We Solve Problems Everyday

Problems come when we are confronted with facts about our reality that defer from the stories we have created about our reality.

Travis Daigle, Pain… A Good Thing

A large measure of what I try to do in my writing is search for the commonality in us all. When I began thinking through this Story-Model of Problem Solving, it seemed to me that stories are the way we all mentally organize the world. I don’t think I’m unique in terms of my Problem Solving ability but I would say I’m unique in the since that I have spent so much time over the course of my life examining my own story as it relates to difficult problems. But in reality, we all solve problems everyday.

Have you ever gone to drive to work or school and there was unexpected construction on your normal route? Maybe you were able to take an alternate route and arrive to your destination on time. Maybe you had to call ahead and tell you employer that you would be late because you are stuck in traffic. Maybe you used technology to be on a conference call in the car. Then, there are the ensuing series of things that may need to be shifted or altered due to the fact that your original/expected start time has shifted. While relatively simple, the traffic is a problem that you had to solve that day. The facts were different from your expectations: ‘This route is normally clear but today it’s blocked.’ Therefore you simply adjusted your narrative that day. You adapted and overcame.

You’re hungry and want food. You have bills and need money. You want a job that requires certain training and you seek certification. You don’t want to be alone so you seek a partner. And on and on and on… These can be relatively simple problems as long as your assumptions (aka, stories) predict with a relative amount of accuracy the facts associated with achieving your objectives. You might say, “Travis, if the facts line up with my story then that’s not a problem based on your definition.” I would argue that’s not a complex problem. If we think back to grade school math where we were first introduced to word problems. Some were very simple and others more complex but they all were problems.

Let’s go back to the traffic problem. Maybe you really wanted to be at work on time and the traffic causes you to be blocked in. There’s no escape route. You’re stuck. Have you ever found yourself fuming angry in a situation like this? In reality it’s a simple problem to solve: You can’t go anywhere. You can call ahead. You can explain when you get there. The rational thing to do would be to think through how you will mitigate the potential fallout. However, how many of us would simply give in to the anger spending the whole car ride pissed off rather than problem solving?

We love easy problems because they don’t require as much flexibility and agility from our stories. An easy problem doesn’t deviate too much from my preconceived notions and therefore it doesn’t require too much critical thought. However, I think we can get much better at this process if we can recognize our ability to go through this rhythm: Problem –> Story –> Facts –> New Story –> New Problem.

Maybe I begin to realize that there is lots of new home construction along my route to work. I predict that traffic will gradually get more congested so I incrementally begin leaving a bit earlier to solve the problem. However, in my head I’m thinking about cost/benefit of moving closer to work, looking at working remotely, or a new job all together. These things force me to ask myself what I ultimately want my future to look like and what problems I’m willing to deal with in order to navigate towards that future (Analyzing My Story vs Facts). I may just decide to deal with the traffic. The cost of taking a new job closer to home may not be worth the perceived benefit. But that means I have to begin solving the problem of a longer commute time: Do I listen to audio books/podcasts? Do I schedule phone calls? Do I get up earlier and workout somewhere near work; avoiding traffic all together? (New Stories with New Problems)

Either way we would have problems to solve. This is my main argument with people when I see them choosing to remain the same even though they want change. People avoid testing out a new story because they don’t want to be disappointed. Basically, they don’t want to face new problems because they’ll be forced to think critically. However, staying the same is going to cause you problems anyway. You may not get anywhere for having to deal with them.

It’s the business that you always wanted to start but you never try it and the regret builds over the years. Eventually you start telling other people that starting a business is impossible because this story helps justify your own lack of action. You see that?! No action was taken but your story evolved anyway. At one point your contemplation of starting a business may have been marked with fear but your story didn’t make it impossible. Now, years without any follow through have caused you to create a narrative to justify all the time spent not trying –‘It’s impossible‘. You project that story onto others because if they start a business then it just shows you that you gave into the fear. None of us wants to admit that we are cowardly sometimes because it may upset the story we have about ourselves (self perception). However, it’s true of all of us at times. It’s also true that moving forward would be better by starting with that truth. If you admit to yourself that you are paralyzed by fear, you can start addressing the fear, rather than trying to undermine another person’s courage, “Hey, I’ve wanted to start a business for years… How did you find the courage to do it?” Face the truth with courage and have the humility to admit your trepidation.

The traffic problem is easy but the business problem is hard. But we go through the same loop:

If we face reality we stand a chance at being able to come up with new stories to solve the problem but if we choose to ignore facts then we have no chance and we are victims/slaves to our own story. Being a slave to your own story causes a whole host of other problems…

In the next post we’ll dive deeper into where stories come from. What is the biggest goal that you have in life right now? What problems are you running into? Getting more accurate about articulating the problem is a skill in and of itself. Think back to the question we answered last week.

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