This is my second post in the “How to be an Urban Monk” series.
For those who arrived late, the previous episode was about not wasting time. Today I’ll focus on problems and how to crush them consciously :)
I hope I’m not going to disappoint positive thinking lovers but the following article will not contain any mantra or affirmation. Sadly, these techniques never worked for me: trying to convince myself that I’m feeling good makes me anxious and paranoid, is that true for you?
Anyway, I’ll start from another assumption: life is full of problems and we have no other choice but to face them. The Buddha used to tell his monks that “the world is filled with pain and sorrow” and for some reason I align with his view.
So far 50% of my experiences have consisted in facing difficulties and trying to cope with them.
I guess pain is one of the few truly universal truths, it reaches everybody, plus it’s available in all formats and flavors: who doesn’t know what it’s like to be badly sick? Or attracting a long-term relationship with a mosquito? Or simply closing your trunk on the car’s keys?
But what amazes me even more is the great variety of responses humans have when faced with problems: some get angry and accuse “the system”, some stay positive and apply problem solving techniques, others try hard to deny that anything’s wrong.
Of all these strategies, I spotted a few that work flawlessly for me. They’re easy to understand although hard to apply. They’re also common practice among the people that I labeled Urban Monks.
To make these tips clearer, I sequenced them from “Phase 1“: the moment we’re faced with a problem to “Phase 2” when we start actually solving it.
Phase 1: when problems hit you
Have you ever been fired? Then you know what it feels like: the floor crumbles beneath you, you find yourself wondering if that’s actually happening. Weird thoughts fly across your mind like: “Why can’t I stop breathing?” or “Can someone help me breathe?”
That’s a random example of how we feel under huge stress, in general it’s pretty violent, isn’t it?
Then, immediately after that mental blast, a wide array of crappy emotions follow: anger and depression being the two leaders.
This initial phase of distress is inevitable, but thankfully there’s two things that you can do to control yourself, if you’re interested, here’s what you could try:
That’s what one of my teachers used to say: when your mind is shaken by emotions and you feel like reacting, just don’t move.
Even if you’ve been publicly insulted or humiliated, keep your feet to the ground and don’t move.
Try to focus all your strength on NOT taking action, this is a hard practice, remaining unshaken takes more balls than jerking frantically and picking a fight, but it’s the kind of training that makes true Samurais.
Once, someone told me that here’s no way to change a situation if you don’t accept it. It sounded like a paradox at first but a few years down the road I came to the conclusion that it’s true.
Before trying to solve a problem, we need to fully comprehend it, which implies a certain degree of tolerance and acceptance towards it. Regarding problems as threats limits our capacities to respond (they’re largely conditioned by the way we perceive things).
When you can’t take what’s happening, neurotic thoughts take the lead and you unconsciously try to bury your discomfort by accusing others or finding myriads of nonsensical justifications.
The mere fact of accepting a problem gets you half way through its resolution. You understand better, you react more appropriately.
How do you do that? Just take it. Plain and simple: you’re in trouble, nobody’s to be blamed (not even you) and you have decided to cope with the situation NOW.
And if it’s too tough to make peace with pain remember that what’s happening to you has a meaning, not necessarily a bad one (I’ll say more about it below).
Phase 2: when you respond
Admitting you’ve started to stabilize your mind and accept the situation, you then proceed to solve the problem. Here’s how you could do that part (feel free to challenge it in the comments below :)
One of my friends knows so much about Internet technologies that he’s almost dangerous. However he’s the one I call when I run out of solutions with a stuck computer.
What always amazes me is how he addresses the situation:
Faced with a frozen screen, he gently rubs his chin and say: “Now, ain’t that interesting?” Then he starts asking questions on what happened, how and when. In his place I would just throw the damn computer out of the window.
I’ve tried to role model this friend of mine for a few years now, particularly by asking the right questions :)
Leverage your connections
OK, here’s a commonplace: when you seek help from your true friends you get a better perspective on your problems. Yet, if you want to reach out to friends you still need to sacrifice your pride. It’s a tough job and I’ve always had a problem with that. It takes humility to acknowledge that you need help, and even more to share your concerns with trusted friends who can help you out.
You might already be familiar with this, in what case I’d like to pay homage to you, especially if you’re a guy (guys are more stuck in their own pride).
Link the right meaning to problems
“Problems are not stop signs, they are guidelines.”
Robert H. Schuller
Here’s something else with what I started experimenting recently: I call it consciousness hacking. I train my mind to perceive situations differently, particularly I focus on not linking problems with pain anymore.
I do that exercise everyday. My purpose is not to cheat my brain into happiness, just getting used to stop seeing difficulties as a punishment.
What if problems are not the expression of God’s wrath but a game in which we can learn and grow? Like a playground for adults?
Makes no sense? OK, let’s take the example of my computer friend when he has to fix a bug: instead of nagging about Windows Vista and thinking that the situation is dead-serious, he enjoys the challenge of fixing it. He sees that as fun.
I’m sure we can do that in most situations.
How about you?
Would you be able to translate this example into something you can use in your own life?
Can you think of other problem solving strategies that work for you?