Most people at one time or another have experienced a problem they just couldn’t solve. They suffer and struggle, willing to do anything to get rid of the problem, but to no avail.
Instead, they find that what they do to rid themselves of the problem actually makes it worse.
What makes problems so sticky?
Problems like anxiety and depression (and so many others) trap you in a loop of the mind where the more you try to get out, the more you’re pulled in. The downward spiral causes more and more suffering and more fruitless efforts to break free. This is why states of hopelessness and helplessness are so common with mental health issues and why so many come to the conclusion that change is hard.
But there is a secret to freeing ourselves from these tricky traps of the mind.
Einstein said “You can’t solve a problem from the level if thinking that created it.” If we take his advice we can ask, what level of thinking creates psychological problems? My answer? A painful one.
From a state of suffering, it’s nearly impossible to solve a complex problem. The more you suffer, the more intense your need to break free. If your efforts are unsuccessful, you sink into states of urgency, desperation and neediness which only make things worse. States like this add fuel to the suffering fire. The problem becomes a mosaic of layer upon layer of toxic states. Stuck in the spiral, it’s nearly impossible to step back and slow down.
A French dictum states that what you resist persists and indeed, the more you find yourself in states of urgency about solving your problem, the more you resist it and the more it fights back. The more you try to change the more things stay the same.
But something magical can happen when we try out a different level of thinking.
There was a time when I was really suffering. My efforts just made things worse and I was stuck in desperation. But one day, when I knew that what I was doing wasn’t working, I abandoned my approach. In a way I gave up, and when I gave up, things started to change. I decided that since I couldn’t solve it, I was going to learn all about it. I gave up my need for results and become extremely curious.
This curiosity changed everything. Suddenly, instead of trapped in the “lust” for change, I was on a quest for answers. I took the perspective that there was nothing to change, only things to learn and discover. As I implemented this new paradigm, I began to think that if I could find answers to help myself, I’d be able to contribute my discoveries to help others as well. But instead of trying to figure out why, I aimed to decode the how. I wanted to decipher my own personality. In essence, I became my own Sherlocke Holmes of the mind and worked to figure out how things worked.
I went from sufferer to seeker and explorer.
This shift led to a major turnaround in my life… the most important one I’d ever experienced. I learned things about myself and the human mind I had never seen before. At each step of the process, I made powerful discoveries that left me with a greater sense of freedom, happiness and balance. Why? Because instead of trying to force an outcome, fix what what broken, fight against symptoms, I allowed myself to slow down. In this state of slow, I was open to discovering what was really going on instead of trying to fix surface symptoms.
In the face of complex problems, trying to change things makes them worse. We need a different approach. Instead of aiming for change, we need to look for the truth. When we start to explore what is really going on, we can uncover the hidden structures behind symptoms. When you step into a state of wonderment about what the mind can do and become intensely curious about your problem, how it works, what drives it, what keeps it going, miracles can happen.
The questions I used to guide me were these:
How does this work?
How do I get this result?
What are the building blocks of this experience?
What drives this?
What hidden beliefs and silent assumptions drive this?
What keeps this problem in place?
What other questions can you think of?
In essence, this is the NLP attitude; a mindset of extreme curiosity about how things work. Curiosity is the key to resolving tricky problems.
Problems are like Chinese finger traps. With your fingers inside, the more you try to pull them out, the tighter the trap gets. Curiosity is what let’s you realize that if you push them inward, the opposite of what you expected, the trap let’s go.