Monday, March 17, 2014

Maybe Our Only Problem Is the Way We Approach Problems?

A problem is simply a situation or state that doesn't fit someone's desires or needs, and requires a solution to alter that situation or state to create a better fit.

When you consider the word "problem", does it have a positive or negative connotation? Your answer could make the difference between living a fulfilling or a frustrating life.

You may have heard the tale of the guy who went to a friend for help, complaining about the daunting number the problems he faced. His friend simply smiled and told him, "I'll take you to a place where nobody has a single problem!"

The complainer went eagerly with his friend to find the location of this magical place, only to have his friend lead him to a graveyard. "Here are all the people who don't have any problems!" the friend declared.

You could make the argument that life is a series of problems, and that the presence of problems is misery, while the absence of problems is joy. Sounds like a harrowing roller coaster ride! But what if we could smooth out that roller coaster simply by changing our attitude about problems?

When confronted with a problem, do you see it as a setback or frustration? Or do you see it as an interesting challenge that may lead to a fulfilling journey?

Problems are often unexpected or unanticipated. We see them as bumps in the road, setbacks in our schedules, pains in our necks. But what if we could remember that the process of tackling a problem often leads us to new insights or discoveries?

Instead of cursing under our breath when a problem arises, what if we could instead say, "Look at that hurdle someone stuck smack dab in my path. What a welcome surprise! I wonder where it will take me? I wonder what it will teach me?"

What if we embraced the idea that problems are the very things that make life interesting - maybe even exciting?

Perhaps we simply need to change the negative charge often associated with the word "problem". What if every time we see the word "problem", we instead replaced it with a word like "project" or "puzzle"?

When faced with a particularly difficult problem, would it help to visualize it as a fun toy like a Rubik's Cube and approach it with a playful attitude, setting a reasonable pace and making one twist at a time until we solved it? I think it's worth a try.

I started playing the violin in my early 30s, which is a relatively ancient age to begin the process of learning a challenging musical instrument. For at least the first year, it didn't sound pretty. One day while I was squeaking out a tune, I stopped out of frustration and dropped the fiddle in my lap. I sat and glared at it for a moment. Oddly, it felt like the instrument was smiling back at me – a mischievous smile, at that. That's when I knew.

I said to the fiddle, "You're going to take me on a journey, aren't you?"

"You bet!" the fiddle winked.

That was a couple dozen years ago. I have since moved from Los Angeles to Asheville, NC to be closer to the source of Appalachian mountain fiddling. In the process, I have transformed from a city boy in a swank bachelor pad to a chicken farmer living in a rustic mountain home with my wife and daughter. I've gone from angry and agitated to relaxed and happy. It has been one heck of a journey – a journey that would never have begun if I hadn't been confronted with the problem: "How in the world am I ever going to figure out how to make this fiddle sound decent?"

By the way, I already know what my next problem will be: to remember to heed my own advice next time I'm confronted with a problem!

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