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Power of a Problem-Solving Attitude

“People don't resist change. They resist being changed.” – Peter Senge

I know it isn’t just me when I get caught up in how things aren’t working. The level of anxiety we are collectively experiencing and the real ways that uncertainty and unprecedented change are impacting our lives is taxing- in every way. Lately, my news feed of all the things breaking down is scaring me.

Power grids giving out from the heat at the beginning of summer, shipping, and travel systems unreliable, supply chains impossible to predict, monetary systems tumbling, even legal precedents being overturned… everything feels harder and less trustworthy than we have come to expect, and even take for granted.

More challenging still is the breakdown in personal relationships at both work and home. These years of Covid distancing have taken a toll on our basic capacities for relationship; the art of listening deeply to those we love, the safety of meeting strangers and becoming a friend, the willingness to offer help or ask for it. All these ways of relating take practice and intention. And yet, somehow when things aren’t working in the world, it is often our relationships that suffer the most. An errant comment too easily turns into an argument. We become blind to our own impact, even something as small as our tone of voice on people around us, too caught up in the unresolved problems around us.

These are powerful moments, when the choices we make about how to respond to things not working is everything. For me, I have come to understand and approach these moments and in fact, much of life, as a problem-solving activity. Recognizing what is broken as an opportunity to problem solve brings agency and used wisely can help us reconnect in our relationships. Some problems are bigger than us, we cannot impact them, but many of the most familiar issues we face, of not having enough resources, energy or time often fuel a lot of the pain we inflict on ourselves and our relationships. 

Realizing that resistance is futile is always where I need to begin. When things are broken and we are in physical, emotional, or mental pain, we can choose to work with what is broken or we can resist what is happening and suffer it. Resistance always creates more suffering. Much of our stress is a result of resisting what is. Even when reality is not what we want, and things are breaking down, we make bad things worse by resisting instead of problem solving. 

One way that I catch myself resisting instead of problem solving is when I notice myself getting lost in my own narrative. The most treacherous thing about the story line of things not working is that it is rarely original and bizarrely resembles the last 200 times things weren’t working. When we are faced with too many unresolved issues at once, we encounter the sad truth about our negative mind tapes. They are not discrete occurrences; instead, all the breakdowns run together. And because they are so familiar the story line feels truly resonant which in turns engages us to enact them repeatedly, proving ourselves right about the ways things always go wrong. Giving up our story line requires the courage to stew in the discomfort of the present breakdown without resistance, and without replaying an old familiar narrative that only makes things worse. 

Instead, if we can turn our attention to both what reality is presenting and notice how we are thinking and talking to ourselves, we have agency. Disrupting the story line and giving up resistance is a practice that will move you towards problem solving and help you relate.