Monday, May 18, 2015

Don’t solve the problems, overcome them

There’re many things we take for granted without even questioning. At our birth we are practically a tabula rasa, with huge potential and a lot to learn. However, little by little we appropriate of culture and that also means that we close ourselves to a world of possibilities. In fact, often, are the little things, those who take for granted, which become obstacles to prevent us from fully develop our potential.

The problem is that once we adopt certain patterns of thoughts and adhere to certain beliefs, it is very difficult to get rid of them. Then finally, we end up living in a very restricted universe of possibilities, compared to everything we could learn or do.

Indeed, one of those limiting beliefs we don’t question but take for granted, is thinking that problems must be resolved.

What does it means to solve a problem?

Solving a problem means, first of all, assuming that there is an obstacle. When we realize that there’s something to prevents us from achieving our goal or disturbing our stability, we feel bad, we get frustrated and angry. However, those emotions, far from helping us to cope with the situation, actually harm us. Emotions not only make us feel worse but also affect our judgment and our ability to find a good solution.

Solving a problem also means that we have to remove as soon as possible that obstacle from the road, to go ahead or return as fast as possible to the initial condition, which was probably that comfort zone where we felt safe.

However, assuming the problems as mere obstacles implies a very restricted view, that almost never leads to personal development. Instead, understanding problems as something to overcome, like challenges to transform us, implies a radical shift in the way we see and face the world.

Why do we tend to assume the problems as obstacles rather than challenges?

Actually, it is a vision transmitted to us by the western society, a society that promotes competitiveness and individualistic values, which is focused on achieving personal goals, despite the group and the interests and needs of others. Therefore, everything around us is designed to follow certain goals and we assume that everything on the road is necessarily an obstacle.

Anyway, when we stop considering life as an achievement of goals and begin to see it as a road, problems will turn from obstacles into opportunities to grow. When we don’t have the obsession to reach a point but we intend to enjoy the journey and make the most of it, problems will assume another dimension, they’ll become opportunities.

About this, the vision of Chinese entrepreneurs is particularly illuminating. They’re not afraid of the competition, on the contrary, they believe it is healthy. They don’t see other entrepreneurs as obstacles but as an opportunity to improve their business, competition becomes an incentive to change and, if sales decrease, they don’t blame others but wonder what they can do to reverse this effect and continue to grow.

Problems: A challenge to overcome

Thinking of problems in terms of challenges is not merely a terminological shift. Replacing the word "resolve" with "overcome" is not a simple linguistic change but involves a much deeper level of change of attitude and worldview.

In fact, people who cultivate resilience, those who know how to face adversity and come out strengthened, are not the strongest or better prepared ones, but those who face problems as challenges, those who are convinced that the situation will allow them to grow.

These people are not desperate to return to their old comfort zone, but when they finally manage to overcome the problem they grow. Thus, that comfort zone where they feel comfortable becomes increasingly large and therefore there’re fewer things that hurt them.

A study conducted at the Boston College recruited several people and asked them to prepare a speech. They were told that they would be evaluated for their performance, so to generate tension. Meanwhile, their bodies were monitored. The interesting thing was that some of them were introduced to the activity as to a challenge in a positive light, while others were presented as it was a problem.

The psychologists could see that facing stressful situations as challenges not only improved the final performance of the participants but also allowed them to control the symptoms of stress: indicators such as heart rate and blood pressure returned quickly to the norm, while in the group considering the activity as a problem these indicators reached higher levels.

Therefore, overcoming a problem involves to resolve it but also to learn a lesson. It doesn’t mean to simply turn the page but also integrate it into our history, to give a sense of what happened and incorporate it into our life experience. This way we enrich ourselves as persons. Thus, it is less likely we hit back twice with the same stone, because we gained a more complete picture of the situation and, therefore, of the factors that led us into it.

Why is it so important a change of perspective?

Problems are not external facts but they speak of you, problems don’t exist outside of who we are. In fact, what in some stages of life can seem a problem of gigantic proportions, because we lack the psychological resources to cope with, later may become a situation which we can even laugh about.

Therefore, problems are not really an external obstacle but an expression of fear, insecurity, lack of something or of our own limitation. From this perspective, a problem isn’t a stone that we can easily divert form the road without thinking back on it, but it’s a warning sign indicating a much more profound deficiency and, therefore, an opportunity for people to become stronger.

Change is worthwhile.

Tugade, M. N. & Fredrickson, B. L. (2004) Resilient individuals use positive emotions to bounce back from negative emotional experiences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; 86(2): 320-333.


Keep feeding your neurons

Don’t solve the problems, overcome them
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Jennifer Delgado Suárez

Psicologist by profession and passion, dedicated to to string words together. Discover my Books


Psychology as you never heard about...

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