The problem is not the problem.
You may be thinking that’s the strangest tip I’ve ever given you. Or you may be wondering what I mean.
In simple terms, slow down. Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t assume that your situation is the “real” problem. The “real” problem is how you “see” your situation.
Take, for example, a company reorganization. Two employees, working side by side, doing the same kind of work can “see” the reorganization quite differently. One person can see it as a smart move that will make the company more competitive in the marketplace. The other person can see it as a major hassle that’s not worth the effort. The “real” problem–or opportunity–is in how each of these people “sees” the situation.
The same is true in your personal life. Perhaps your children grow up and leave home. Some of you are saying, “Great. That’s no problem.” While others of you are saying, “That really hurts.” The problem is not the problem. It’s all in how you “see” your problem.
Unfortunately, we don’t always “see” things clearly or correctly. That was the case when I met a longtime friend for lunch. He told me he needed to share a concern, that he thought his wife was pregnant with twins.
Knowing he already had four children and his income was very low, I immediately expressed my concern as well. I said, “I can understand. Kids are so expensive these days. How could you possibly afford two more?”
My friend said, “Not at all. My concern is whether I’ll have enough time to devote to each child so each one feels special.”
How we “see” a situation makes all the difference in the world. I looked at my friend’s situation as an economic challenge and would have immediately focused my energy on solving that economic “problem.” My friend saw it as a life balance issue and started to look at how he might better manage his time.
So how do you “see” a situation clearly or correctly? How do you make sure that you don’t turn a stressful situation into a crisis? How do you stop yourself from turning a molehill into a mountain? Ask yourself six questions.
First, DOES THIS SITUATION REALLY MATTER TO ME? The answer should be a simple “yes” or “no,” and it should be your “yes” or “no.” Don’t let somebody else give you a guilt trip, manipulating you into thinking you should care more than you do about the situation.
For example, if a person criticizes you, and says, “You seem to be suffering from insanity,” you don’t have to let the criticism bother you. I know one person who responds, “No, I’m actually enjoying it more than ever.”
Sometimes a situation just doesn’t matter. One speaker, John Hagee, is a very large man, and he’s been criticized for his weight problem. But he just jokes it off by saying he qualifies for group insurance all by himself.
Second, IN THE GRAND SCHEME OF THINGS, HOW BIG OF A DEAL IS IT? Does your situation qualify as a true catastrophe? Or will it be a lot less important in a day, a week, a month, or a year?
To a great extent, your problems only have the size and the power you give them. If you exaggerate the severity of your problem, you could end up defeating yourself.
That’s what Rodney Dangerfield found out. He told his psychiatrist, “Everyone hates me.” His psychiatrist said, “Don’t be ridiculous. Everyone hasn’t met you yet.”
Third, AM I TAKING IT PERSONALLY? Sometimes a prospective customer says “no,” but it has nothing to do with you or your product. It’s not personal. It may just be bad timing. Sometimes your kid says “no,” but she would have said “no” to anybody or anything. She was just in a bad mood, and it had nothing to do with you.
So be careful; don’t automatically assume you’re to blame, and don’t automatically take it personally. That’s what one woman did when the Food and Drug Administration banned a certain medicine because it was habit-forming. She said, “It’s not habit forming. I ought to know. I’ve been taking it every day for the past nine years.”
Fourth, IF I REACT NOW, WILL I MAKE THINGS BETTER OR WORSE? Some things are better nipped in the bud while other things are better left alone for awhile.
Don’t fall back on some self-justifying excuse, saying, “I jump in and deal with things immediately,” or “I’m the type that lets things simmer for a while.” Forget about what type you are or what you always do. Focus on what works. Will you make things better or worse by reacting now?
Fifth, WOULD IT MAKE SENSE TO TAKE TIME, THINK IT THROUGH, AND THEN REACT? Sometimes you have wonderful instincts, and you don’t need a lot of time to think. Your first reaction is correct. For example, a recent study shows that 75% of the body’s heat escapes through the head. Does that mean you could ski naked if you had a good hat? Your instincts should tell you that would be stupid.
Other times, in fact most of the time, you make better decisions after thinking it through. One man said he figured out his financial problem. He said, “I make money the old fashioned way, but I spend it the modern way.”
Finally, ARE MY THOUGHTS HELPING OR HURTING ME? When you’re faced with a stress, are your thoughts turning that stress into a molehill or a mountain? You’ve got to put things in perspective.
Maybe you’re arguing with your spouse over which restaurant you’ll choose, or maybe you’re stressed out over the inadequate service at the restaurant. Keep things in perspective. Many people in the world spend their days trying to find food while we spend our days trying to work it off.
Ask yourself these six questions the next time you’re faced with a problem. You’ll “see” that the problem is not the problem, and you’ll know how to handle the “real” problem.
Action: Pick one stressful situation in your personal or professional life right now. Apply all six questions to your situation. Based on your answers, decide on one action step you will implement.