Redefining Your Problems

By looking at a problem from multiple angles, you may spot a creative solution you hadn’t considered before. But another approach is to reframe the way you define the problem to begin with.

For example, suppose you define your problem as how to get a new job during COVID times. Within that problem definition, you can consider many ways to solve the problem. You could work on your resume, look through job postings, fill out applications, ask around to discover unadvertised jobs, and take plenty of other actions. But all the while you’re sticking with the original problem definition that you need to get a job. The issue with that framing is that you don’t actually need a job.

Here are some other ways to redefine the problem instead of needing a job:

  • You need a benefactor.
  • You need a grant.
  • You need to start a business.
  • You need to learn better marketing skills.
  • You need a new degree.
  • You need to reduce expenses.
  • You need to declare bankruptcy.
  • You need to start earning royalties.
  • You need more confidence.
  • You need $10 million.
  • You need to become a monk.
  • You need a better relationship partner.
  • You need a mastermind group.
  • You need a better wand.
  • You need to learn how to survive and thrive permanently without a job.
  • You need a more effective spiritual framework.
  • You need to win the lottery.
  • You need a mentor.
  • You need a better relationship with reality.
  • You need a more creative and disciplined character.
  • You need to become a minimalist.
  • You need to switch countries.
  • You need to master your emotions.
  • You need a Master.

What is the actual problem? You get to decide.

To label anything a problem, you must assign meaning to a situation. The meaning you assign frames the problem and defines its scope. But you could also assign no meaning at all and determine that there is no problem to be solved.

So also consider that when you define a problem, you’re declaring that you want to solve that particular problem with that particular frame. If you don’t want to solve that problem though, you could define the situation very differently and solve a completely different problem instead.

Some people find the “get a job” problem to be a really boring one to solve, especially if you have to do it repeatedly. So they don’t bother to solve that problem because they don’t define it as their problem to begin with. Not having a job isn’t actually a problem unless you define it as such.

I haven’t had a job in nearly three decades, and it’s not a problem. Being jobless is actually very nice. There is nothing problematic about being jobless. It’s an imaginary problem that never actually needs to be solved. And because it’s not actually a problem, I don’t need to invest any energy in solving it. What makes it not a problem? Never defining it as such.

Maybe you define your main problem as needing money. Fine, you can solve that. But do you actually need money? Is that a real problem? No, that’s also just another optional choice of framing. You could get by without money. Some people have no money and live interesting and meaningful lives. Someone else could earn money and pay for everything you want – you don’t need a boss or company to pay your expenses.

Not all problem definitions are equally interesting or motivating to solve. If you find a problem definition dreadfully demotivating, don’t beat yourself up for not being motivated or for procrastinating too much. Question how you’re defining the problem to begin with. You’re probably using a definition you’ve inherited from someone else. Be flexible enough to rewrite the problem – many different ways.

Consider a problem where you’ve been stuck for a while. Brainstorm at least a few dozen ways to redefine the problem definition. Then consider which of those other problems interests you more than your original definition. Don’t be a dunce afterwards by going back to your original frame, as if you’re permanently caged there. Actually switch frames and genuinely invest in solving one of those other problems.

One thing you’ll discover if you practice this enough is that other people will teach you a lot of piss-poor ways of looking at problems that don’t work well for you at all. Stop buying into their frames. Dump their frames and use different ones.

If you’ve felt stuck trying to get better at dating, for instance, dump that way of looking at the problem. You don’t need to get better at dating skills – is that even a real thing anyway? Why not solve a more interesting problem, like finding a co-explorer for your desired lifestyle adventures. Skip the dating frame, and go straight to the fun and adventurous part. Invest in dating if you like dating – just note that it’s optional. Many people find relationships, partners, and co-adventurers without dating anyone.

People get so stuck clinging to one way of looking at a problem that has never worked very well for them. They dread having to deal with the problem each time it comes up. If that’s you then dump the problem definition you’ve been clinging to. You don’t have to see that issue as a problem ever again. It doesn’t actually need a solution. You can choose a completely different kind of problem to solve instead.

Work on the problems that fascinate you. Work on the problems that you enjoy solving. Work on problems because you love the character-building effects. Don’t deal in problems that you dislike or dread – that’s just lame. You’re smarter and more creative than that.