Seven Steps to Addressing a problem

While there are cultural and relational barriers to change, ultimately the only person stopping us is our self. There are lots of things that bother us which we are simply not going to do anything about. Whatever we can think of to do may require more effort than we believe the problem deserves. Getting ourselves to move from noticing that we are bothered to actually doing something about it is a huge hurdle. Let's look at all the steps that it takes to get us to act.

  1. There is a problem. I notice there is something wrong. Even as I try to "not let things bother me," the bother arises in my awareness. Lots of things may be wrong, but they don't appear as problems to us until they are big enough that we notice them. What we notice may be a circumstance with another or sensations arising within us.
  2. It is my problem. Even if I recognize the existence of a problem, I am not moved to do anything about it until I own the problem. The only problems I can solve are my own. Until and unless I take it on as a problem of mine, I am not going to act. If it is a big enough problem for me that I want to do something about it, but I am denying that it is my problem, then I create a situation in which I hobble my own ability to address the problem. If this is a problem for me, what part of it is my problem? My part is the only part I can solve.
  3. It is a big enough problem that I want to address it. If I am sufficiently aware of my own circumstances I will notice many things that bother me. If I have insight into my own internal ecology I will know what it is about this circumstance that I find bothersome. But it will have to rise to a level of importance above a certain threshold before I am willing to act. This point depends on many factors in my life but, in general, the more frantic my life, the higher the threshold. If I am experiencing a lot of chaos around me I will only address the really big things. When things calm down, some of the stuff that I have been ignoring will rise to the surface.
  4. I have an idea of what I can do to address it. Having decided that this is something that will hold my attention and shape my behavior, I will now need a plan of action. I will have to at least have a plan that I have some reason to believe will be successful. If I find myself saying to myself that I have already done everything, then I will talk myself out of acting.
  5. I am willing to change myself in order to address it. No matter what the plan is, it will require me to act differently than I have been acting. There are some strong reasons why we stop ourselves from any choices that focus on changing ourselves. One of the largest is our assertion that the only reason anyone should have to change is if they are bad or wrong the way they are. If I am not at fault, then this is not my responsibility. In fact, the reason for me to change is not because I am bad or wrong the way I am, but because the way I am is not getting me what I need.
  6. I have confidence in my ability to address it. Even if I have a plan, and even if I am willing to change myself in order to implement it, if I don't trust that I can actually do what I intend, then I will stop myself in order to avoid failure. It is only when I am reasonably confident in my own ability that I will act. But if, as I envision myself enacting my own plan I think, "I am going to blow it," then I am going to spare myself the embarrassment and do nothing instead.
  7. I am worth the effort it will take to address it. Still, this may take a lot of effort. And if it is really all about getting me what I need, and if I am not all that important, then, why bother? Those of us who were raised in families where we were precious and protected, know that we are valuable and don't have any trouble acting in our own behalf. But those of us who were neglected or abused as children don't have that same sense of our own worth and thus find it very hard to care for ourselves.

It is only when we have all seven steps in place that we will actually do something. If any one of these is missing, we don't act. These seven steps will come up again and again throughout this book. We can have all of the insight in the world, but until we actually change our behavior, nothing changes.

I am walking down the street and I notice a sensation along the instep of my left foot. I think this is caused by a rock in my shoe. I don't know how the rock got there, but I am quite sure it won't go away without intervention. It is my foot which will be harmed if I don't do something. I only have a couple more blocks to walk to meet a friend; I could deal with it then. But here is a bench I can sit on to take off my shoe. It will mean stopping for a moment to deal with it and I don't want to be late, but I also don't want a blister. I'll stop here.

The simple act of stopping to let the rock out of my shoe is predicated on my having noticed that there is a problem, owning it as my problem, deciding it is big enough that I want to deal with it, having a plan, deciding that I can change my current way of being to address it, and knowing that I am both competent and worth the effort. So I do it.

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