Rules for Intrepid Living: Rule #26.

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Rule #26. Work the problem.

I enjoy solving problems. I think most of us do in one way or another. But the right solutions aren’t always easy to find. Inevitably, some of our attempts will fail, we’ll find we don’t have the right tools, and sometimes we’ll even make the problem worse!

In situations like these, we can lose sight of what the actual problem is; once we’re frustrated, it’s easy to lose patience. Sure, we may give something a second or a third attempt, but beyond that we’re approaching anger. Anger isn’t useful for solving problems; it makes us rush to judgement, make mistakes, or try to force an ineffective or inappropriate solution. In a problem-solving situation, anger tends to make everything worse. At that point, the initial problem is no longer the problem; a bad attitude is. But we don’t have to fall victim to that, if we just work the problem.

You may be wonder what I mean when I say, “work the problem.”

I mean that we should approach these problems with a beginner’s mind (especially if we are beginners). We should attempt solutions with a curiosity, not a desperation. If we try one solution and it doesn’t work, instead of getting angry, we should seek to understand why. When we understand why one idea doesn’t work, it helps us formulate the next one.

Frustration is natural when something doesn’t work out. Sometimes we just have to take a break and walk away from something for a little while. If we don’t, we stop working the problem. Instead, the problem starts to work us! Don’t let that happen. Take a break, go for a walk, have a conversation, grab a bite to eat. You may find that once you remove yourself from the situation, a new idea will pop into your head. Then you can return to your efforts with renewed vigor.

Getting frustrated and angry at a making a mistake or a failed attempt is natural, but allowing that anger to cloud your focus and make the situation worse is not an effective or  healthy response. When you start letting the frustration get the better of you, you’re no longer working the problem, you’re just trying to get rid of the source of your frustration. That won’t lead to positive results. Step away, give yourself some time, don’t let the anger be in control. Take a break, let the anger subside and take another crack at it.

It is also important to not allow yourself to become distracted by the symptoms of an issue without addressing the actual problem. Doctoring up a symptom only to leave the problem unsorted is only going to lead to more frustration. That’s why it’s so important to step back and think about your course of action. When you’re clear headed you’re more likely to see the root cause. If you’re angry, you may just start attacking whatever is obvious, which isn’t effective in the long run. You have to work the problem, not just the symptoms. After all, you can change a light bulb as many times as you want, but if your power has been shut off you’re still going to be sitting in the dark.

So don’t let a situation get the best of you. Keep your eye on the prize, and take a step back. Make sure what you’re trying to solve is the actual root cause of the problem, and don’t let frustration beat you even if you have to make several attempts. Keep these things in mind, and work the problem, don’t let the problem work you.

“Rules for Intrepid Living” is a weekly post that gives potential guidelines for how we can all live a bit more of an intrepid life.

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