I used to be unable to solve most of my problems.
No matter how much I wanted to solve them, no matter how many guides and how-to articles I've read, and no matter how much I tried to muscle my way through them I failed to lastingly solve them.
Sometimes, clarifying why I wanted something helped me work on the problem. Sometimes a tip or article on Twitter helped me think about the problem differently and sometimes forcing myself to take action helped me make some progress on the problem.
But, while all of these things seemed to help me with solving my problems, none did in the end.
Often, they alleviated some pain associated with it, furthered my understanding of it, or covered it up for a while. But no matter what happened I was still ways away from a lasting solution. While I believe that problems are solvable, I couldn't solve most of my problems lastingly for years.
But, I never gave up and just accepted my problems either.
I thought about them, wrote about them, and reflected on them for years to identify the root issues behind them. Lo and behold, one by one I was able to solve most of them. While these solutions seemed to be isolated and problem-specific at first, I was able to eventually identify one root cause of why I failed to solve most of my problems.
That root cause now seems so obvious to me that I'm almost embarrassed to write about it.
On the other hand, it has become so essential to solving all of my new problems, that I now remind myself of it almost every day.
That root cause was this:
When I tried to solve a problem I almost always looked for external solutions to it, while the real solution hid inside the problem.
I realized that every problem already contains its solution. My job was "simply" to understand the problem deeply enough so that I discovered one of the possible solutions that would solve it once and for all. Then I'd "just" have to act out the solution.
This idea may sound pretty theoretical so let me illustrate it with an example from my own life:
Why External Solutions Rarely Work
One problem I failed to solve repeatedly was writing consistently.
If you look up when I published the articles I wrote on this blog you can see the following pattern:
Short periods of consistently publishing articles every day or week, followed by periods of irregularly published articles, followed by long periods of no published letters.
If my goal was to share what I've learned, help others with my writing, and make a buck or two doing so, writing with such inconsistency wasn't really going to accomplish any of my these goals.
I was quickly aware of this problem, and tried to solve it in a variety of ways:
First, I tried to just force myself to write and publish more.
I set up daily deadlines, scheduled time to write, and published without feeling like I was ready.
These seemed to help me solve my problem because I found myself publishing new articles consistently for a while.
But, they came with some downsides as well:
The deadlines led to quite a bit of stress over the long term, the scheduled time was pretty rigid and felt too forced at times and the set cadence of publishing made me dissatisfied with the quality of my writing.
Together, these downsides meant, that I quit all of these approaches eventually and none of them worked for me in the long run.
Second, I invested in courses, books, and memberships to learn more about how to write. I hoped that these resources would increase my skill at writing and thus motivate me to write more.
While I learned a lot about how to write better from them, they didn't fix my problem of not writing.
I got a few sparks of great ideas that made me want to write immediately, but more often than not I got bogged down in all the new information, rules, and tips I tried to apply to my writing.
Instead of helping me to write more, they made writing more complex and difficult, reducing my desire to write. So, while the idea of learning more about writing to write more sounded good in practice, doing so actually prevented me from writing more. It prevented me from solving the problem, instead of helping me do so. So, I stopped learning more about how to write better for the time being.
Third, I started to experiment with different formats, cadences, and topics for my writing
I tried different writing frameworks and styles. Sometimes writing more personal articles and at others more educational ones. I tried to publish every day, every week, or every second week. I wrote about topics I hadn't written before and explored new angles on the topics I already wrote about.
While doing some of these things brought momentary relief to my problem, none lastingly solved it. I always got to a point where I quit writing for a few weeks or a few months.
Over time, this endless cycle of failure to solve my writing problem really got to me.
I was incredibly frustrated, demotivated, and desperate.
What did all my approaches to solve this problem fail?
Why was my problem returning, even though some brought momentary relief?
Why was I not making progress, despite putting so much effort into trying all these potential solutions?
What else could I do?
My frustration from all of these failures grew so much, that I even considered quitting writing altogether.
After all, if everything I had tried so far had failed, maybe writing was just not for me. Maybe it was a waste of time to continue to try to solve this problem. Maybe I was wasting my precious energy trying to solve the wrong problem.
Of course, the fact that you're reading these words right now is evidence that I didn't quit and solved my problem.
Let's take a look at how I did it:
Why Every Problem Holds Its Solution
First, I stuck with the problem.
I didn't quit writing.
I had tried a lot of different hobbies, activities, and possible vocations in the past and I knew that writing was something I enjoyed as a kid when I wanted to write fantasy novels, it was something I enjoyed as a student when I wrote academic papers about history, and I enjoyed when I was writing articles for It's Me Waldi.
Clearly, my problem wasn't with writing itself. I enjoyed that part most of the time. So, quitting writing would have very likely been a mistake.
Thus, the only alternative was to find a different approach to solving the problem that prevented me from writing.
I continued to write about the problem. Day after day, week after week, month after month I put pen to paper trying to figure out different ways to solve the problem.
After many months of doing so, I struck gold:
While writing about the problem a thought popped into my head "Why do I have so much trouble writing? Not on some surface level, but on a deeper level. Let's explore that question."
As mentioned earlier, this way of deeply exploring my problems through writing is now second nature to me, but it was a novel approach for me at the time.
I was so preoccupied with looking for external solutions and asking questions about how I could write better, write more, or enjoy writing more, that I never made time to deeply understand my problem in the first place.
That day, I decided I would.
I started by making a long list of all the reasons I could come up with for why I didn't write consistently.
Among them were some I had encountered in journaling sessions before:
I thought my writing was boring, bland, and uninteresting.
I thought I lacked time, had no idea what to write about, and was intimidated by the blank page.
I felt like everything I could write about was already out there. Written much better than I could have written it by someone else.
I wrote down many more reasons. Some came to mind immediately, others only after hours of reflection. But, eventually, I felt like I had exhausted all the reasons for why I wasn't writing consistently, at least for the moment.
Next, I tried to understand the deeper problem behind every reason as much as I could.
Was the "reason" I wrote down, really a reason, or an excuse?
Was the reason really the root cause of my problem, or was it a symptom of another root cause I wasn't aware of right now?
What beliefs contributed to this reason for my problem?
Was it a problem of my own creation or was there some external source that created the problem?
Did something happen in my past that led me to have this problem right now?
Did I have similar problems in the past? If so, why? Was there a lesson I learned from them that I could apply to solve the problem I had right now?
Discovering all these questions, reflecting on them, and writing down my answers to them took time.
A lot of time. Sometimes days and weeks went by with me chewing on the answer to a single question.
Eventually, though, I struck gold again:
I discovered that what I perceived as my problem (not writing consistently) wasn't the root problem.
It was a symptom.
A symptom of my sky-high expectations that prevented me from writing in the first place.
This insight fits my observations from having experimented with potential solutions before. It was, for example, why learning more about how to write better was making my writing more, not less, consistent. Without being consciously aware of it, I expected myself to apply everything I had learned to my writing immediately, which increased my expectations for my writing a lot, which made me more anxious about writing and thus led to me writing even less than before.
Additionally, my high expectations had led me to set up elaborate workflows before and after writing concerning research, editing, and adding images to it. Those were again coupled with high expectations for the final article I wanted to publish. Of course, these expectations were front and center when I even thought about starting to write and thus made me even more anxious about putting pen to paper, because I knew all the additional things I would need to do after having written my first draft.
No wonder I was not writing. My expectations were too high and, in the process of trying to solve the problem with external solutions, I had unknowingly added even more expectations on top of them.
No wonder I was paralyzed, dreaded the task of writing, and couldn't sustain a set cadence of writing with such high expectations attached.
Thankfully, having understood the root cause of my problem of not writing consistently, I was now able to try very specific solutions that were highly targeted toward my root cause of having too high expectations which would hopefully solve my problem.
I started by radically simplifying my process of writing:
I removed many steps from the editing process, stopped adding pictures to my articles, and simplified my note-taking process so I would need to spend much less time on researching whatever I wrote about.
I also experimented with different writing frameworks I found online and gave myself permission to experiment with them. In doing so, I reduced my expectations to come up with something completely original every time I wrote but still had the option to deviate from the writing format I was comfortable with if I wanted to (like I do in this letter right now).
Eventually, I created my own short writing framework to get me started on every letter I send out, simplified my editing process by using Grammarly, and rereading my letter only once, and publishing articles without images for a while.
All of these small experiments lowered my expectations for my writing a lot.
And lo and behold: I started to write a lot more consistently.
As I did I started to add in some of the steps I had cut out before, like creating images in Midjourney and adding them to my articles, because I love their aesthetics and the process of creating them.
I'm fully aware that I can always cut out any of the non-essential steps that I added back in if my expectations ever block me from writing again, which takes a lot of pressure out of the prospect of keeping writing in the future.
So, problem solved.
For now, at least. Who knows what else will come up in the future? We are constantly changing and maybe some other problem will prevent me from writing again.
But, even if it does, I now know what to do:
Understanding the problem before trying to solve it. Then, try to solve it with highly targeted solutions that are based on a solid understanding of the problem.
How Understanding Problems Unlocks Solutions
I think this is also the general lesson from my struggles with my writing problem:
Every problem contains its solution.
To discover the solution, you have to understand the problem.
To understand the problem you have to write about it, investigate it, and dig deeper until you find the root causes of the problem.
Then you can consult your toolbox of potential solutions to the root cause as highly targeted and effective solutions.
Then you experiment with those targeted solutions until you solve the problem.
Then you're done and the problem is gone.
As I wrote about before, this process also compounds on itself. The more you problems you understand, and the more tools you add to your belt of potential solutions, the quicker you can understand new problems and apply different solutions. Thus, solving new problems gets easier and quicker as you grow stronger, learn about more solutions, and solve more problems.
Mastering Problem Solving
So, the next time you have a problem, remember that it contains its solution.
So, hold off on looking for external solutions right away and instead try to understand the root causes behind the problem. Then, look for solutions that can target those root causes to lastingly solve that problem.
This approach will make solving your problems much easier, quicker, and simpler. Especially, if you use it repeatedly over months and years.
It's the best approach to problem-solving I've found so far and I hope it will serve you well.