Sometimes I like to immortalize wise words in the 80’s crafting sensation of cross stitch. I currently love, “When a Problem Comes Along, You Must Whip It.” That’s also the title of today’s post, “Whip it – 2 Steps to Solve Any Problem.” Anyone can do two steps, right?
Most problems seem bigger than they actually are. When I look at a problem that needs to be solved, I often feel overwhelmed or afraid or just unqualified to tackle it.
For today’s post, I’ll use the example of a recent problem I faced. My lovely children were being big fat selfish jerks and using me as their personal slave. Every day they went to school, leaving a tornado-worthy fallout throughout the house. They dumped out bins looking for stuff and left them scattered everywhere. Clear their own breakfast dishes? Don’t make me laugh.
I decided to largely take time off from writing and other personal pursuits this year to plan my career and really work at getting our house in order. 2017-2018 was supposed to be the year of super mom, fully focused on family and home. When they left, I’d run through the house cleaning up after them, getting everything calm and perfectly clean. They’d arrive home to a gorgeous house, no trace of their morning craziness.
I’d point out the state of the house and ask them to keep it that way. And they’d trash it again. Then, the rage. This was a problem for a couple of reasons. For one, it’s not fun to be treated like your work doesn’t matter. I also hated feeling angry all the time. Thirdly, I didn’t want my kids growing up to be entitled jerk buckets. Something had to change.
Here are the two steps I took that I think can apply to solving any problem:
1. Find the Real Problem
Often the problem we see is not the actual problem that needs to be dealt with. The problem I saw was that my kids were treating me like garbage. So, my initial solution involved trying to force them to care more about all the work I did and change their behavior.
This was ineffective. I could shame them into feeling badly about their behavior. They would pick up a few things. But within a week they were back to leaving stuff everywhere, knowing I would pick it up for them.
That was the actual problem. They knew I would pick it up for them. The root problem was that I was choosing to act like their slave and then getting angry at them for my choices.
Once I figured out what the problem was, the solutions became much clearer.
Have you ever been frustrated that you couldn’t keep your kitchen tidy, only to eventually figure out that the real problem was how it was organized? If the work flow doesn’t make sense, it’s almost impossible to keep things in order.
Step one. Brainstorm root causes behind the problem until you can find the real problem that needs to be solved.
2. Make it Better – One Tiny Chunk at a Time
You know that old saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” I prefer to think, “How do you eat a giant piece of cheesecake? Also one bite at a time.” It’s the same thing, but I imagine cheesecake tastes way better than an elephant. Therefore, it’s more enjoyable. Therefore, it makes me more excited to tackle my problems than if I think about the process of solving them being on par with devouring a pachyderm.
As Drops of Awesome Lady, you know I like small steps. Tiny Drops is my middle name.
Whether a problem is actually huge or simply seems that way, you will ease your mind and make faster progress if you break it up into small steps.
For the problem we will now call, “I am angry at everyone else for my own choices,” I had to find actionable steps to feel better.
First, I needed to have a conversation with my kids. I apologized for getting angry at them. This confused them, so I elaborated. “I have been getting mad at you because I cleaned up after you and I don’t enjoy doing that. So, from now on, I will not clean up your mess. You will do it. And then I won’t be mad.”
Next, I had to follow through by stopping my cleaning behavior. When I saw dishes on the table or hats on the floor, I had to walk right by, knowing the kids would come home later and they’d be required to clean up.
Third, I needed to find a way to be okay with a temporary mess. If they left breakfast dishes out, they would stay there until the kids got home from school. The dishes had to stay. But I didn’t.
I decided that I could cope with the messy house by choosing to do my work in my bedroom, which I had full control over. A few days I even left to work at a local coffee shop or library, places where other people were paid to create a pleasant environment for me.
Fourth, I needed to develop a system of natural consequences for their behavior. If you leave your dishes out, then you need to clear them AND wipe down the table. I couldn’t do it because your dishes were in the way.
Fifth, and I’m still working on this, I had to be consistent.
You can handle just about any problem if you identify it and break it down into small chunks. So, you have to plan the PTA carnival? A giant problem. But, sending out a single email asking for volunteers is doable and will allow you to delegate some of the work.
Real problems. Small drops. You can do this.