Every Path Has Puddles and Every Life Has Problems

Life and problems, they seem to go together. Well, that’s not always true, for although some people find a problem with every opportunity, others find an opportunity in every problem. But for now, let’s call the obstacles, challenges, and difficulties we have to face ‘problems.’ How should we deal with them? Here are ten tips.

1. Be aware of your problems. Don’t live in denial. The problem very often isn’t that people can’t solve their problems, but that they are unaware of them. Be alert. If you’re frustrated, something is blocking your way. Find out what it is and what to do about it.

2. Every problem contains the seeds of its own solution. Seeds represent growth. We need them. And as Norman Vincent Peale (1898 ~ 1993) wrote, “If you don’t have any problems, you don’t get any seeds.”

3. The easiest way to quash problems is to solve them, so once you are aware of them, don’t avoid or try to go around them. Time and effort spent dodging problems is much better spent seeking solutions. Someone who was more familiar with problems than most of us, Helen Keller (1880 ~ 1968), had this to say, “The best way out is always through.” So, work through your problems.

4. Rise above your old limited thinking. Examine your problem from a new perspective, for as Albert Einstein (1879 ~ 1955) taught, “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.”

5. What exactly is your problem? State it clearly and write it down. These two simple steps will bring you closer to a solution.

6. We don’t find anything until we look for it. So, start looking for a solution. We always find what we look for, so if you carry out this step, you are guaranteed of success. I’m not suggesting that you will experience instant success. Rather, I’m saying that you should keep looking until you arrive at a solution. In other words, patience and perseverance are also called for.

7. Spend your time wisely. Most of it should be spent on discovering and developing solutions. Be solution-oriented. Spend as little time as possible on problems, and quickly move on to solutions.

8. Don’t allow the size of your problems to overwhelm you. The biggest of problems becomes manageable after breaking it down into the small steps that need to be taken.

9. Develop the right attitude by understanding that we don’t have any problems; we just have learning experiences and opportunities.

10. Don’t see problems where none exist. Use the power of your imagination to find problem solutions; don’t use it to imagine problems that don’t exist.

Now, let’s study an actual case of life problems. Here is an email sent in by a reader, a few details have been changed to protect her privacy.

“I am a European lady that moved to another European country, where the cost of living is lower. For over 50 years I have been battling with a lack of self esteem and I have explored all the possibilities that I can think of.

“I have read all your articles and studied under people like Jim Rohn, Tony Robbins, and others and have improved tremendously.

“I am 61 and still alone. I have spent my life blaming it on my upbringing, even though I realize that it is up to me to change my way of thinking.

“I have just watched a film on the TV, a true story, about a professor who was schizophrenic and who imagined people and circumstances that were really not there. The story goes on to say, that, with help from his wife, he went on to become a renowned professor in his field and is supposedly still alive today.

“I have had a problem for many years, i.e. talking to myself (as if I saw people) and I have been extremely strict in my handling of this. I cannot seem to stop myself, no matter how hard I try. I am very worried about talking to myself.  I’ve always done it. I know lots of people that do it, but now I actually am having conversations with myself all the time (out loud).  I have tried everything I can think of – rewarding myself when I’m quiet, punishing myself when I catch myself doing it.  I have put an elastic band round my wrist and snapped it every time I catch myself talking – but to no avail.

“I am wondering if I have the same problem that this professor had, and if there is anything I can do about it – short of seeing a psychotherapist (here where I live, there are none). The doctors here are very basic and even if I could find a psychotherapist, I am sure that they would not understand a problem that doesn’t really exist here.

“I live in a very small town where there is very little that is ‘up to date’ and where I have few friends. Here, if you don’t have family, then you don’t get to go anywhere much. They are very family orientated.

“I am not able to sleep nights and the older I get, the worse it seems to be. I feel ‘totally’ lost. I know that if I immerse myself into helping others that I should feel better – but somehow, I’m not getting there. I am willing to do whatever it takes, but I don’t know where to start.

“When I meet up with people, even though I tell myself not to say too much, I always seem to gush.  Maybe it’s because I am lonely, but I feel that it’s more than that.  I physically can’t seem to stop myself.

“Until last year I had my own business selling real estate and did quite well.  However, the market crashed and so I decided to try and retire.  Not possible, I’m afraid – I’m too active.  So I am now going to be teaching English…. I leave for another European country in the near future, with a 3 month teaching contract  – so I shall be busy for awhile (thank goodness – I hate doing nothing). I’m looking forward to it because I will be working and meeting new people.  But there my problem starts again.  I will talk too much and probably spoil any chance of making good friends. I also have been interested in Volunteer Teaching in South America, but I don’t have the money to go.

“I am up every morning before 8 o’clock.  I spend a lot of my day on the computer, and I try to go out walking for at least an hour.  Until last month, I went to an exercise class 3 mornings a week and then on to breakfast with the girls from class.

“I have joined the local Volunteer Association; but they are just here in name only really (here, everyone’s family helps out – there are very few old peoples homes, or voluntary organizations). I am an ‘on-line’ member of Amnesty International; I write appeal letters when they are needed.

“My pension is very limited and because of the current financial situation, I don’t go out much.  I watch a lot of TV, not because I like it, but because there is nowhere to go in the evenings.  I go to bed around midnight – and don’t sleep well.

“My main aspirations are: 1.  I would like to be in a relationship (but this is not as easy as it sounds) 2.  I would like have more to do with my time 3.  I would like to be able to afford to visit a family member in the U.S.

“If this email makes me sound like a whiner, really I’m not. I’m a very strong, very capable and extremely positive person which is why I am now at my wits end.  It seems as if I’m losing my grip and this, I cannot afford to do – as I have no one to fall back on. It must be something quite simple; I just need a push in the right direction.”

Let’s look at our reader’s ‘problems’ one at a time as I make some comments and suggestions, trying to nudge her in the right direction.

Self-esteem is the image we have of ourselves. It is our own opinion of our worthiness. If we were raised as children with comments such as “You’re a bad boy” or “You’re a naughty girl” we come to believe we don’t deserve to succeed because we are bad. Once we believe we are undeserving of success it becomes difficult to succeed because our subconscious works on the assumption that what we believe is what we want. In other words, our beliefs become self-fulfilling prophesies.

Our reader writes about “battling” low self-esteem for 50 years. Now, here is what she and most people don’t realize: we don’t have to battle our weaknesses; we can just accept them and do what needs to be done in spite of them. For example, let’s say I’m unemployed and looking for a job. My friend knows of an opportunity and tells me to apply for it. But because of low self-esteem, I say to myself, “There’s no point in applying because they are going to reject me.”

But even though I have low self-esteem, I don’t have to think that way. I can ACCEPT my weakness and interrupt my feelings with rational thought. That is, I can say to myself, “Because of my low self-esteem, I may FEEL like they won’t give me the job, but I DESERVE to succeed and WANT to succeed, so I am going for the interview.”

By changing my thought I have introduced the possibility of success. And if I don’t get the job, all I have to do is continue going to job interviews UNTIL I SUCCEED. Thus, with a change of thought and persistent action I will bring about the certainty of success. And as I experience one success after another, what do you suppose happens? Yes, my self-esteem grows!

One of the ‘problems’ our reader complains about is talking to herself. Although I will write more about this later in the article, for now note that she can turn this ‘weakness’ into a strength by using positive self-talk instead of negative self- talk. Instead of saying, “I can’t do that” she can say, “I may feel that I can’t do that because of low self-esteem, but I want to do that, so I will try to, and will continue trying until I succeed.”

How prevalent is low self-esteem? Dr. Joyce Brothers writes, “Psychologists estimate that 85% of the population suffers from low or weak self-esteem, which is generally caused by a poor self-image.” If you are looking for some help in overcoming low self-esteem issues, one book I recommend is “SELF-ESTEEM: A Proven Program of Cognitive Techniques for Assessing, Improving, and Maintaining Your Self-Esteem” by Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning, New Harbinger Publications, 2000.

Although it’s possible to lead a fulfilling life without a partner, there’s no question that a partner can significantly enhance one’s life. But beware; the opposite is equally true; meaning that a peaceful solitary life can be transformed into a living hell if one picks the wrong partner.

But nothing comes in life without risks, and the risk of entering into a poor relationship can be minimized by applying commonsense. Three simple rules are:

a) Don’t rush into a relationship. Be rational, not emotional. You cannot get to know someone in a few weeks or months. Ideally, date about a year.
b) Don’t allow the person you are dating to convince you to marry or commit in a short period of time. If he tries to rush you, end the relationship unless he allows you to take your time.
c) Make sure you respect and admire the person you’re dating. If you don’t, stop seeing him.

Now, how do you find your life partner? Since you are computer literate, a good way to start is by visiting senior dating sites, which are quickly growing in number on the Internet. It may cost a bit, but isn’t it a good investment in your future?

A less expensive approach would be to start your own senior dating club. All it takes is a small newspaper ad or note on a bulletin board that says something like, “Starting new senior dating club. Single men and women invited for get-togethers. For information call Mary at (telephone number).” You can meet in parks, at museums, galleries, or famous landmarks.

An important point in your quest for a partner is to begin with the right attitude. Do not think in terms of what you want, but in terms of what others need. Imagine a woman that has these thoughts: “I am lonely. I need a man. Why can’t I find a man? I want to get married.” How will that woman appear? She will look and act desperate, which will scare men away.

Now imagine a woman with the following thoughts, “There are lonely men. That can be painful. I hate to see people in pain. I am single and can help some man find happiness. If I meet a decent, available man, I am willing to become friends, and if our relationship blossoms into romance, I am willing to get married.” How would a woman with such thoughts act and look? Wouldn’t see appear to be kind, gentle, and understanding? Wouldn’t that attract men?

As long as you have the right attitude, anywhere you are may prove to be the place you meet your life partner.

What do we mean by “talking to oneself?” All it is, is THINKING OUT LOUD. Everyone does it. It’s perfectly normal. Sometimes we talk to ourselves silently, at other times we do it aloud. We may even speak to someone who isn’t there. For example, I may want to ask my boss for a raise and practice asking him in my imagination. Someone watching me may think I’m crazy because it looks like I’m talking to someone who isn’t there.

After seeing the movie “A Beautiful Mind,” our reader grew fearful that she may have a symptom of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a complex illness that takes on several different forms. In one form the victim hears voices in his or her head. For instance, they may ‘hear’ God telling them to do something. They may also experience a hallucination (see someone that isn’t there). So, if I’m asking my boss, who isn’t there, for a raise, that’s quite normal. But if I SEE my boss and he isn’t there, that may be a symptom of schizophrenia.

Also, schizophrenia is quite debilitating, interfering with everyday activities. Yet, our reader remains quite busy, and until recently ran her own successful business. Conclusion? Her suspicions about being schizophrenic are highly unlikely. However, if our reader wants additional assurance that she is not schizophrenic, she can seek the opinion of a qualified professional. But when it comes to such a suggestion, how does she respond? She says, “Even if I could find a psychotherapist, I am sure that they would not understand a problem that doesn’t really exist here.” What is her conclusion based on? Not reason, but distorted thinking. It’s just her low self-esteem telling her, “What’s the use of trying to find a therapist, I won’t succeed.”

She incorrectly claims that schizophrenia is not a problem in the country she is living in. How do I know her claim is incorrect? Well, according to government statistics, the total medical and nonmedical costs of schizophrenia in the country she lives in were estimated at 1,970.8 million Euros. Obviously, the country she lives in has schizophrenics and is treating them.

Another mistake our reader makes is putting so much effort in trying to stop talking to herself, for the harder she tries, the worse it gets. Psychologists call this “the law of reverse effort” and New Agers express the same idea when they say, “What we resist, persists.” In other words, stop fighting it. The more attention you give to it, the worse it becomes, and the less you think about it, the less of a ‘problem’ it will be.

Our reader needs to think with reason, not with feelings. An excellent tool for eliminating distorted thinking is “Thoughts & Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life,” by Matthew McKay, Martha Davis, and Patrick Fanning,  New Harbinger Publications, 2007.

Shouldn’t we feel better when we help others? Our reader wonders why it doesn’t seem to be working for her. It’s true that if we sow seeds of kindness, that is what we will reap, many times over. But it doesn’t necessarily mean if I am kind today, others will be kind to me today. It may take time to work. You see, when we sow seeds, some will fall by the wayside, others on rocks where they will wither and die, some will be eaten by birds, and others choked by weeds. And those seeds that do take root and grow cannot do so in a single day. It takes time before we can reap what we sow.

Also, this law of life works only when we are sincere. Suppose you are at a restaurant and a waiter fawns over you, not out of kindness, but because he hopes that you will give him a big tip. Will his insincere behavior impress you? Probably not. The good deeds we do work in the same way. If I act kindly merely because I wish to be treated kindly, people will realize I am insincere and treat me accordingly.

How long should you sleep: 6, 8, or 10 hours? It is not the number of hours you sleep, but how restful you feel after awakening that determines whether or not you had a good night’s sleep.

To get into the habit of sleeping soundly, try to stick to a schedule, sleeping and awakening at the same time each day. If the time you go to bed and awaken keeps changing, your body will be unable to develop a natural sleep cycle.

When you feel drowsy, your body is speaking to you. Don’t set its message aside and postpone sleep, for if you do so, you could throw your body out of balance. Conversely, don’t go to bed before you’re sleepy. That is, don’t go to bed just because you are bored or can’t think of anything to do; wait until you are sleepy. If you can’t think of anything to do, take a walk or read a book.

Start winding down an hour before sleep. Just as foreplay should precede intimacy, a gentle slowing down of all activities should precede sleep.

Insomnia can cause insomnia. That is, if you find you can’t fall asleep on a particular night, you may interpret that as insomnia, and anxiety of that happening again causes you to remain awake, and that, in turn, causes insomnia. Our reader is prone to this type of behavior, so she needs to avoid falling into this trap.

Anxiety and other forms of stress are the enemies of relaxation and sleep. So, to reduce stress, practice relaxation and meditation techniques.

If your bedroom is too noisy or bright, use ear plugs or eyeshades. Also, you’re not going to be able to get a sound night’s rest on an uncomfortable mattress. If it’s not comfortable, change it.

If none of the above or nothing else works, you may have a sleeping disorder. Since there are 70 kinds of sleep disorders, visit a sleep clinic, where they will be able to tell you exactly what the problem is and how to solve it.

One of the most exciting things we can do is solve our personal problems and discover our strength. Here are three things our reader can immediately do: a) Study the recommended or similar books, b) Study and practice relaxation and meditation techniques to reduce stress and improve sleep, c) Use her gift of talking to herself to transform her thinking by practicing positive self- talk. By the time she completes these tasks, she will find she has plenty to do and enjoy.

Talking too much or gushing is caused by low self-esteem. Your inner child is crying out for recognition and attention and is afraid that if you stop talking, the other party may walk away.
But the problem is this behavior results in just the opposite of what you want. Instead of winning recognition and making friends, you drive people away.

Try this approach. Before you speak to someone, say to yourself, “I wonder what interesting thing I can learn from this person. This forces you to ask questions and listen. When you do this two things will happen: a) You will marvel at the interesting things you learn, b) People will enjoy your company.

Teaching English as a Second Language can be a lot of fun and lead to an adventuresome life. Your present teaching opportunity is too short (3 months) and you can’t afford to go to South America. Try Japan. They offer one year renewable contracts and pay all transportation costs. There are also opportunities in Korea.

Telephoning is a lot cheaper than traveling to the United States. And this is a good time to remind ourselves we cannot have EVERYTHING we want. We have to learn to do the best with what we have. Let’s be thankful for what we have instead of regretting what we lack.

I can’t agree with this. After all, our reader is SOME ONE. She can fall back on or rely on herself. Like everyone else, she comes packaged with powerful inner resources. But as long as she says, “I have no one to help me,” the door to her inner treasure will be locked. But as soon as she says, “I know what I want and I am willing to do whatever it takes to get it,” the door to the treasure room will open and the answers will appear. She may not get what she wants instantly and easily, for it may take time and effort, but she will get it. Listen to what Earl Nightingale (1921 ~ 1989) has to say about our inner resources, “If the average person realized the power he wields over his life and destiny, he would live in a perpetual state of wonder and thanksgiving.”

I’ll end with two more quotes to ponder. First, “Conquering any difficulty always gives one a secret joy, for it means pushing back a boundary-line and adding to one’s liberty.” (Henri Frederic Amiel, 1821 ~ 1881). Second, “Understand that most problems are a good sign. Problems indicate that progress is being made, wheels are turning, you are moving toward your goals. Beware when you have no problems. Then you’ve really got a problem…. Problems are like landmarks of progress.” (Scott Alexander (American screenwriter, director, music coordinator).