The Job of a Problem

Summary: “The job of a problem is to get your attention.”

For a moment, shift into the everything-happens-for-a-reason mode of thinking and consider the “job of a problem.” I know we don’t typically think of problems as having jobs. But, I’ve spent a lot of time studying problem solving, and thinking in such a manner is a good way to develop solutions.

If you observed people’s typical responses to problems, you might think the job of a problem is to generate excessive stress, anger or frustration. This is not the job of a problem. The main job of a problem is to get your attention. That’s it!

Before I continue, it’s important to draw a distinction between two closely related activities: creativity and problem solving. The process of creativity brings something new into existence. Problem solving focuses on making something that is already in existence go away. Keeping these thoughts in mind, you can develop a new and healthy approach for responding to problems.

The next time you encounter a problem:

  • Remind yourself that the job of a problem is to simply get your attention…that’s it! There is no need to allocate a lot of your energy to stress, anger or frustration.
  • Clarify the focus of your attention and determine exactly what you want to make go away.
  • Look for a specific skill, process, or area of knowledge that will likely make the problem go away.

This third step is extremely important. In general, knowledge is the antidote for problems.

Here’s a quick example. Say you are having problems keeping up with your work-related reading. First, realize that a problem related to your reading skills is simply trying to get your attention. Next, determine what you want to make go away. In this case, the excessive time you need to allocate to reading. Now, what process, skill or area of knowledge can make this problem go away? It might not take you long to come to the conclusion that you should consider a speed-reading course or book. Do the math: If you need to read one hour a day just to keep up, learn enough about speed reading to double your reading speed (not an unrealistic goal for most readers). If you work 260 days a year, that would free up 130 hours a year (the equivalent of 3.25 40-hour work weeks). OK, now that problem is solved. Next problem!

What will you do with the extra 3.25 weeks? Is figuring that out a problem for you? Looking at problems as attention-getters is a good way to joyfully participate in life.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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