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Is it a real problem or a fear problem?
12 favourite problems framework
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Every once in awhile, I'll find myself in this state of overwhelm. There will be too many things to do at work, personal commitments to juggle, and unexpected problems showing up at home. With each thing I clear, two more appear. Each time I try and solve a problem it bounces back with a new problem, it feels like running against a wall.
I distinctly remember losing my cool a few weeks back when a drawer in my study table got stuck in the middle of a busy weekend. It was a stupid thing to get upset about, but all my built up stress crystallised at this unexpected occurrence that ate into the limited time I had.
These are one of those initial reactions when things aren't going my way. It's common get frustrated, stressed, or even start blaming others for my predicament. It quite easily falls into a spiral of negativity.
I think we innately wish for life to be smooth sailing and easy going. Not in the sense of sitting on the beach and sipping coconuts all day. But some kind of productive fantasy where we're effortlessly and efficiently solving problems, breezing through the work day, acing whatever hobby we have, and then spending quality time with family and friends.
I'm being naive though. No one promised that life will be smooth. Life is difficult. We have to fight for our small wins, and even after trying out best, things might still go wrong.
Life is built out of its problems. I will never be done with them. Once I deal with all the things on my list, they will inevitably be replaced by a new list. I could rage at the harshness of life, or I can embrace that having problems means I am actually living.
Entering that negative spiral isin't helpful too. It only makes me irrational and less productive, worsening the spiral. I start getting reactive and disorganised, moving through things out of emotion and clearing problems for short-term pain relief. I start multitasking and making mistakes - just last week i switched tasks just before hitting “send” on an email, and it got stuck as a draft, my mind having already crossed it off the list of things to do.
So I've been challenging myself to look at my difficult moments differently. Do I really have all these problems? Or is it something else?
Real problems are those where safety and survival are put at risk. I'm actually quite lucky that those exist in a very narrow band for me.
Everything else is in my mind. What I really have is a fear of failure.
The feeling of having too much to do, or that everything feels too difficult, is not really linked to the tasks. It comes from my own worry that I don't have enough time to get it all perfect and that mistakes will happen. Its a fear that I will let myself or others down. Its fear that I'll be seen as incompetent or unreliable.
It's not only at work too. I realise its a same fear that might get me to make excuses and avoid a social gathering, that might hold me back from speaking up about something, or even have me avoid playing a difficult game.
Reframing all these problems into my own fears puts me in control. I am in control of whether I want to be afraid. I can choose how much effort and attention each endeavor is worth. I can accept that after I've done what's fair, its fine if things don't go well.
Without infinite time and ability, I can't control if mistakes will happen. I can't control what are the crisis I need to solve. More importantly , if I don't learn to control my own fear, then I leave myself held to the thoughts of others - which, often through no fault, may be a bar that cannot be met. We are often too easy to expect much more of others than ourselves.
This helps me separate the tasks. I focus on my task, to do what I think is right and accept the consequences. I leave others to their task to decide whether to accept my effort. I can choose not to be afraid that I will not be accepted.
I wrote abit about controlling fear in my last post , and I find myself turning back to those ideas:
Fear is often imaginary, it's worse than we think. While we are good at imagining the worst, we aren't good at imagining our ability to adapt to setbacks.
Anything of importance must come with a real risk of failure. If there's things to be worried about, it means I'm pushing boundaries and working in uncertainty.
Perceiving the world in terms of what I'm afraid of also helps me to prioritise. Looking at problems tends to put attention on what is loudest or looming closest.
Some things are further away and more subtle, where no one is watching me closely to berate me for getting wrong, but which I genuinely should fear. These are fears that come not from others' opinions, but from my own core. I'm much more afraid of being a bad parent than a bad worker. Yet my kids won't be able to tell me I'm bad right now, it will only show itself years later.
Life is strange in that the best way to get things done, is not to care too much about them. What I often need is not some productivity hack or technique, but rather to get control over the chaos of my thoughts and wild imaginations. Once I stop my problems from affecting me, I solve them better and faster, and the reality manifests where the problems go away.
The battle in the mind is a constant one though, the natural instincts to be overwhelmed will always come back, and I'm working on getting better and directing my thoughts to deal with them.
I'm trying to cultivate a habit of setting aside a few quiet minutes every morning to think through core issues in my life, before the rush of the day begins.
Its not some deep philosophy, just thinking about the small things which have a bearing on my life.
I think about my organisation system at work, questions people that I have not managed to solve, or even about how the kids are doing.
This has helped me get more clarity and focus. For example, in the past few weeks, my usual systems to organise information at work have not been maintained in the rush of a big project. Reflecting on it during these morning sessions helped me see what are the things I didn't really need to do, and could cut them out.
More importantly, it starts the day on a very different tone than by interfacing with content or work. I feel like I've made real internal progress in life, and not catching up on everything else.
12 Favourite Problems
For these morning sessions, I found it useful to apply Tiago Forte's 12 Favourite Problems framework. It is to set out a list of things that are of particular interest to ourselves, and filter all information through that. Having this helped me to create useful prompts for my morning reflection sessions that are of real relevance to me (for example: “how can I get more done without increasing the number of hours I work?”
For tarot based reflections and journal prompts, check out @thecenterline_ on IG
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