January 17, 2021

Optimizing the instrument in the symphony of life


Once you’ve named your problem, you’re halfway there.

Now that there’s a label attached to the unwelcome situation that needs to be dealt with, you’ve loosened its hold on you. You’ve created just enough space to overcome it.

Think of it as an open door to a locked room. Naming the problem drives a wedge in the crack so you can get your fingers into it and inch your way out.

But remember, you’re only halfway home. The second half is finding and executing the right solution.

My therapist used to call this the toolkit. Each person’s robust arsenal of solutions custom fit for their unique personality, value system and life situation.

When an unwelcome situation comes crashing or creeping in, you whip out the toolkit on moment’s notice, calmly consult the menu, and start transitioning from the experience of the anxiety to the experience of the relaxation.

Easier said than done, though. Building the toolkit takes years of practicing, failing and honing. It’s not something you learn overnight by reading a book or attending a ten day silent meditation retreat.

The good news is, there is a simple framework you can use to expedite the development of yours. It’s called a solutions taxonomy, and it’s not only been been transformative in my own personal growth, but this was also part of how I launched my successful software platform.

Here’s how it works. For any given problem in your life, choose from one of four classifications of tools.

Mindsets, approaches, behaviors and assets. Let’s review each.

Mindsets are fixed dispositions that determine your responses to situations. Those might be intentions, narratives, assumptions and so on.

For example, one of my favorite mindset tools is called upsiding. It’s when I use the placebo power of an optimism filter during traumatic experiences to get more of what I want. Quite powerful tool during times of stress. What mindsets do you use to solve problems?

The next classification in the toolkit of solutions is approaches. These are particular procedures for addressing or accomplishing something. They might be checklists, strategies, equations and so on.

In my experience, one of my top approach tools is called the railroad switch. It’s when I catch myself in the act of making some superfluous complaints and redirect that energy more usefully. Perfect for when I start beating myself up about screwing up. What approaches do you use to solve problems?

Category three of the solutions taxonomy is behaviors, which are specific ways in which you act or conduct yourself. Could be habits, rituals, exercises and so on.

One that comes to mind for me is called turfing, which is building an alternative workspace tailor made to my creative tendencies that gives me an advantage. Ideal for extended periods of travel. What behaviors help you solve problems?

And finally, we have assets. These are specific things that can be intentionally used to produce value. For example, resources, objects, materials and so on.

In my toolkit, one of the assets that has, pardon the pun, saved my asset on many an occasion, is called the victory log. It’s a small weekly calendar that I populate with any and all victories, large or small, that I achieve each day. Hugely important during periods of depression.

Okay, let’s review. The solutions taxonomy is a classification of tools in your toolkit, including mindsets, approaches, behaviors and assets.

It’s something you develop and perfect over time, as you learn more about yourself. My recommendation is, treat the toolkit like a computer program. If this, then that. Create a chain of simple conditional statements for the various problems in your life, like recipes, which are triggered based on the type of unwelcome situation you experience.

If you can become a master of this process, you’ll become an optimizing instrument in this symphony called life.

And the music will be beautiful.

How have you evolved in your ability to diagnose and solve your own problems?