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Coaching Strategies

Can most problems or dilemmas be solved with this one simple question?

In being oh-so-serious and determined to fix something, we unwittingly over-complicate the situation, raise the stakes far too high and blow things out of all proportion. Here’s one alternative.

You’d have thought adding a ‘subscribe to my email list’ form to a website would be a straightforward affair. Perhaps someone somewhere may have done this once or twice? You know, just a simple push button and a textbox – the kind you’ve seen a thousand times before. That’s all I ask.

But no.

Four hours later and I’m still pulverising my face into the screen, pleading with said subscribe form to just work on my website. With a degree in computer science and a decade of WordPress under my belt, it shouldn’t be this hard – I weep in desperation.

Now, replace ‘email subscribe form’ for any other frustrating, unresolved problem or dilemma in your life and you’re enjoying a day out at the emotional fairground. And the star attraction is one toxic roller coaster of anxiety, anger, depression, desperation and hysteria. 

When something stands in the way of getting where we need to be, it’s torturous and exhausting. Especially when the route ahead seemed so straightforward when we began.

It didn’t take me long to reach this point with my nefarious subscribe form. 

Then I snapped. 

Fuck it, I thought, tossing my laptop to away. Fuck websites, fuck email contact forms, fuck the lot of it. In fact, fuck the entire internet.

Then I caught myself. 

Am I taking things too seriously here?

What happens when take things too seriously

You’d think it was life or death the way I was burying myself in this particular problem. In being oh-so-serious and determined to fix it, I’d unwittingly over-complicated the situation, raised the stakes far too high and blown things out of all proportion. 

Maybe you’ve noticed this when you’re faced with a similar predicament? 

I certainly see it in people I coach. In getting so wrapped up in a problem, or tricky decision, we tend to lose all perspective. Nothing else seems to matter and we become myopic in our obsession with resolving it. 

Taking things too seriously needn’t mean involved action. Perhaps you over-plan or over-analyse? Endlessly weighing up options. Maybe you procrastinate, and prefer anything but dealing with the issue (despite it preoccupying your focus while you do other meaningless tasks).

When we take things too seriously, all hope of curiosity and creativity – the very things that reliably get us out of a pickle, are lost. 

Yet we all have an escape route

Mine is humour and irreverence (although I often forget). It never comes easy when I’m being very serious, but eventually, it comes. I notice seriousness has reached peak levels, so I chortle, call myself a nugget and step away for a (ideally extended) breather.

What’s your escape route? Does it come out as physical energy and exercise? Do you unburden with a nice chat? Maybe you cry and feel instantly better?

At the risk of going all zen on your ass, there’s another option that’s very in vogue – acceptance. That is to just sit with the way things are, for now, knowing they’re impermanent so bound to change anyway. Sort of, mindful. 

Different flavours are available – Judeo-Christian religions call it forgiveness but it’s essentially the same thing – making peace with the discomfort and uncertainty. The Fuck it school of thought has a healthy take on this attitude too.

What they all have in common is knowing that resolution might not have arrived yet (certainly not while you’re smashing your face into a screen), indeed it may never arrive, but for now, you’ve decided to park things as they are. 

It’s in the ‘for now bit’ where things get interesting. 

Permit me to get all metaphysical on your ass for a moment, but from a physics perspective, all matter and energy is in a perpetual state of flux. So surely that also applies to your petty grievances with nonfunctional email subscribe forms, however immutable they appear? 

Ask yourself, what would happen if you bailed out next time things escalate on a problem or dilemma? If you made peace with inevitable change, knowing everything is temporary, do you think your pissy mood swings would dissipate sooner? 

When I force myself to let go, it seems to give my mind space to ponder alternative routes to solutions. With my subconscious free from being kicked around by the latest crisis, it starts being creative and new ideas pop up out of nowhere. Sometimes I realise maybe this thing isn’t so important, maybe it’s fine as it is, and doesn’t need fixing after all.

Seriousness creates complexity and complexity is expensive

Complexity very quickly becomes overwhelming and unbearable. Worse than that though, it’s dull and joyless. Complexity is rarely robust either – it means more things can go wrong. 

I know you’re enjoying my email subscribe form story so I’ll flog that for a bit longer…  

At the lowest point, my form became asynchronous and dynamic, fetching data from different sites and plugging into a database. Effectively, my serious mood generated even more complexity and risk of failure. Quality was poor too, because I was thinking urgently, not creatively.

Yet by noticing my creeping seriousness, things soon deescalated, as did complexity. I now have one or two simpler options. And simple means reliable, less risky, and often more elegant.

If you’re practically-minded like me – a do-er, maker or thinker, it seems counterintuitive to put a problem down until it’s fixed, or shy away from a decision that needs to be made. Acceptance, whether it’s finding space, forgiving yourself, or ‘fuck it’ – whatever, sounds like giving up or admitting defeat. Especially when you’re eschewing complexity at the same time, in a world that believes complex is clever.

Really though, by not taking things seriously, and defusing the situation with space, you’re giving up on being so painfully wrapped up in the problem, not giving up on the problem itself. 

And by shunning the serious, you’re welcoming the unserious – your sense of perspective, pleasure and meeting the problem more proportionately. 

If you choose this way of thinking, don’t worry about undermining your dedication to the people you serve or the things you produce. Committed isn’t the same thing as being serious. You can be unserious yet remain committed and focused.

So here’s my challenge to you

Next time you’re in the mire, bogged down in a very serious, complicated predicament that’s getting the best of you, just notice what’s going on. 

That’s your first victory, so pat yourself on the back. 

If you get that far, you could ask yourself: am I taking this all a bit too seriously? If yes, then would bailing-out (if only for now) help?

What happens then, when you’ve given yourself a bit of space? Do any new ideas emerge that are possibly simpler, and less mentally-exhausting, when it comes to getting closer to where you need to be?

Chris Kenworthy | Coach

By Chris Kenworthy | Coach

I'm Chris. I'm a coach. I help do-ers, makers and thinkers focus on what really matters.

Are you at one of life’s junctures? Feeling a little lost or stuck, like you're not what the next step is, or what you offer the world? Maybe you want more soul in what you do for a living? Or there's an ambitious grand plan yet to come to fruition.

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