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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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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

    Reference

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