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How to Fix a Trouble Area in Your Life

How to Fix a Trouble Area in Your Life

    We all have trouble areas in our lives. No matter how many you seem to knock off, there are always more to deal with.

    That’s not a bad thing, and it’s not a self-defeating attitude so long as you look at life as a journey in self-improvement. If we reached a point where there was nothing left to improve about ourselves, we may as well take a dive off a tall building; it’d be the only thing left to experience. Everything else would be pedestrian.

    Good thing it’s not possible to reach perfection. I don’t recommend that activity as much fun.

    But if (part of) life’s purpose is to constantly improve ourselves, we need a plan of action so that we can consistently conquer whatever we set out to conquer. Here’s the approach I take; it can be applied to just about anything you like.

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    1. Identify the Area

    It’s important to be specific about the issue you’re dealing with. There’s no point being obtuse in your definition; uncertainly leads to inaction. Don’t say, “I need to deal with my health.” Say, “I need to stop smoking,” or “I need to lose weight.”

    If the area you want to deal with is obtuse and multi-faceted, you may want to break it down into various components and take each on as individual, and most importantly, consecutive projects. Don’t try to take on a massive area of your life with many components all at once. This approach is prone to failure.

    2. Identify the Patterns

    Identifying the patterns involved with your bad behavior is important. It helps you narrow down the most effective solutions (that we’ll find later) and implement them at the right times and places.

    For example, if you want to stop impulse spending, identify the circumstances that lead to that spending; obviously, you need to be in a place that sells things. When you’re in a shop, do you ever refrain from impulse spending? Does it occur every single time without failure (unlikely even for the worst impulse spenders)?

    By the process of elimination you can determine the circumstances that must be present for the runaway behavior to occur. If you go to buy a rotisserie chicken and pasta salad and come home with a feast for two families and Coke to last the week instead, do you have just the cash you need or a wallet stocked with credit and debit cards? The impulse spending could be brought on because the knowledge that you have your debit card with you makes you feel relaxed about purchasing more than you came for.

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    A potential solution: take out cash for shopping on pay day. Make a list of what you need each time you go to the shop, estimate the price, and bring only enough cash to pay for the items.

    3. Determine the Causes

    This can be a tricky step, because sometimes the causes that motivate your behaviors are deep rooted and tough to spot. It can require some honest and often uncomfortable introspection, and in other cases, the causes are obvious and right in front of you. For instance, some freelancers are overweight because their fridge is a few meters away and there’s no obstacle to the temptation to grab a snack.

    On the other hand, smokers have been known to stick with the habit because they want the perpetual distraction—to prevent them from having to think about whatever tough emotional issues are in the back of their mind and might come to light in the absence of something distracting to do. So it can go either way—evident material cause or hidden emotional cause—and it’s up to you to discover it.

    4. Research the Issue

    Armed with some knowledge of your problem patterns and their causes, you can proceed on to doing some research on the issue. The introspective knowledge is important for framing the external information you’ll be digging through; it helps you sort through relevant and irrelevant material much more quickly.

    For instance, if you want to quit smoking, understand the process of nicotine addiction, the pitfalls people experience in trying to quit, and the consequences of extended cigarette use. Knowledge is power, and sometimes a deterrent too—but in this case we just want a thorough understanding of the area we’re dealing with. Usually research alone does not act as a deterrent. If knowing that cigarette smoking caused lung cancer would get you to quit, those nasty pictures on packs of cigarettes would’ve worked.

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    5. List the Solutions

    Part of your research will include finding known solutions. You want to find as many as you can and filter them for relevance and effectiveness. If something only worked for one other person but seems relevant to you, you might want to list it in case solutions that worked for a greater number of people don’t pan out, but if a solution seems to be effective for few and irrelevant to you, there’s little point taking note.

    If you take note of every proposed solution out there, you’d be trialling heaps of methods that don’t work and waste your time, since everybody on the Internet knows how to solve everybody else’s problems. Be selective, but be open, and try to order your list so that the most promising methods of solving your problem are at the top and the least promising are at the bottom.

    Think of your own solutions for the list too, since you’ll likely come up with a few when you’re identifying your patterns and causes earlier in the process. But other people’s solutions are a good place to start. There’s no point reinventing the wheel when certain methods have worked well for others.

    6. Test the Solutions

    Allocate a certain amount of time to test each solution in the list based on how long you’d guesstimate it needing before it takes effect. If you see results, stick it out unless you become sure that the results have ceased and a more effective solution is needed. And of course, be discerning and start with the methods that show the most promise for your situation and have worked well for others; don’t start with the methods that look easy but have worked for few others. There’s usually a reason that “solution” is so easy.

    7. Review Your Progress

    As you progress, make sure to review your process regularly. It seems like a given but you’d be surprised how often people keep trying to solve a problem using the same fix even when it doesn’t work. I knew a guy who used nicotine patches for six months while still smoking before he realized they weren’t going to do anything for him.

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    Is the solution working? What about the solution is producing results? In that light, are there other solutions that will work better or faster based on the way the situation is resolving itself? It could be worth giving the alternative a shot if there’s enough reason to believe it’ll work better.

    At the end of the day, the process of fixing problem areas in your life comes down to two basic principles:

    1. Understand the problem and the solutions available.
    2. Test, tweak, rinse and repeat until you succeed.

    If you can do this consistently, you can beat any problem; just give yourself enough time to test and tweak until you find out what works, and don’t expect miracles.

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    Last Updated on April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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