Turn Problems Into Progress

Oct 23, 2023

I think problems get a bad rap.

Seriously, though, where would we be without them? Without problems, there are no solutions. Without problems, there is no creativity—there must be a Yin to the Yang.

Here’s how Jeremy Utley of the Stanford School of Design put it in his book "Idea Flow" (Amazon Affiliate link):

“You can’t consciously choose to make an idea. (Try it, you’ll see.) Instead, ideas start arriving once you’ve identified a clear problem and gathered sufficient raw material for the brain to do its job.” (Note: I HIGHLY recommend his book for anyone who wants to master the art of problem-solving.)

Your brain is designed to solve problems.

Here’s a fun game for you while you read today—every time you see the word "problem," think "solution" instead. You in? Good.

We can only make progress by solving problems. But here’s the caveat, solving the same problems over and over is what keeps us stuck.

Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” I would just replace “doing the same thing” with “solving the same problem.”

There are three things stopping us from moving forward. They are all related to problems.

Would it surprise you to know that problems can not only slow progress but can also speed it up?

Let’s talk about three ways we let problems slow our progress, and then we’ll discuss how you can use problems to speed it up instead.

Three Ways We Let Problems Slow Us Down:

  • We solve the same problem over and over while hoping for a new result.

  • We’re unwilling to solve a new problem.

  • We’re unaware of the real problem. 

Put another way, the three main reasons we allow problems to become obstacles are as follows: Pride, because we don't want to give up a problem we already know how to solve. Fear, because we aren't sure if we can solve a new problem. Ignorance, because we're afraid to discover and confront the real problem.

I call these three the trio of stagnation: Pride, Fear, and Ignorance. On the plus side, understanding that these are the real problems will empower you to take back control of your life.

I understand that every problem we solve takes time and energy, of which we have limited quantities. But the hard truth is that until we find a better way to solve the problems we have or pick a better problem to solve, we’ll never have the energy to solve the problems we really want.

Three simple ways to start turning problems into progress:

  • Pick a new problem to solve today.

    The key with this is that it’s a problem you haven’t solved before. It doesn’t need to be big. In fact, it’s better if it’s small. For example, if you have an idea for a new project you want to work on, take 10-20 minutes to research some first steps.

  • Face the problem you’ve been avoiding.

    We all have these. What problem have we been putting off because we assume it’s going to be a big hassle? Take the first step towards a solution.

  • Dig a little deeper to figure out what the real problem is.

    This one isn’t quite as easy as the first two. It may take some time, but wherever you’re feeling like things just aren’t clicking, follow steps one and two as it relates to the area you want to improve.

Let’s start building a new relationship with problems today. They are actually your friend and the only path forward. As Tony Robbins likes to say, “Life happens for you, not to you.”

The fastest way to change your life is to start solving new problems because the problems that got you here won’t get you there.

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