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Problem Solving - It's A Trap!

17 Mar 2014

I'd like to share a personal revelation in case it applies to you too.

Mo' Developement Mo' Problems

I'm a developer in large part because I enjoy solving problems. I like how there are so many aspects of solving a problem. Defining and redefining. Looking from different perspectives. Empathizing with users. Thinking about various approaches. Testing those approaches. Determining metrics of success. Measuring results. Learning and iteratively refining. And I like how development provides me with interesting new problems every day.

Over the years, I've become better and better at my job - which is to say, better at identifying and solving problems. Better at assimilating all the accompanying frameworks and patterns. Better at intuitively assessing and addressing risk.

Unfortunately I started to see the whole world through a lens of problems that need solving. My life was great in so many ways, but it was hard to notice because my neural pathways for seeking and solving problems were so firmly imprinted. Turns out, that's a difficult way to approach life.

Gratitude

These days I'm trying to ensure I don't slip into problem-solving as a worldview. One of the easiest things I've been doing is taking a little time every day to be grateful for things that are good in my life. I have a Gratitude habit I check off in my Lift app to help me remember. Many people keep an actual journal of a few things every day. It's a good idea, studies show that writing things makes you believe them more deeply. Personally I found that I was writing the same stuff over and over. The point of the exercise isn't to remember today what I liked about yesterday, it's to continually reassess and foster a new attitude.

One nice thing about a grateful approach is that I can use it for things that go wrong, too. For example, my conference talk proposal wasn't accepted. It's counterintuitive to think "I'm grateful my talk wasn't accepted" but when I inevitably ask "why?" I start to think about the silver linings. "I'm grateful I got some constructive feedback about my proposal. I'm grateful I can continue to develop this material at my own pace. I'm grateful I work in such an engaged community that conferences are flooded with proposals." Being grateful for bad things helps me get some perspective in the moment and realize that my life can be good regardless of what happens.

You can do one right now! Just fill in the blank in your head: "I'm grateful for ____"

P.S. I don't present these thoughts as any sort of medical advice. Please consult an expert about depression and anxiety.

P.P.S Here are some more resources.