Tag Archives: Problem solving

Where to Find Solutions to Your Relationship Problems

(Image/Tubefilter.com)

The best places to look for solutions — to any significant problem you may face; not just relationship problems — are in the non-obvious places.

The places you haven’t looked.

The places you wouldn’t think to look.

And that’s the rub. It’s counter-intuitive to think of things we don’t naturally or instinctively think of. It’s sort of impossible to notice or know about things we can’t see.

One relationship partner’s failure to notice something (or many things) meaningful to the other is the root cause of many strained or broken couples.

Maybe she thinks he’s a selfish asshole for not noticing, or not acknowledging a Herculean effort on her part to plan a huge family event. Or re-decorating a room in their house. Or for all that she sacrificed so that their children are well fed, perform well in school, and get to and from their extracurricular activities safely and on-time without significant interruptions to his career and work schedule.

Maybe he’s super-busy advancing his workplace skills and accomplishments because from his earliest memories, the measure of a man was directly tied to career success and his ability to provide financial security to his family both today and for the entirety of their lives. Maybe his highest priority is the long-term wellness of his wife and children, and he’s afraid of failing them every day. And maybe while he’s keeping his head down trying to better himself and his family’s circumstances, he’s blind (literally never even saw) a change to her hair or their home.

While he’s looking in one place at one thing, something is happening outside of his field of view. He doesn’t even know there’s a thing to notice.

His checked-outness feels like disrespect to her. Like only the things he does matters, and she apparently amounts to little more than a house-cleaning nanny who cooks dinner, packs lunches, and who only gets feel-good attention when he’s trying to have sex with her.

When she finally speaks up about it, or cold-shoulders his attempt to connect in the bedroom, it seems to him that it came out of left field. What did I do this time?!

When we are trying to find solutions to our problems (or to locate anything missing like our phone or car keys), we default to looking in the obvious places first. And this makes sense as one of my favorite writers Seth Godin points out when he wrote “Look in the obvious places first.”

Godin writes:

“That makes sense, because the obvious solution is obvious because we’ve learned how to solve problems like these. Your car keys are probably on your dresser, not in Santa Fe.

“Here’s the thing: if the problem is a longstanding one, if it hasn’t been solved in a while, then the places you think are obvious aren’t. Because they’ve already been tried.

“As time goes on, the most likely site of the solution is further and further away from what you would have guessed. So begin there instead. That’s the new obvious place.

“Hint: it’s probably a place that feels uncomfortable, risky or difficult.”

The answers to your questions and the fixes to your problems are probably not in any of the places in which you’ve been looking for them.

Couples have the same fight for 10, 20, even 30 years, if they make it that long.

And if one of them — so sure of themselves and certain of their correctness — hasn’t managed to convince the other, what must that signify?

That one or both of them are woefully incapable of effective communication. That one or both of them are intellectually incapable of comprehending the brilliance of the other.

Or maybe it means that two people can look at, hear, feel, or otherwise experience the same thing, and come away with differing accounts of what happened, and differing accounts of how they feel about it.

And maybe neither one is objectively correct or incorrect.

As my brilliant friend Lesli Doares, a Cary, N.C.-based marriage therapist says, if we have 10 thermometers telling us it’s 65 degrees Fahrenheit outside, we can feel secure in that objective truth: It’s 65 degrees outside.

But the answer to the all-important follow-up question that will make or break your relationships is NOT objective, even though most of us treat it like one:

Yes. It’s 65 degrees. But, is that hot or cold?

It’s Not One Event or One Thing — It’s the Accumulation of the Tiny, Unnoticed Things

I’ve long described the end of my marriage as death by a thousand paper cuts.

One paper cut isn’t a big deal. We shake it off and move on. Same for the second and third, and probably even the 100th. But maybe after a thousand, the wounds are so severe that we bleed to death and die.

Our relationships die with one or both of us asleep at the wheel.

This idea — this death-by-a-thousand-cuts concept — fascinates me. How can it be that two people agree to forsake all others and partner up for life, and pool their resources, and make children and homes and new lives together, and then half of them fail to the tune of 6,600 divorces per day in the United States alone?

How can that be? After so many decades of experience and knowledge and new generations of people? How can so many people fail at the most precious and important thing at the center of their lives?

Are we all cosmically huge assholes hell bent on mutual self-destruction?

Are we all horrible, incompetent, evil, manipulative, selfish, nasty people incapable of behaving with love and kindness?

OR.

Do the things that end us seem so inconsequential — so harmless and insignificant — that we don’t bother with them?

Do things that we encounter every day (I call them the All The Time things) escape our notice simply because our brains are biologically prone to adapt to our surroundings and routines?

In our never-ending search for comfort, we build in personal systems of routine and familiarity in our actions, our surroundings, our habits, and the people with whom we surround ourselves.

And then we become blind to what becomes constant. Like the summer-nights hum of insects or the everyday sounds of city traffic from a downtown office building. Like white noise.

What happened to cause your marriage to fall apart?

There’s rarely one thing. One event. It’s the accumulation of a million data points, and when the positive ones emerged consistently, two people fell in love and had content, healthy relationships. When the negative ones emerged consistently, things began to erode from within until the structural integrity gave way and everything collapsed.

Simon Sinek, a brilliant author and speaker, describes it from the opposite perspective — how two people fall in love, which I’d argue is simply the reverse-engineered version of how we break our relationships.

When we go to the gym once, or even twice, can we see results? No? Then it must not work! So people quit.

When we brush our teeth for two minutes a couple of times per day, does it make a measurable impact? Not particularly. Doing it once won’t fix a cavity or whiten your stained teeth. It must not work!

Sinek talks through process in the video (that I tried and failed to embed below), and it’s perfect. He discusses both love and business leadership, but the lessons are the same in either instance.

Brushing your teeth for two minutes twice per day doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t matter. UNLESS, you brush your teeth for two minutes twice per day always. It’s the consistent behavior that matters. It’s the consistent behavior that produces healthy, desirable results.

WATCH THIS, please. It’s fantastic.

Take a Closer Look at the All The Time Things

We have questions. We have pains.

So we look for answers. We try to solve our problems so our pains go away.

We look in the places we think to look.

But if the problem has been around for a long time, whatever thing or piece of information you need to achieve your desired result is elsewhere.

And just maybe, they’re hiding in plain sight in the white noise of the All The Time.

NOTE: If you would like to explore whether working with me might help you notice things that exist in your blind spots, or whether reframing your thought and communication habits in your relationship might help you have a breakthrough, please consider whether my coaching services could help you or someone you love.

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Rethinking the Problem

The Penrose Stairs. Every corner is the both the top AND bottom. Artwork by kitkat93 at Deviant Art.

The Penrose Stairs. Every corner is both the top AND bottom. Artwork by kitkat93 at Deviant Art.

Because I’m keeping myself really busy with life problems, the holidays and self-imposed chores related to a business start-up, I’m worse than ever at keeping a queue of writing topics.

I have decided to try a Monday-Wednesday-Friday posting schedule after my nearly daily posting fizzled out early this year.

It’s Wednesday. I want to write. And I’m drawing a blank.

It would be easy to just move on. But I want to be the kind of person that accomplishes goals even when they’re hard.

But how?

Finding a Different Angle

I took my son to see Big Hero 6 last weekend. I went to see Interstellar on Monday. And I saw this from the marketing world’s thought leader this morning.

My takeaway from all three experiences was a fervent desire to be the kind of problem solver that can approach obstacles from a totally unique point of view and find workarounds no matter the odds.

It’s hard to keep going even when it’s hard. Really hard.

We have trouble fighting for our relationships when it’s hard. It’s easier to quit.

Shouldn’t being in love be easy!?!?

We’d all like that. But I think it’s probably exactly as it’s supposed to be. Our muscles only get stronger when we work them hard. Our minds only get sharper when we work them hard. Our resolve only escalates when we overcome emotional adversity.

Maybe love is exactly as it should be. Challenging and messy. So only the few, the proud and the strong are rewarded with its infinite beauty after walking the walk heroically.

We have trouble trying to master new skills when it’s hard. It’s easier to quit.

I had this fantasy about being a good guitar player one day. I love music and thought (knew) girls would dig me more if I played.

I bought an acoustic guitar. I was gifted a nice Fender Stratocaster electric guitar for my 16th birthday. My parents couldn’t afford guitar lessons, but I went to the music store and acquired all the Learn How to Play the Guitar materials I could find.

My fingers hurt trying to learn how to hold the strings in place and I found chord transitions nearly impossible. So I quit and never picked up a guitar again.

I sometimes wonder if that same weakness is the reason I got divorced.

We have trouble developing good habits and routines when it’s hard. It’s easier to keep our lazy bad habits.

We have trouble committing to, and following through on, working out and healthy eating. We have trouble reading all the books on our bookshelf. We have trouble breaking unhealthy spending habits.

Even though it can’t possibly be that hard to quit (I did for a couple years in my early 20s), and even though it’s totally disgusting, I bite my fingernails all the time.

Why don’t I stop?

Maybe because it’s easier to just keep doing it.

In Big Hero 6, a young genius is tasked with wowing a crowd of geniuses at a robotics convention. He has to learn how to approach problems from new angles, ask new questions, discover better angles.

In Interstellar, an aeronautical engineer is tasked with traversing the universe in search of a habitable planet for humans.

This morning, Seth Godin wrote about redefining rules and boundaries to come up with creative solutions.

It reads:

“The thing about a clean sheet of paper

… is that it still has edges.

It’s tempting to believe that creativity comes from starting fresh. But even when we start fresh, we approach projects and problems with self-created boundaries.

You can’t do real work without edges, without something to leverage, but those edges don’t have to be the same edges as everyone else uses.

Creative people often excel because they change the shape of the clean sheet.”

Have Crazy Idea Sex All the Time

My favorite writer James Altucher is constantly reminding us to train our minds to become “idea machines.” He insists the part of our brain that generates new ideas is like a muscle, and that with regular work, you strengthen this muscle and new idea generation becomes easy and routine.

How do you become an Idea Machine?

He says you write down 10 ideas a day. Every day. And after six months, you’ll strengthen this muscle enough to be constantly churning out new, creative solutions to problems, big and small.

You can have ideas about anything.

How to build a gas pump that will pump fuel twice as fast.

How to make the world’s greatest pizza crust.

How to encourage robust economic development in rural towns.

Whatever. There are no limits to the topics that could benefit from new ideas. If you write down 10 ideas a day (even the bad ones!) for an entire year, you will have 3,650 new ideas.

Altucher says you can bank on at least a few of those being the kind of ideas that can turn into legitimate business ideas, or useful life hacks that can radically transform your life, or the lives of others.

Furthermore, there are endless possibilities of combining these ideas. Idea sex!

Endless possibilities make my heart race. Endless possibilities prevent boredom, which murders the little explorer that lives in our hearts and souls.

We were made to explore and discover and create and build. These are the things behind every great human achievement since forever.

I haven’t perfected the (very challenging) task of generating new ideas every day.

But I believe in it. That new ideas—new good ideas that change lives, whether it’s just one life or many—are our most-precious resource.

We forget to think.

It’s because we get so busy stressing about all the things that don’t really matter because we’re all going to be dead someday, and because we watch sitcoms and reality TV, and because we eat McDonald’s and Cool Ranch Doritos.

We get so caught up in the routines of our lives and intimidated by the boundaries we create for ourselves that we totally forget we can build rockets and fly into outer space because there are almost no unsolvable problems.

Anything that looks like one just means we need to turn the problem around and upside down and find a new way to look at it.

Anything that looks like one just means we haven’t asked the right question yet.

For instance: What am I going to write about?

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