This is a motto I use to fix my problems. I’ve used it for years now and apply it to everything from moving furniture to relationships. It is the theme for almost all the conscious progress I make and has been a great blessing in my life. Here are the steps to make it useful:
The faster I act on this step, the fewer things I break, physically and metaphorically. So many times I try to shut an overfull drawer or pull too hard on a latch and have to catch myself. It is human instinct to just push harder. My two year old will push with all his might to get a box that is turned the wrong way through a doorway and my three year old will stretch out clothes trying to force them on wrong or get buttons undone. I hope that as I teach them to apply this motto and method, I will end up with fewer broken things and grow them into powerful problem solvers.
Actually, as I was writing this blog post, my husband walked in and asked if he could help. I said, “sure”. He just slipped over to the keyboard, zoomed the screen in so I could see it much better, and left. Sometimes, you don’t even realize you were struggling. You actually have to pay attention to notice what is hard so you can stop, fix your problems, and live more easily.
Pin Point the Problem
Take a careful look at the problem. Is there something blocking the way? Are you spending too much time in between tasks? Is one specific task taking too much time? Is clutter piling up? Is your paycheck just not cutting it? Is someone not doing their job? Are your kids refusing to do a task? Are you getting unnecessary aches? Figure out exactly what the struggle is.
Identify the Triggers
When does this problem occur? Are your kids extra cranky because you didn’t keep on top of food? Is your teammate failing to contribute because he or she doesn’t think they need to? Is it your desk height that is causing aches? Are you spending too much on snacks? Are you missing an intuitive filing system? Are you not drinking enough water? Are you doing too much multitasking? Are you assuming things? Listen to your brain and heart and you’ll be able identify the cause pretty accurately.
Fix or Go Around the Problem
My brother would joke that any problem could be solved with a bigger hammer. Although the tool isn’t always a hammer, there is a lot of truth to the statement. Having the right tool makes all the difference.
If you switch soaps, could you avoid pre-rinsing your dishes? If you use a kitchen gadget, could you stop chopping so many vegetables? If you got an epidural, would you be calmer giving birth? If you keep humus available, would you stop munching on M&Ms? If you pay 20% extra on a product, would it last twice as long and work better in the mean time? If you use different phrases, would your toddler be more likely to put their shoes away? If you used a drill, would it be easier to replace the batteries in that toy with a thousand screws? If you use the right type of tape, could you get perfect lines painting? If you added another conditional column in Excel, could you sort out and purge the cells you don’t want? If you use a chemical, could you just wipe the crayon off the wall? You get the picture.
It is all about using the right tools. If you are having a hard time with ANYTHING, chances are, someone has already come up something to make it easier. Pintrist can be a powerful way to discover. I frequent it with searches like “easy way to zest an orange”, “how to get nail polish out of carpet”, or “get a toddler to pick up toys”.
A lot of problems can be solved by making the natural result, the correct one. If you walk into the living room first, maybe that is where your keys should go. If you are constantly picking up toy blocks, try moving them to the back of the shelf or putting them in a narrow necked container so they don’t dump as easily. You can also change the order of your processes. Maybe change your child’s day to play outside, bathe, then nap so that they are tired, clean, and expecting what is coming next, not to mention the bath isn’t at night when it is cold.
Plan and Commit
Once you’ve gotten it figured out, why go back? If you discover that meal plans work wonders for your family, you have to have a plan to keep it up. Commit yourself to make one before shopping or once a month or whatever you specifically choose.
My husband came up with the brilliant idea to end the forever question of “is the dishwasher clean or dirty?” If there is soap in it, it is dirty. From that moment on, we committed ourselves to always put soap in it before dirty dishes. Even tiny things like that can be so liberating. Because we are committed, that little nuisance is gone, forever.
Now let’s Apply it!
Do you have something you just dread? Growing up, I hated cleaning bathrooms. My younger sister often got quite a deal out of me when chore time came. If I was assigned the bathrooms, I would do all of her job, part of mine, and she would just do the toilets and tub. My first two semesters of marriage, our bathroom probably got cleaned only once because it was yucky and once because we were moving out. Over the following summer, I took a job as a cleaning lady. Our two person team would clean an entire house in one hour. After I got a system down, it became so easy!
Think about what processes you dread or what consumes your time. I find dishes go so much faster if I rinse everything off as I clear the table, so it is always just easy stuff. I find it is easiest to de-junk a room or surface if I push the laundry basket through putting everything that doesn’t belong inside. Then push the basket to where most of the things go (toy box? trash can? dirty clothes hamper?), put those things away, then push it to the next most popular spot. I find planning dinner is easiest when I have thawed meat in the fridge or cooked meat in the freezer, most my ingredients in the pantry, and a list of meals I like to choose from. Find a system that works for you and make it habit. Work smarter, not harder.
Balance is one of the hardest things for me right now. How on earth am I supposed to manage a blog or business and keep my kids happy, not destroying things, and learning their numbers or letter sounds at the same time? I’m learning new tricks daily as I identify specific problems. I moved their game table right next to the computer and try to stay part of their conversation and give them frequent moments of eye contact. Although it is slower, I get so much more happy playtime and therefore more work time in.
Apply it to Emotions
Is something stressing you out, making you angry, sad, or frustrated? Try the hakuna matata method. If you it isn’t the time to plan or act, don’t let it get to you. For example if work is rough, don’t even think about it when you are home. If politicians are mucking things up, choose your commitment level and either vote when the issue comes up, start or promote a social media campaign to right the issue, talk with local officials, write a letter to your congressman, or whatever. Then don’t worry about it any more, knowing you’ve done what you can. Live where you are and focus on what you can do. Your very best is always enough. Anything excess should be let go.
Apply it to Relationships
There are tons of types of relationships and problems I could address here, but briefly…
If you are having little success dating, take a step back and analyze your methods. Imagine the type of person you want and think it through. Would your methods would attract that type of person? Are your methods sufficient to discover if he or she is the person you want to be with for the rest of your life? As soon as my husband switched from just taking girls out on dates to taking girls to do things he loved as a date, he found a woman that enjoyed the same things as him. As soon as I stopped going after guys who needed my help and drained me emotionally, I found one who had prepared himself for life and lifted me towards my dreams.
If you are struggling with a spouse, parent, or child, pin point the triggers. Are you trying to connect at the wrong time of day? Are you giving more negative feedback than positive? Are you supportive of their dreams? Are you giving hurtful criticism that should be changed to helpful guidance? Once you identify it, fix it. You might want to have a chat with them and let them know what you are trying to change for three reasons.
- They know fixing the problem is important to you.
- They know you are trying to change and may give you a clean slate to work with.
- (the hard one) So you can ask them to help remind you.
Something I often struggle with is communication with my husband. We are constantly saying we told each other things that they swear they never heard despite our surety they did. I’ve cut down on some of the communication issues by being very specific in my responses. For example, if he calls from the other room “Can you pack the diaper bag?” I often hear “Did you pack the diaper bag”. I could respond “No”, but by responding, “I’ll pack the diaper bag after I get his shoes on” or “Would you mind packing the diaper bag? I’m still a ways from being ready” we are on the same page despite me mishearing the question. So much simpler than having a conversation about what each of us meant or thought we heard!
When they don’t want to Cooperate
Sometimes, it can be hard to want to fix the problem. You don’t necessarily want to like them and they might not want to like you. Take the selfish point of view. If they are making your life worse, it is worth it to improve your conditions. Like the other scenarios, pin point the actual issue and find a way to fix or avoid it.
I heard an amusing story about a guy who was training for a race. He got the lights timed perfectly so he would always be able to cross the street immediately. After a while, a man started pulling across the cross walk and glaring at him so he’d have to wait for the next light. This frustrated him. He would have had to alter his routine significantly to avoid ever seeing this man who was maliciously determined to be in his way. One day, he just kept running, opened the back driver side door, crawled through, and came out the other side leaving both doors open. The stranger had to get out and close the doors to the sound of horns behind him as all the cars missed the green light. He never pulled in front of him again.
Nearly everyone would rather help someone than hurt someone, so communication usually can solve issues, but if someone is making your life hard and they are determined to do so, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a solution. (just don’t do anything that will get you in jail or fired please!)
Apply it to Character Development
It is so hard to change your subconscious. If you find yourself repeatedly making the same mistake (yelling at your kids, over eating, making fun of people, etc.), you need to change your method. Although Einstein didn’t really say it, the phrase goes, “Insanity is repeating the same mistake and expecting different results”.
First, enlist the help of God. It turns out, developing your character is exactly what He wants you to do. Matthew 5:48 “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Perfect is a HUGE task, but the good news is that it means that you can attack it from any of your flaws and still be progressing. He wants you to come home and He will do everything He can to help, even if that means to let you deal with consequences. Find a quiet place, preferably one where you can speak or whisper, and pour your soul out to Him. Then, listen and act on any inkling of ideas you come up with. He will be there guiding your thoughts. He will not let you fail so long as you keep Him involved.
Second, narrow your goal. Maybe change “don’t yell at my kids” to “don’t yell at them if they were trying to be good” and eliminate the anger when the milk is unintentionally bumped off the table (as opposed to throwing food they don’t want). As you discover you can master that emotion in one scenario, it will make expanding it so much easier.
I’m not going to lie, character development is going to always be hard. In fact, I think being hard is what helps you internalize it and become the new person. What I will say is it is a lot easier than living with the results of not changing. With a plan, it is TOTALLY possible to change. (More help: Be Who You Want to Be IMMEDIATELY)
So there you have it, my life rule and secret to success.
If something is hard, you are probably doing it wrong.
I would love to see in the comments any way this motto affects your life.
P.S. Life Rules #1 & #2 can be found here.