Lower the Bar and Move Forward

By setting achievable goals and celebrating small successes, we can create a scalable approach to personal growth that promotes persistence, consistency, and long-term improvement across various aspects of life. Lowering the bar isn't failure; it's a strategic move toward sustainable progress.

Sometimes, the problem isn’t the problem, and that can be a problem. In the race to find resolution to the various circumstances in life that cause us strife and distress, we can easily overlook a very fundamental issue: what it is, specifically, we’re trying to resolve. A boat that’s taking on water has a few concerns that likely need to be addressed. The first is that, if the water isn’t purged, it may sink. Second is that it’s continuing to take on water. Third, that something happened to cause it to take on water to begin with. All of those need to be addressed, based on consequential severity.

Which of those do we solve first, and how do we decide when we’ve solved the problem? Clearly, the water needs to go. The hole also needs to be repaired before the boat can be trusted again. I see those projects as being nested within a larger problem though, which is the ultimate issue that needs to be addressed: How did we get here, in the first place? That question becomes even more important when we perpetually find ourselves in the same (or very similar) boat. Do I keep temporarily stabilizing myself and is what I’m seeing as the problem actually a symptom?

I believe in taking a strengths and solution focused approach to problem solving. What I think is unclear to many, is that solution focused therapies are generally meant to be brief parts of the therapeutic process. It’s good to know where your strengths are and to have a clear solution that you can consistently make progress toward. Conversely, it’s also good to know what it is you’re trying to resolve. A lack of clarity surrounding the problem itself, may lead to energies focused on tasks that don’t support its resolution. For example, learning how to walk away from fights when overwhelmed is beneficial. Focusing solely on self-control and disengagement, while helpful in the fights, may not decrease the amount of emotionally charged conflicts you find yourself in. You have to ask yourself: What problem am I trying to solve, here? If you like fighting, and just want to stop accidentally becoming impulsively destructive during them, fine. You’ve identified your focus. If you don’t like getting in fights, then perhaps a wider scoped analysis of the problem is required.

I recently put together an enormous Lego set. There were sixteen independent projects that were then plugged in to each other. The result?  A Millennium Falcon that I’m now nervous to touch or move. I learned a valuable lesson during what turned out to be a very lengthy process: Pay attention! I made my way through half of the projects without issue. When I completed perhaps the seventh or eighth, the result didn’t fit in the base I was supposed to plug it into. It almost did, but not quite.

I thought about forcing it, or just leaving it the way it was. Then, I considered how much was left to build, and imagined the spiral of consequences one incorrectly constructed module could impose on the rest of the ship. With a half-defeated sigh, I took out the manual and started at the last page of that particular project and worked backward. I began systematically deconstructing my work, until I came to the point where I’d misplaced a piece. From there, I started moving forward again, hoping that there were no more mistakes I’d missed.

At first glance, the problem appeared to be that the modules didn’t fit together correctly. I wanted to blame it on Lego, but what was the likelihood they developed a 10,000 piece model, put it into production, and then sold it, without having someone put it together first? When I spent some time tracing my path from my current location, back toward the starting point, I ultimately found that the problem was my lack of attentiveness toward the work in front of me.

In response, I fixed the damage that had been done, moved forward, and increased my focus. When I found it lacking, I’d take a quick look at how far back I’d lost it, checked for any possible mistakes, and then I’d stop working for the day. After spending significantly more time and energy than originally anticipated, I ended up with a Corellian freighter that currently occupies an entire countertop.

I understand that using the construction of Legos as a metaphor for the existential struggles people go through may seem a bit silly. But with a 500-page manual, this particular set qualifies as complex. That’s the piece I think is reflective of life, especially considering that the older we get, the more complex life becomes. Simply taking the pieces apart and looking for where I made a mistake wouldn’t have worked. A more simplistic and intuitive approach may have sufficed surrounding the resolution of a smaller problem, like one involving a 200-piece set, but with 10,000 pieces to manage, more purposeful and directed consideration was required. And such is life.

We live a large, complex existence. Years can go by before we see the consequences of what may have seemed to be trivial decisions of the past. Looking at current circumstances from a perspective potentially that far removed from their catalyst can be confusing and misleading. It’s likely that we’re only going to see the outer layers of what we’ve created, when so much lies below the surface. Consequently, it’s easy to mistake a symptom of the problem for the problem itself. But getting stuck perpetually repairing the same damage doesn’t have to become, or remain, normal. Next time you’re scratching your head, trying to figure out what’s going on, give it a shot. Start from where you are and begin working backward. You never know what you’re going to find, because sometimes, what you think of as the problem, isn’t.

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