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One Simple Technique to Stop the Same Old Problems From Coming Back

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One Simple Technique to Stop the Same Old Problems From Coming Back

About a year ago, I found myself experiencing quite severe headaches. They were manageable thanks to painkillers, yet, of course they persisted. After a while they suddenly stopped, this was a relief but quite a surprise, until I realized that the stress I was experiencing was causing them. Once the stressful situation stopped, the headaches stopped.

I realized then, that the only sure fire way of resolving an issue, is to resolve or eliminate the root cause of the issue. Much like when you are weeding your garden, unless you remove the roots of the weeds, the weeds will just continue to re-grow.

Essentially, when a regularly occurring problem arises, you have to go through a causal analysis of the issue,[1] to identify the causes of the problem and treat that, not just the symptoms. When I was only using painkillers for my headache, I was only treating the symptoms, and so, the headaches continued.

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We tend to seek the easy way out when it comes to solving a problem.

As humans, we seem to prefer immediate satisfaction. When a problem arises we tend to go for the issue which will be resolved quickly. As such it is totally understandable why we tend to only treat the most obvious symptoms to the most obvious problems, then stop when we mistakenly think things are fine. We neglect probability[2] and become blind to the most obvious causes, going for the black and white answers and immediate resolutions, without knowing, or appreciating that things are never so clear cut.

Ultimately, when we only treat the symptom, the real issue remains untreated and gets worse. I was lucky that my headaches came from a stressful situation which resolved itself (and the headaches along with it). I merely thought that I was having headaches because…I was having headaches. Were my headaches due to a severe underlying issue, or were caused by continuing stress, then they would have only got worse.

In tolerating the issue, or only treating obvious symptoms, we become at risk of normalizing the issue. Willfully allowing it to continue as we are reluctant to apply the real effort to resolve the issue through and through.

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Finding the root cause can solve a problem once and for all.

Applying a root cause analysis isn’t just useful for resolving personal problems, but any recurring issue or problem that might arise, in any field. Much has been written about applying causal analysis’ in business, or in the workplace.

Identifying the source of a problem, and resolving it there is the only real way of making sure the problem goes away for good. But how do you identify the root cause of an issue?

In the 1970s James Reason, a cognitive psychologist called James Reason realized most human errors originated when the person making the error was working automatically, in a state of absent mindedness, and not paying true, due attention to their work.[3]

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With Reason’s findings understood he became an important innovator for patient safety in the healthcare industry, as now people were more aware of the possible causes of issues (human error) and thus could eliminate the issue from the root, perhaps by improving staff awareness and staff training so no errors born from absent mindedness could occur.

But how do you go through a causal analysis?

Approach the problem

When you intend to uncover the root cause of a problem, you need to approach the problem with three things in mind.[4]

  • What exactly has happened/is happening?
    For example: “I am having a headache”
  • Why did it happen?
    For example: “I am currently going through a lot of stress”
  • How can I stop this from happening again?
    For example: “I need to manage my stress levels better”

With careful consideration of these three things, you should be well on your way to resolving it forever.

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A root cause analysis follows the rule of cause and effect, and assumes things behind the scenes are often interlinked in interesting and surprising ways. As such, you may be surprised what may be the true cause of the problem, so you should be open minded and perhaps be prepared to dig.

Analyze the problem carefully

To be thorough in your causal analysis there are seven steps to follow:[5]

  1. Firstly the problem needs to be identified and studied in considerable detail. Ask yourself: what are the exact symptoms of the issue?
  2. Try to collect as much data and information about the issue. Consider if there is a genuine problem, consider how long that problem has persisted, and consider the impact.
    Under careful consideration, the problem’s cause may begin to be clearer. If the problem affects multiple people, talk to them to get as much information as you can.
  3. Try to identify the cause.
    This can be difficult, you need to go through the exact sequence of events that led to the problem, or leads to the problem occurring. If this problem has occurred multiple times, note any similarities in the events.
    Be aware of any underlining conditions which allow the issue to occur, and be aware of any other related problems which may help your analysis.It could be a good idea to break the issue down into smaller and smaller pieces into you have a clear picture of things. Or consider the cause and affect relationships which connect things.
  4. Once the root cause has been identified ask yourself why it exists, ask yourself why it occurred. You might find it worth analyzing the casual factor itself.
  5. Think about what can be done to the root cause. Try to think of possible solutions to it, and consider, through understanding the problem, what might occur if the root cause removed or changed.
    Under consideration you may come to the ideal solution.
  6. Implement the solution.
  7. Pay attention, and with luck, no more work is needed.
    But if the problem persists, return to the root cause and consider further solutions.

This all sounds incredibly complicated, but trust me, its not.

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The trick is, to not go for the immediate resolution, but take time to reveal the solution.

Featured photo credit: Flaticon via stocksnap.io

Reference

[1] Changingminds: Causal Analysis
[2] Changingminds: Neglect of Probability Bias
[3] Bright Hub Project Management: Overviews of Different Root Cause Analysis Methods
[4] (Mind Tools: Root Cause Analysis
[5] Bright Hub Project Management: Overview of Root Cause Analysis Techniques

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