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Stop Fixing the Symptoms…Find the Root Cause Instead

Stop Fixing the Symptoms…Find the Root Cause Instead


    You are feeling sick and your stomach hurts.

    “Oh no. I’m getting sick again. I’ve had enough with these issues with my stomach.”

    Then you pick up the phone and make a call to your doctor, explaining that you are not feeling well and that you need help. You are fortunate enough to be able to set up a quick appointment with your doctor and you go in to see him right away.

    After the doctor’s appointment, you start feeling better. Your doctor gave you a bunch of pills to cure your stomach pain and you begin to feel relieved and satisfied.

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    Unfortunately, the next week this same stomach issue returns and you are back to the doctor – with another prescription for medicine for your pains. When this happens, you start to feel like you are living in a real-life version of Groundhog Day — just like Bill Murray

    But this is happening in real life, not in a movie.

    Focus on a wrong part of the problem

    This is a classic example of a case where you thought you were focusing on the true cause of a problem (seeking help to get relief for a stomach ache), but instead, your doctor ended up just fixing the symptoms (giving just a bunch of pills for the pain).

    Since only the symptoms were fixed, the root cause of the problem was never diagnosed. Thus, it still existed.

    For instance, if the doctor had done a proper check up with you, he’d have sent him to do some further investigation. That, in turn, could have revealed that the stomach ache was caused by an allergy, celiac disease, or even appendicitis.

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    Since the proper cause was never investigated, you are now running around in circles, wasting your time on the wrong diagnosis and stressing yourself out about what may really be causing your health issues.

    But let’s move away from this hypothetical you to the “real” you.

    Are you afraid to unlock the door?

    Fixing symptoms is easy. It doesn’t require that much effort on our part and we feel relief very soon afterward. Unfortunately, this kind of “fixing” is like cheating yourself.

    But why do we like to “cheat” ourselves this way?

    First, we may not be fully aware of the real situation at all. We think that the symptom is nothing serious and in many cases this is the case. But since your attitude is like this, you feel no additional action is required.

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    Then, even if we think that there is something bigger going on on the background, we are still reluctant to take action. This could be because the symptoms are not so serious and you think that your situation is not a big deal – you can handle it.

    You may also be procrastinating on finding out the true cause; this could be a sign of fear. You are just plain afraid to find out what is really going on.

    In fact, fear is often the biggest reason we are held back. If it’s health issues you are facing, you are afraid to face the unpleasant truth (which could be the discovery of something serious going on if you dig too deep).

    Still, the problem remains — as do the symptoms — as long as you are not taking any initiative to find out the true root cause.

    Shift your focus

    Finding the root cause requires persistence. If you visited a top doctor in his or her field, they might have difficulties figuring out the real cause of your problems. Because of that you’d have to go through of a lot of laboratory tests to find the root cause.

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    Finding (and fixing) the root cause requires action on your part as well. If you are experiencing the same symptoms over and over again, then you have to take action to learn more about those things (and not just take them as-is).

    There is going to be some courage required when you go after the root cause. Especially if this is a health-related issue. In that case, you have to be willing to find out the real cause.

    On the other hand, if your car is making a funny noise when you drive, not that much courage is required. Just a willingness to take action and get your car fixed.

    Fix the issue for good!

    If you face a recurring problem, take these steps to take care of them:

    1. Acknowledge. It all starts by acknowledging your situation. Ask yourself: “Is this same issue occurring again and again or is it just a random issue?” If your answer is “yes”, you are just facing a random issue, which is most likely nothing more serious. However, if the symptoms are coming back again and again, you have a problem on your hands.
    2. Shift your focus. When you realize that you have a recurring problem, make a decision to find its root cause. Don’t settle for easy fixes or quick solutions. When you settle, you’ll most likely wind up returning back to the original problem since it wasn’t taken care of in the first place.
    3. Feel encouraged. Finding out the root cause can be scary. You will never know what you are going to find and what is going to happen next. On the other hand, don’t you think it is better to find out the true cause, instead of assuming something and pretending everything is okay? Besides, once you tackle the root cause, the rest of the symptoms are going to disappear (depending of the issue, of course).
    4. Take action. Make that call to your doctor. Take your car to the repair shop. Just take action! Problems cannot be solved without activity on your part and the sooner that you take action, the better.
    5. Never give up. Sometimes it may take a long time to find out the root cause of your problem. However, you shouldn’t give up. At the end of the day, knowing the true root cause can make you feel better – even if the truth may not be pleasant. And if the root cause doesn’t come to you right away, just take a breather and continue. You will find the cause (and the possible solution) at some point if you keep searching for it.

    If we focus on just fixing the symptoms, we are wasting our time and energy. Instead, we should shift our focus from fixing symptoms to finding a root cause and fixing that instead. And although finding the root cause may require courage and persistence, it is the only true way of fixing the problems you are facing for good.

    What steps do you take to find the root cause? How do you handle the fear that is associated with finding the root cause? Share your ideas and experiences in the comment area below.

    (Photo credit: Erasing problem with Rubber via Shutterstock)

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      Timo Kiander

      Productivity Author and Founder of Productive Superdad

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      Last Updated on July 17, 2019

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      What happens in our heads when we set goals?

      Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

      Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

      According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

      Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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      Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

      Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

      The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

      Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

      So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

      Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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      One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

      Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

      Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

      The Neurology of Ownership

      Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

      In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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      But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

      This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

      Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

      The Upshot for Goal-Setters

      So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

      On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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      It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

      On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

      But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

      More About Goals Setting

      Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

      Reference

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