real problem. Up until then I was living in this illusion that life was planable and that all you had to do was to take action and be a go-getter. I might have exaggerated this a bit too much since I lost half of my family rather early in life. I probably thought “okay, from now on I will just plan this better.” (I really love plans, spreadsheets and to-do lists.)

Life isn’t like that and during my coach training I learned to accept that. I also learned that you cannot change other people, you can only change yourself. And do you know who is really a “Wonder Woman”? It’s a woman who loves herself anyway, despite the failure of her body at producing offspring, despite her failed marriage and despite the stain on her top. Ask yourself if you could accept a little more each day and what it would take to “be yourself”? What does it mean for you? Maybe start with a small change, like wearing a different outfit or letting your hair down.

Problems could show us a dependency we are not happy about.

Often a problem is a conflict of two or three different interests pulling into different directions. It can also stem from opposing beliefs and constructs of reality. If we cannot seem to solve a problem alone we might feel dependent and many of us don’t like to ask for help. It’s a common stereotype that men don’t like to ask for directions. However, I don’t like to ask for directions either. Mainly because I have a hard time differentiating left and right sometimes and again asking for how something is done best could show a weakness of sorts. Are you afraid to ask for help? Are you unhappy to depend on a colleague, a mentor or a friend? If so, ask yourself why that is? What is so shameful about asking for help?

Problems are here to guide us on our past. Obstacles are learning opportunities and pain is useful. Approach your day with a small problem you wish to solve and add a weekly practice to your RockMeApp around solving problems.

If you feel overwhelmed with a bigger problem and you don’t know how to ask for help or who to turn to, maybe it’s time to talk to me about a coaching program or the RockMeRetreat. Please reply “Magic” to this email and we will make an appointment for a free consultation of 30 minutes.

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