Not dealing with problems right away might lead to more permanent solutions.
Being your own boss can be dangerous.
Some days, I feel like unproductive even after ticking all items off my to-do list.
On those days, I usually play a few games to distract myself, or go on a long drive with my favorite music blaring in the speakers. These activities calm my mind, and help me go to sleep despite having a bad day.
But if I’m being brutally honest, games, music, and long drives aren’t solutions. They’re merely distractions.
The reason I feel so unfulfilled even after working throughout the day is that I’m way too entrepreneurial for my own good. After I quit my 9-to-5 to become a full-time writer, all I’ve done is set new goals for myself, achieve them, and immediately look for the next challenge.
I haven’t paused once to celebrate my successes.
This has helped me make more money than I could imagine, but it has also led to severe burnout. And anyone who’s faced burnout once, knows how hard it is to get back on track from there.
My mistake on all those bad days was to seek solace in distractions, and not look for the root cause. I’ve suffered enough because of this toxic trait, and I want no one else to go through the same pain as I did. And so, in this article, I’m going to make you introspect on how you deal with your problems and if that’s healthy for you in the long term.
This isn’t going to be an easy read, but if you apply the learnings, they can be truly life changing. Ready? Let’s dive in.
The issue with instant gratification
What’s your first instinct when you’re in some pain or discomfort?
If you’re like most people, you’ll immediately rush to seeking a cure, so you can numb the pain and feel alright again.
This approach might feel like it saves you, but in reality, all it does is address symptoms, not the root cause.
Which brings us to the topic of this article: the reality of our problems.
What if we sought to address the root cause of our problem and not run after instant pain-relief? This way, we can seek truly innovative and life-changing solutions, instead of tackling things on the surface level.
Let me start with a brilliant quote to set the tone:
“Whenever I run into a problem I can’t solve, I always make it bigger. I can never solve it by trying to make it smaller, but if I make it big enough I can begin to see the outlines of a solution.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower
Let’s talk about upstream thinking
In the words of Libby Willkomm from ILR School, Cornell University,
There is a parable that tells the tale of two people walking by a river when they notice babies floating down the river. One starts grabbing the babies out of the river, while the other runs upstream.
The first asks, “Where are you going?! We have to save these babies.”
The other replies, “I’m going to see who’s throwing babies in the river.”
When we’re caught up in a problem, our senses get overwhelmed. We lose track of everything we need to solve, that we forget we have more power.
We forget that if we tackle the root cause, we’ll stop the problem from happening ever again.
This is what’s called upstream thinking — solving problems before they happen.
So, what’s a real problem and what’s a recurring one?
My problem of feeling unfulfilled despite having a ticked-off to-do list isn’t new. I’ve faced this time and again. The sense of not having accomplished anything is so familiar, I could call it an old friend.
I’ve talked to therapists about this, and the closest I’ve come to identifying a solution is expectation management.
If I can control the unrealistic expectations of always being super productive that I have from myself, I can say goodbye to the feelings of low self-worth that accompany a “bad” day.
If you can relate to dealing with a recurring problem and not making any progress on it, the most helpful question you can ask yourself is:
Is this a new problem, or have I dealt with similar problems before?
If the issue feels familiar, it’s a recurring problem. To find a solution, you need to look upstream. To find what’s causing the same issue to crop up again and again, and what you can do to make sure it never happens again.
“If a problem recurs, you didn’t understand its root. You were working on symptoms, not the source.” — Rich Litvin
What’s your take on upstream thinking, and the real vs recurring problems that we discussed today? Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
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