Have you ever experienced the frustration of encountering the same problem repeatedly? The confusion that follows diligently following a 5-step guide to the letter, only to still fail to solve the problem? How about the surprise of realizing that you're reverting to old habits you thought were a thing of the past?
Yeah, me too.
I was frustrated by familiar problems for years, clueless as to why the 5-step guides that promised to solve them didn't work for me, and floored when I noticed that I had fallen back into old patterns that I was sure I had successfully overcome.
My usual approach to these seemingly unsolvable problems was to simply "try harder."
I focused on reading to gain more knowledge, building new habits to implement what I've learned, and disciplining myself to pull through. But I still failed.
Why Problems Seem Unsolvable
So, I decided to get to the bottom of those unsolvable problems and discovered that they all emerged from a single source:
A lack of understanding.
I ran into the same problems repeatedly because I didn't fully understand them. They had causes I was unaware of, and before I became aware of them and understood them, they'd just find a different route to appear again and again in my life. Only by fully understanding them was I able to solve them.
I learned that the 5-step guides I tried to implement were too general to fit my personality. I'm a unique person with unique strengths, flaws, and preferences, and no guide is going to fit all of those perfectly. So, unless I understood myself deeply enough to take those into account when trying to follow the guide, I was guaranteed to fail.
I discovered that the re-emergence of those bad habits of the past was inevitable because they were serving a need in a way that made my life worse but was unmet without them. Only by understanding what this need was and how I could meet it in a healthy way would I be able to prevent them from reemerging endlessly throughout my life.
Learnings from Solving Unsolvable Problems
Throughout all of this, I've learned how I can understand myself better.
I've identified a few cornerstones that I can't go into much detail here but will cover in future blog posts:
Every solution starts with self-awareness
Self-awareness is like a key and a gate into your problems all in one. It shows you what your problems are, helps you understand them, and reveals possible solutions that you can then experiment with until you find the one that works.
Self-understanding is never wasted
Self-understanding won't always solve your problems, but it will always lead to better self-understanding. It has two effects: First, it reveals possible solutions as outlined above, and second, it reveals dead ends, and both are invaluable in trying to solve your problems. Possible solutions hold the potential to solve your problems, while dead ends narrow down your range of possible solutions and increase the likelihood that your future experiments will succeed.
Reflexive reactions are understandable but self-destructive
When you're faced with seemingly unsolvable problems, it's tempting to react reflexively. To throw your hands up in the air and give up, to blame someone else, or to follow the lead of your ego, which says that the problem might be there, but you don't need to worry about it. All of these reactions lead you away from self-understanding. They hide the path of revelation that will eventually reveal working solutions. Resist them and lean into self-understanding instead.
Unsolvable Problems are Opportunities
While seemingly unsolvable problems create frustration, confusion, and doubt, they're opportunities.
Opportunities to understand yourself better, search for new solutions, and figure out how to overcome them. If you start with self-awareness, remind yourself of the effects of self-understanding, and resist reflexive reactions, you'll be well on your way to solving even the most vexing problems.