Problems. Why a map is not the landscape
Job lost. Partner gone. Flight missed. Mobile phone in the washing-up water. Broken arm. Stupid boss. Always just problems… Problems show up in all areas of life in the most varied forms. Everyone has them. Everyone hates them. Because they somehow remove us from the perfect world.
I once lost my suitcase on an overseas flight. I had an important meeting in the USA with the complete Board. The dress code was clear. Suit, collar and tie. But that was all in the suitcase; I was wearing plain jeans and a comfortable sweatshirt. There was no time to buy a new suit either. I was crushed to panic. How should I appear there? Better to cancel? I had a real problem! So I thought. Because I had an ideal image in my head. I am a suit wearer among suit wearers, because this is the only way I can get into conversation with the Board at eye level and capture the great consulting assignment.
I listened inside myself to see how the problem felt. Did I really have a genuine problem? Couldn’t I just let go of that ideal? Wasn’t I just as competent in jeans and a T-shirt? So I bought a toothbrush at the airport, drove to the meeting, walked into the meeting room, told the story of the lost luggage, and the ice was broken. All the inner stress was simply pointless. Because each person controls how he perceives events. And above all, how he evaluates them.
Having a problem is not that easy.
To have a problem at all you need a subject. Someone who perceives and classifies a situation, a relationship, an event. Without this subject, an event is simply nothing. Because nobody is there to give it a meaning. Furthermore, successful problem creation requires an idea, an ideal conception of how something should be so that it is good. Then comes the perception. Because only when you perceive the gap between the real now and the ideal does the problem have a chance to manifest itself. The actual state deviates from the ideal state. You notice the gap between the actual and the perceived target. And then you evaluate this gap. It gets in your way. It does additional work. Or it may generate feelings that you don’t want to have at all. Problem recognized! But by no means banished.
You see: having a problem is a complicated, epistemological process that requires quite complex thinking. And the first link in the chain is the subject, the ego. It perceives something. In the truest sense of the word. To perceive something as true. But is it really true? Our perceptions are always distorted because they correspond to countless factors. To beliefs, childish injuries, primal fears, self-esteem deficits, old patterns and triggers, humiliations …
Re-evaluating problems with “The Work”
The solution requires a changed assessment and only then – if at all – solution-oriented action. The American author Byron Katie in her bestseller “The Work” provides a particularly helpful strategy for looking at problems and evaluating them. I know of hardly anything more helpful for seemingly muddled moments in which the world of thoughts and feelings tries to trick us. Here’s the short version, which works especially well for beginners when it comes to assessments of other people:
Think of the problem or the situation burdened with negative emotions. And then ask yourself the following questions:
- Is it true?
- Can I know with absolute certainty that it is true?
- How do I react (what happens inside me) when I believe this thought? What are my physical sensations when I have this thought? How do I treat myself and others when I give in to this thought?
- Who would I be without the thought?
If you take these four steps, things get really interesting: because now you can turn your thought around. Rephrase it – with a negative sign, so to speak. To do this, you can play through several variants. if, for example, you are convinced that “my boss should be more considerate of my needs”, you can make new statements about this, such as
- I should be more considerate of MY needs.
- I should be more considerate of HIS needs.
- HE should be more considerate of HIS needs.
Do you notice anything? The reversals are a real challenge, because now you are forced to change your perspective. This is the moment where reflection sets in, where perspectives, feelings and thoughts can change. The problem steps back, and enriching things can be discovered. The seemingly ruthless superior can perhaps even become a role model. “Although he is always a little hard on the matter, he remains fair and supportive. He always knows what he wants, and achieves great results for the company and our department with his clarity and consistency”.
Try it out and face up to supposed problems with a different point of view. Only then will you be looking for a suitable and viable solution.