A Way to Solve Problems

This post will represent a place of introduction to my philosophy on personal growth and resilience. I’ll update it (And the post’s linked in it) from time to time as I get a better understanding of how this can help people.

First off, my theory is that life is largely about problem solving. There are two categories of problems that each one of us has to deal with:

2 Problems Everyone Must Solve

The External Problem – The practical reality of my physical existence which involves my physical health, my relationship to other human beings, and the choice to pursue activities that meet my practical needs while contributing to the lives of others (This assumes that a person wants to do work that contributes to others. Finances are included here if one chooses to work for money.). The ‘problem’ does not necessarily have to be a good or bad problem, it just is. I’m hungry and therefore I need to get food to eat. That’s a problem to solve.

The Internal Problem – The intangibles of our mental, emotional, and spiritual being are often challenged when we have to change our external habits. This is where the personal/character development aspect of this philosophy comes into play for me. Maybe to acquire food, I have to go to work everyday to make money to buy the food. Maybe I have to hunt that food. Both require a measure of self-discipline and resilience which are internal problems. We can extrapolate this out to the need to change business practices in a corporate setting which requires everyday operations to change. Changing operations means that front line staff members may have to change the way they have done things. Does the culture allow for such shifts with a measure of grace and agility? Or, is there firm push back? Does the push back come from a place of ethical reasoning or is it rigid thinking?

It should also be understood that the reverse happens as well. The internal problem of boredom can lead to a pursuit of the external problem of participation in sports. The desire to compete may challenge one to find more ways to practice. The external desire of competing and winning leads back to internal problems of personal agency and discipline… and on and on.

Assuming these two categories of problems, the next step could be establishing a framework to solve these problems. This is where I am laying out the story triangle as one potential framework:

Story

To begin, we have to explore the viewpoint from which we organize the world. To me, it’s easiest to explain this with the word Story. Our stories are a set of beliefs and assumptions that we have about life. A person’s story consists of perspectives, paradigms, and a general mindset. Our stories come from many places that I organize into three origins: social conditioning, family of origin, and the individual. The key to understand is that our stories inherently can not explain the totality of life and therefore our stories have gaps and errors. Assuming we live life with some level of exploration/curiosity, inevitably we’ll come to points where the reality we face (externally or internally) does not map to the story in our minds. This creates a problem…

Ownership

At this point I recommend that we try to move quickly into a posture of Ownership. I have to take ownership of the fact that the beliefs/assumptions contained in my story don’t accurately map to the experience I’m having. On one end of the spectrum this can create a lot of emotional pain/disorientation and on the other end their can be euphoria/excitement. Something happens I didn’t expect. I experience the world in a way I wasn’t anticipating. My belief is that when we delay ownership, we delay the problem solving process which means we may not experience progress and a deeper sense of freedom. Now, assuming we take ownership, we now have to frame the problem…

Fundamentals

Again, I have to assume that an individual wants progress in some way. Progress (sometimes I use the word ‘freedom’) can manifest itself as a change in perspective or a change in one’s physical reality (I would argue it’s usually some combination of both). The desire for that freedom is what creates the problem as we go out and explore. In solving the problem we have to ask, “What is it that I believe I want and how do I achieve this?” Relative to this question we might also ask ourselves, “What’s been true about this situation or similar situations in the past? Are those truths applicable now?” In my mind we are establishing some Fundamentals to anchor a process of experimentation in solving the problem…

Failure

Now that we understand the basic parameters of the problem we need to engage in an iterative process of finding a resolution to the problem. My story has a collection of assumptions or ‘hypothesis’s’ about life. I’ve laid out an objective and some controls (fundamentals) that govern an experiment (Failure) I’m going to run against those hypothesis’s. In other words, I’m going to hold my assumptions loosely, decide what I think I want out of life, and then I’m going to try to go and get it. I will fail because I know my stories are, in part, assumption rather than concrete fact. With this understanding I am able to embrace failure, pain, and disappointment as necessary experiences related to improving the accuracy of my story. In theory, this makes me more resilient and more likely to experience a deeper sense of freedom and personal growth. In this place we have to be willing to take an objective stance in the midst of failure/pain/disappointment and say, “What did I learn about the world and myself? How does this change my story?” It’s been my experience that the most painful points of life offer the most insight if we are in a posture to receive that insight. It’s a mental skill – every day, learning that we are testing the understanding of ourselves and the reality we live in.

In the next few weeks I’ll take some examples and filter them through this process.

Are there some situations in your life that you think you can use this process to find some forward progress? Jot down some notes for each of the four ideas. Brainstorm a little. Check out the other posts linked above to gain more details about each step.

-Travis

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