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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

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.

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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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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