I’m a problem solver. For most of my life, I have viewed this as one of my greatest strengths. And it is. Except when it isn’t.
If my problem is that I’m out of clean socks, then I can solve it by doing the laundry. But if my problem is that my son is autistic, then try as I might, and try as I did for years, I cannot solve it. Years of various therapies improved my son James’s life, but they did not cure what I saw as the problem of his autism.
The problem with my problem solving approach in that situation is that I saw his autism as a problem, a problem with one solution which was to make him not autistic. When I couldn’t solve the problem, I saw myself as a failure. So then I had a son who was not “okay” and I wasn’t okay, either.
I’ve come to understand that there are limits to problem solving as an approach to every challenge. As Pema Chodron says, “Problem solving is based first on thinking there is a problem and second on thinking there is a solution. The concepts of problem and solution can keep us stuck in thinking that there is ... a right way and a wrong way.”
Chodron suggests a different approach, one that focuses on “working with rather than struggling against.”
My epiphany regarding this approach came from none other than James himself, who observed one morning, “It’s great to be James!” Wow. James never saw his autism as a problem. He never saw himself as not okay.
Eschewing a right/wrong, problem solving approach to challenges requires a relinquishment of control, a willingness to keep an open mind, a tolerance for not knowing what will happen. And sometimes a humbling of the ego.
I’m still a problem solver. But I’ve learned that my problem solving skills are useful in some situations and not in others. I’m still learning to tell the difference.
Enlightenment is the ego’s ultimate disappointment. –Chogyam Trungpa
related post: Joy in the Morning
10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There) is a program to help us develop habits to grow a joyful spirit. Many of us sabotage our happiness by habits that we might not even be aware of. Identifying and changing these habits can build a reservoir of well-being to enhance our happy times and sustain us during challenging times.
Sunday, June 10, 2012
A Problem Solver's Problem
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I don't know if I can consider myself a problem solver or not, maybe because I try "not to see" the problem and just take it as it is. For my children, family, colleagues, They consider me a problem solver, although they realize I never suggest a solution. They just share their worries, I listen, and they get the answer from with in themselves.ReplyDelete
Nikky, You are a zen master! As Pema Chodron says, the first problem with a problem solving approach is that it requires identifying something as a problem instead of just seeing it as it is. I love your description of "solving problems" by listening. Priceless. Thanks for commenting.Delete
Thank you for your kind words :)Delete
It's all about a perspective and all about a choice to make. When someone expose his problem and explain it to another person, He can see it from a distance, and make himself the right choices.
I totally understand this one. When I had similar news, I refused to accept it for about three days. Finally my husband, who just learned (in his forties) he had a condition that led to our child having a condition, told me that though I may be shocked, upset, and had my illusions for the future dashed, didn't I think he was an OK and functional human being? He pointed out that some things CAN be overcome to a degree with hard work and others simply CANNOT. He also pointed out that the child was the exact same child before and after the diagnosis. When we ask for children we take them as they are given to us, and if there are some things we wish were different, then we know we are wasting our energy in the wrong direction. Lots of love and understanding from me to you.ReplyDelete
Julie, Thanks for sharing your own story, and for the love and understanding--I can always use that! Same back to you. Thanks for commenting.Delete
So much is changing in the world...for the better. Acceptance with joy are two that I can think of..ReplyDelete
Acceptance and joy go together, don't they? Thanks for your comment.Delete
Kinda reminds me of what I constantly have to tell myself at work: Jesus said you can tell the mountain to move, and it will move. He never said to pick the mountain up yourself.ReplyDelete
CW, So true. I have tried way too many times to pick up the mountain myself. As Dr. Phil would say, "And how's that working for you?" Not so great. Thanks for your comment.Delete
You are absolutely right there Galen!ReplyDelete
If there are things that are under our control, and problems that we can solve, we can go ahead and solve them. However, things that are out of our control or reach, shouldn't be wasted time upon, once you know that there is going to be no solution to those.
I guess what my mother used to say was right- she always said that a problem is worth thinking about, which has a solution. If a problem doesn't have a solution, why think about it, which is what will only stress you further.
We need to accept certain things and change ourselves to take those problems in our stride, and learn to live with them. After-all nothing or no one is really perfect, and we all come with our flaws and drawbacks. What matters most is that we learn to deal with them.
Thanks for sharing. :)
Harleena, Your mother is wise! I like what you said about accepting certain things and changing ourselves. Indeed, changing ourselves is really the only thing we have any control over. Thanks for your comment.Delete
Isn't it most amazing when we discover those tender moments when our children teach us! What a lovely story! It reminds me very much of the little boy in the restuarant who discovered someone knew he was real! Best moments ever in our life when we delight in ourselves! Something many people don't do often enough! Hooray for James!ReplyDelete
Karen, That moment with James was a turning point in my parenting life. In my whole life, for that matter. James has taught me much wisdom over the years. Thanks for commenting.Delete
This talks to me very much Galen. Solving problem is my thing, people don't even have to ask, for every problem I assume there is a solution. But you are right, it does not work like this all the time and learning to tell the different is something I am struggling with, but I will get there!ReplyDelete
Marie, You can I can work together to learn to distinguish situations when our problem solving skills will be helpful from situations when other approaches are better. I like your confidence! Thanks for commenting.Delete
I am a problem solver, which gets me into trouble occasionally. Often my wife will describe a problem or situation she is in. I will immediately suggest how to "fix" it. At that point she tells me she doesn't want me to solve the problem, she just wants me to listen as she works through the options in her mind.ReplyDelete
It is a simple request that I struggle with on a regular basis.
Bob, What you describe is often attributed to that Mars/Venus stuff. And while there is some truth in that, I often find myself on the Mars side of this fix it/listen balance. My kids have done a pretty good job of teaching me what I can't control and what I can't fix, so I've gotten better over the years. Thanks for your comment.Delete
I'm so right there with you on this. Since I haven't been able to relinquish my problem-solver orientation entirely, I'm trying to problem-solve the attitude itself. This kind of thinking has at least allowed formation of a greater hierarchy of alternative strategies. If a problem is not solvable, there are still adaptations to make, which is how autism is worked with. I can't solve the problem of my own mortality, but I can adapt my attitude about this inevitability. The world cannot be made germ-free, but some of the most prevalent diseases can be mitigated and more people can be prevented from suffering. Suffering itself is insoluble, but it can be reduced by active compassion in our individual encounters with others in every sort of need. Thanks for waking up my energy today!ReplyDelete
Mikey, Solving v. adapting--what a powerful contrast you have made so clear through vivid examples. Thank you for adding your insight to the discussion.Delete
:-) I can just imagine you speaking this post. :-) My Mom always felt that I was a solution - seeker, always seeing problems as temporary challenges. Deep inside, I obsessed over the ones I could not solve. And definitely felt bad about the things I could not change, and hurt secretly. Its a strange thing. I still do it. I wish I could wipe away all the sadness in the world. Slightly tall order, eh?ReplyDelete
Beautiful quote at the end of the post, Galen. Love it. Thank you for your insight, as always. Hugs, Vidya
Vidya, Like you, I can get frustrated or sad about a problem I can't fix. Like world sadness! Or even one person's sadness. Glad you like the quote--I've been looking for a chance to use it. Thanks for your comment.Delete
Love this post. I too am a problem solver. I want to fix things for other people so badly that sometimes I have knee-jerk reactions and make rash decisions. I also struggle with knowing when someone needs help and when they just want someone to listen to their problems. Great post.ReplyDelete
Christie, I used to think that if I hadn't solved the problem, I just hadn't found the right answer yet. Like my son's autism. It really didn't occur to me that I couldn't fix it. I just needed to have faith and keep looking for the right treatment. Big life lesson! Now I have learned to listen and accept. At least sometimes--ha! Thanks for commenting.Delete
For the past few years I have been trying to Listen as a way to solve any situation. It takes practice and I'm by no means perfect at it, but I am learning to discern the information I receive as either intuitive guidance or my ego's wish for the resolution of my choosing. I've also found that resistance to a perceived problem enlarges and expands it, but letting go of it brings it into perspective or entirely dissolves it. I really appreciate Pema Chodron's approach to life. Thank you for this post.ReplyDelete
Teresa, How wise to think of listening as your first choice for problem "solving." Like you, I find great truth in Pema Chodron's teachings. She, more than any other single writer, has influenced me in deep life changing ways. Thanks for commenting.Delete
Wow Galen. That is such a powerful sharing! I love the way you were able to reframe your "problem." I have learned that before I can defeat that which is defeating me, out there in the world, I must defeat that which is defeating my naturally curious and ambitious mind. I've learned that I cannot struggle to win a victory over losing thought, but I do look directly at them – and ‘Deny the Lies‘. I ask myself, “Do I really want to believe this discouraging self-opinion, or am I willing to replace it with something new. Within a corner of our mind, there is always the means to question any negative opinion that we hold of ourselves.ReplyDelete
rob, Much wisdom in your approach. I like the deny the lies advice. Thanks so much for commenting.Delete
“Problem solving is based first on thinking there is a problem and second on thinking there is a solution." These words are so true. also, your journey with your son is most inspiring. I find that for me, listening does wonders. For me, it is the putting all my chaotic thoughts into a sentence format, that I find answers. So, over the years, with my children and friends who come with problems, I mainly listen. I see I am not alone in this way of thinking.ReplyDelete
Writing in a journal also achieves good results but not quite the same.
Several commenters have focused on the practice of listening. I went through 60 hours of training to be a Stephen Minister, a type of spiritual companion. Most of the training was about listening. These days, I'm much quicker to listen and not to jump in with advice or attempts to fix things. Thanks for your comment.Delete
Thanks for a very enlightening post. Wow, I learned something new today and I like it. I liked the ideas from Pema. I think as I approach a problem I will look at it differently now.ReplyDelete
I just love following your thoughts.
LeAnn, So glad that Pema was your teacher today! I have read everything she has written. She has a way of conveying deep wisdom in very common sense, understandable ways. Thanks for your kind words.Delete
I am working at problem solving today, these I can strategize and there are solutions, as a matter of fact they need some creativity to solve and that is enhancing the experience and pushing.ReplyDelete
But with my special needs child, well I had to early on think that some of the behaviors were a problem but she was not a problem - I am fortunate as she is doing well now at 26 - very well, just because I was able to let go and reframe
Patricia, As a parent of a special needs child, then you and I have faced some of the same things. The letting go and reframing is something I have to practice over and over. I'm so glad your daughter is doing well. Thanks for commenting.Delete
*Love* this post. And *love* James...I bet it is great to be him. If we could all see through the eyes of a child what an even more wonderful world this would be.ReplyDelete
Thanks so much for sharing.
Elle, I smiled at your sweet comment. Yes, it probably is great to be him. Still trying for his mom some days, though! Thanks for commenting.Delete
Nice post and insight. I agree that there are limits to problem solving and it's wonderful when we do have an impact.ReplyDelete
Cynthia, There are so many ways to understand and approach a challenge. Thanks for your comment.Delete
First of all, how old is your son? And how is he doing? I can imagine how you handled this when you first found out because I'm a problem solver, too. I just love Pema Chodron. I think the idea of “working with rather than struggling against" is amazing. Thank you for this great post!ReplyDelete
Betsy, He is 25 now--all grown! But even now, there are "problems" in his life I still try to fix. Sigh. I have to learn this over and over. Pema Chodron's writings certainly help. Thanks for commenting.Delete
Love that last wrote and the whole message of this post! If we see problems, we see problems. It does create a win-lose mentality and this has ego written all over it!ReplyDelete
Jodi, That so interesting, isn't it, that by identifying something as a problem, then it becomes a problem. And yes, the ego is right in the middle of it because problems often create anxiety and fear, both of which come from the ego. Thanks for your comment.Delete
I've always loved Pema Chodron. I've listened to her on youtube and read her book Taking the Leap. Working with rather than against the problem reminds me of the Tao te Ching and how it seemed to emphasize just that. I think there's a lot of wisdom in that concept. ;)ReplyDelete
Jessica, I am a big Pema Chodron fan. And also the Tao Te Ching. Deep wisdom from both sources. Thanks for your comment.Delete
I loved the post Galen.Even,I sometimes get obsessed with problems that can't be solved immediately however,I'm learning to be patient :).Great article :)ReplyDelete
Diana, Ah, patience. I have learned with time to be patient, but it didn't come easily to me. Thanks for your comment.Delete
It was only when I realized that I was not responsible for the problems of others and many of my own couldn't be solved, that I found happiness, Galen.ReplyDelete
Corinne, Well said! That sums it up right there. Thanks for your comment.Delete
Nice post Galen. I appreciate the idea of developing an alternative attitude towards things we often see as problems. Acceptance and detachment from our own expectations is a challenge for me too. But, I love how you view your son, as an individual, unique and different.ReplyDelete
Myrna, He is that for sure! I still have difficulty when he has challenging behavior. I still see it as a problem sometimes that I need to fix. I have to remember to belly breathe and step back. Thanks for your comment.Delete
Great post my friend and thanks for being transparent once again with your story!ReplyDelete
I love what Pema states working with instead of struggling - the concept of allowing -
WOW at the wonderment of life....I believe you are learning to live in wonderment my friend....
How wonderful that James your son has taught you so many wonderful lessons of life....you are truly blessed!
Nancy, Pema is wise indeed. And so is James--he has taught me a lot and continues to teach me. Thanks for commenting.Delete
Wow! This was great! Making me think also. I'm always trying to solve problems, " I call it, putting out fires." But, uummm who's to say that it is even a problem or is there a solution? I live by right/wrong too much. But, I'm learning every day that sometimes, " It is what it is."ReplyDelete
"It is what it is." I need to be saying that to myself right now. Thank you for your comment.Delete
This is such a touching story and shift. I'm big on problem solving too, but I sometimes see that it's a way to keep my tender heart wrapped up and protected from the world. I love the idea of going beyond the problem and the solution!
Sandra, That's a great description of the pitfall of problem solving. It is a way sometimes for me to maintain the delusion that I can control something outside myself. It's a way to escape my fear and distress. Thanks for your comment.Delete
I love the quote, that pesky ego for us problem solvers can be a real issue. I love the Serenity Prayer; "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." This usually helps me out when I want to 'fix' something which isn't broken!ReplyDelete
darlin, I love the Serenity Prayer, too, and use it often! It is at the heart of Step 3--Give up the delusion of control. Thanks for your comment.Delete
That's quite a moving epiphany about your outlook toward James! Thank you for sharing such a personal insight. A Course in Miracles says that a miracle is a shift in perception and I call yours a miracle.
Love the Pema quote: “Problem solving is based first on thinking there is a problem and second on thinking there is a solution. The concepts of problem and solution can keep us stuck in thinking that there is ... a right way and a wrong way.”
Please keep sending us more good stuff!
Beth, I'm going through the Course for the third time now. I've learned so much from it. And from Pema Chodron, too. Thanks for the kind words.Delete
I'm just dropping by to say hi. You just left a comment on my guest post on Meant To Be Happy. You have a very inspirational blog.ReplyDelete
Welcome, Anne! Thanks for the kind words. I hope you will visit again.Delete
Hi Galen pearl,ReplyDelete
Most of us experience this from time to time trying to find solutions to some problem we experience and when we fail to do so quickly, we tend to get aggrevated. The best is to meditate and the answer will come usually. Thanks for sharing ;)
Dia, Meditation is often the last thing I feel like doing in those situations. That suggests that meditation is exactly what I should be doing!! When I can get myself to meditate then, it always helps. Thanks for your comment.Delete
Galen, I call it acceptance with joy. Some “problems” are for our ultimate good, aren’t they? They teach us how to live and how to die.ReplyDelete
Debra, Acceptance with joy--I love that!! I'm going to use it from now on. Thanks so much for commenting.Delete
This is so beautiful and I admire the fact that you were open to self examination. This led you to see your son not as a problem, but as a blessing. At the same time, your skills as a problem solver have been "polished" because you know your own personal limitations.ReplyDelete
I love the way you write and share your experiences. Thank you very much for this post.
I like the idea of my skills being polished because of knowing my limitations. What a wonderful way to look at it. Thanks for your kind words.Delete
It takes a bit of life to learn the distinction. Not everything in life is a problem that requires a solution, sometimes it's just what it is, a problem we live with or grow from. I concur with Debra, we accept gracefully or we continue to battle..ReplyDelete
brenda, "A problem that we live with or grow with." That is an accepting and loving approach. Thanks for your comment.Delete
It's very true. Some problems only require a mental shift towards acceptance, and then they cease to be problems. This is something I'm still mastering :)ReplyDelete
Kara, Me, too! I think we are in good company. Thanks for commenting.Delete
Like you I am a problem solver.
I was reading Mao Tse Tung's Art of War and he suggests that each war is a problem with its own specific set of perimeters. There are things that can and cannot be done. The objectives are also different. There may be similar examples from other wars, but it would be unwise to follow their strategies and tactics wholesale without considering the specific circumstances that make up the present situation.
The crux of problem solving lies in defining what a problem is and whether there really is a solution for it or not. Some goals are achievable, others are not, so this is something we have to be extremely clear about. If there is an achievable goal, then it would be best to execute the solution quickly to achieve deliverance. If there isn't, then like Pema Chodron suggests, we have to work with rather than struggle against.
Problem solving skills are useful in any situation. It is the goals we try to achieve that we must be clear about.
Thank you for sharing this lovely article!
Irving the Vizier
Irving, I can always count on you to add to the depth of the discussion. It's interesting, isn't it, how much wisdom there is in studying the art of war. I appreciate your distinction between problem solving skills and goals. Thanks for your comment.Delete
What a profound and enriching Post which I can certainly relate to! Along with Acceptance of a medical condition that we cannot Solve and there is no cure for & can create Life Challenges, I also found that I needed to give myself some permission to grieve what will never be and then unconditionally cherish what is & Celebrate those things. I LOVE James' observation... if only we all could fully see ourselves and others in that Light & Truth!ReplyDelete
Blessings from the Arizona Desert... Dawn... The Bohemian
Dawn, So true. We should all see ourselves as positively as James does. Thanks for your comment.Delete
Wow, so much we can learn from James. I hope you have a great weekend.ReplyDelete