Problems are not ‘problems;’ they are merely steps we take on the road to a better life

A problem is your chance to do your best (Duke Ellington)

Problems: we’ve all got them in one form or another. It may be health problems, financial difficulties, relationship trouble, career worries, or something else. Yes, we all have challenges to face, puzzles to unravel, and hurdles to overcome. But is that so bad? Psychiatrist, best-selling author, and screenwriter Theodore Isaac Rubin doesn’t think so, for he wrote, “The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.”

Dr. Rubin makes a good point. For the first mistake we make is to assume life should be free of problems. It’s like saying the ocean should be free of salt or the air of oxygen. Without salt, it’s not an ocean; without oxygen, it’s not air, and without ‘problems,’ it’s not life. The second mistake we make is believing problems are problems. They’re not; they’re opportunities. Can we grow stronger without struggling through difficulties? Can we make progress without defeating obstacles? No, problems are not ‘problems;’ they are merely steps we take on the road to a better life. However, if we are burdened with a negative attitude, the steps we have to take may appear as pebbles in our shoes and make any progress painful. The solution is not to change our shoes, but to change our attitude.

Having the right attitude, or being positive, makes a big difference. Through the eyes of a positive person, strangers are friends we have yet to make and ‘problems’ are blessings we have yet to unwrap. But why is it so difficult for some to see things in a positive light? Well, some make the mistake of identifying with their problems. They lose themselves by becoming what they experience. For example, Tom feels sad. If he remembers that he is a person experiencing sadness, he will also remember he has options. There are things he can do to diminish or eliminate his sadness. But if he identifies with the sadness he is momentarily experiencing, if he BECOMES sad by thinking I AM sad, he will lose all options. Only people have options. Sadness, depression, misery, and suffering have no options; they merely are. As long as you remember that you are a person having an experience, and not the experience itself, you will retain control over your life.

Another reason why some people cannot shake off their ‘problems’ is that they don’t want to. Oh, they will protest that there is nothing they would rather do than shed their problems, but they have made them their friends and don’t wish to part company with them. Why is that? Well, they may want to appear heroic; they may want to show how ‘strong’ they are to put up with so much suffering. They may be afraid that if they were to give up their suffering, they would lose their ‘heroic’ status and have nothing to talk about.

Yet another mistake some make is to ask themselves the wrong questions. “Why is this happening to me?” is an example of a wrong question. All that does is keep one’s attention on the problem, further entrenching it. How much better it is to ask solution oriented questions. Questions like, “What are my options? What is the worst thing that can happen? What steps should I be taking now to prepare for a worst case scenario? How can this problem benefit me? What opportunity is hidden in it? Have others overcome similar problems? What do successful people do when they face the same problem? Are other people worst off than I? How am I better off than many others? What should I be grateful for? If it turns out that I cannot handle this problem by myself, where can I turn to for help?”

Everyone is looking for something. And our search becomes a habit. If we’re looking for the wrong thing, it’s a bad habit. What is the wrong thing? Misery! Why are so many straining their eyes in search of it? They love to report all that’s ‘wrong’ with the world. They gloat with each new discovery they make. Why do they insist on wallowing in misery? Just because they have a can opener, do they have to open every can of worms? True, they may derive a degree of masochistic pleasure, but wouldn’t true happiness be a better prize? How can we discover goodness and sources for joy unless we look for them? So, if we are not experiencing happiness, we need to change our habit of looking for the bad to the habit of looking for the good. For it is only then that we will find it.

Another big help is to approach our ‘problems’ with a sense of humor. When we can laugh at ourselves and our predicament, we will be free of stress, which paves the way for clear thinking and the discovery of solutions. You have as much chance to think straight when upset as you have to think clearly while clenching your teeth in frustration. If you want to make it easier to arrive at solutions, learn to laugh and how to relax.

Any human activity, including problem solving, requires energy. It’s not very helpful if you don’t have enough to dig yourself out of your current dilemma. Don’t try to run away from problems or suppress them, for all that does is deplete you of the energy you need to solve them. It is only by facing them squarely that we can examine them in sufficient detail to uncover their solution.

Another clue to problem solving was given by Henry Ford (1863 ~ 1947) when he said, “There are no big problems; there are just a lot of little problems.” In other words, each big problem is simply a series of smaller ones, each of which is easier to solve than a big problem. So, break down your problem and start tackling the easiest of the smaller ones and work your way up.

Pinning the blame on others, or circumstances, or life in general only perpetuates our problems. Once we acknowledge that there is something wrong with our viewpoint, we can do something about it. Once we see ‘problems’ as opportunities, things change. After all, if we want an ocean of opportunity, we have to accept the fact that we will be knocked about by the waves. And as we grow skillful, we will learn to ride them. At that point there are no more problems, for only thrills and adventure await those with courage and vision.