You ever have a problem that didn’t have any solution? That was so fixed, so permanent, so diabolically constructed as to make any solution impossible?
Yeah, me too. Jerk bosses, offensive family members, a body that would not be mistaken for a supermodel’s. Etcetera and etcetera. The world was nothing more than an array of things I had to struggle vainly against. I had to strap on my armor every day, and, as a philosopher* once said, “Outthink, outperform and outmaneuver in order to eke out a miserable living from an unfriendly universe.” One crisis passes, another erupts. No need to send me to hell. I’m already there. Poor me.
At the point where I got sick and tired of this kind of living, I encountered a process that helped me to change the way I thought about these unsolvable problems – and about my life itself. The philosopher I mentioned called the process Uncover, Discover and Discard. The process itself is very simple, but not easy to follow. For me, this was because it forced me to accept the idea that my problems were all of my own making. “All” being the operative word here.
If you’re anything like me, you look at a statement like that and your mind immediately shifts into high gear: Oh no, not my problems. My problems are different. And you immediately run down your Problem List and recite the litany of those who are well and truly responsible for causing them.
Like I said, the point of Uncover, Discover and Discard is to change the way you think rather than solve your problems. I found that if I could think differently, I could begin to see my part in all those unsolvable problems – how I had taken actions based on my own self-interest that caused me to be in conflict with myself and the world around me. Using Uncover, Discover and Discard, I found that every last one of my unsolvable problems was solved. I stopped having to outthink, outperform and outmaneuver. I moved out of hell, and into heaven. And no one or nothing had to change – except me.
Here’s how it works. First you have to be open to the idea of changing the way you think. If you’re not ready for that – if you are unalterably opposed to the idea that you might be responsible for your own problems – then it won’t work. If this is you, then you’ve really earned your spot in hell. Good luck with that.
But if you’re convinced it’s time for a change, then try this: On sheet of paper, make four columns:
o The problem (usually someone you resent or something you’re afraid of)
o The cause
o How it affects me
o My part
Now, let’s consider one of those unsolvable problems. Let’s say there’s a guy at work who’s always on your case. He tries to make himself look better at your expense – criticizes your work in front of the boss, takes credit for things you actually did. The boss loves him, so you know he isn’t going anywhere. We’ll call him Harry. So:
o In Column One, you write that the problem is you resent Harry.
o In Column Two, you list Harry’s behaviors – why you feel perfectly justified for resenting him.
o In Column Three, you list the parts of your self that Harry’s behaviors affect. Usually these can be categorized into four areas: Self-esteem, Personal relationships, Material security and Emotional security. In the case of Harry, you’re probably looking at all four.
Consider this for a moment. We started out by resenting Harry. Then we saw that it wasn’t Harry we resented, it was his behavior. Then we saw that it wasn’t his behavior we resented, it was how his behavior affected those four areas of our being. So now what?
o In Column Four, we are now ready to look at our part in resenting Harry. Let’s think about four basic ways of acting that can get us into trouble: Selfish, Dishonest, Frightened, and Inconsiderate. What did we do? Were we Selfish, in that we wanted more credit for ourselves? Were we Dishonest in our dealings with Harry? Did we act out of Fear – that we might lose our job and our financial security? Were we Inconsiderate in not considering that Harry’s behavior might be caused by some issues he’s struggling with (divorce, financial insecurity, etc.?)
Looked at in this way, it’s almost always the case that acting on one of these four impulses put us in the position to be hurt. Our problems (the things we list in Column Three) are in fact not caused by people like Harry, but rather are triggered by our own behaviors (the things we list in Column Four). This doesn’t excuse Harry’s behavior, of course, but you can’t do anything about Harry’s behavior. You can only change your attitude about Harry. And if you can change your attitude (your thinking), then you have the opportunity to spend much less time thinking about your resentment of Harry and more time thinking about more positive things – like the other unsolvable problems you’d like to solve.
So, using this system, we Uncover the resentments and fears we spend our time thinking about. We Discover what underlies those resentments and fears, and, once we understand our part in them, we can Discard them and move on.
For me, this is an invaluable tool in making my way through life. I do the Uncover, Discover and Discard process on a regular basis for whatever my resentments and fears I have at a given moment. Some recovery programs call that “taking inventory” – and also suggest that you share your “inventory” with someone you trust (doctor, therapist, clergyman, etc.) to get some independent feedback about these issues. I’ve done that, and it really helps.
One thing we can be sure of – that “unsolvable” problems will always be with us. For every one of them, we have a choice: we can blame those problems on others and let our resentments and fears eat us up from inside; or we can try to change our thinking – and in the process, change ourselves.
* Chuck C., whose book A New Pair of Glasses talks about the process in detail. Check it out.