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

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

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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