Why Problem Solving Doesn’t Solve the Problem and the Real Solution to Permanent Change
Have a problem in life you cannot fix? The damn thing sticks around. You try hard to solve it, but make little progress.
Let’s say the problem is being overweight. You have 20 pounds you want to drop. The extra weight makes you feel bad and not look your best. This motivates you to lose weight. You build the willpower and determination to drop a few pounds to feel good again and improve your looks.
Through determination to solve your weight problem, two weeks later you jump on the scales to discover you are nine pounds lighter. You are ecstatic! The mental tension about your weight eases. You feel more comfortable with your body. Your willpower drained a lot from you so you return to old habits.
One month passes since your weight loss accomplishment. The nine pounds finds itself back on your stomach. It feels too difficult to maintain a strict diet and exercise regime. You call yourself “weak” and “pathetic” and feel guilty about your inability to change. You feel helpless in forever creating a permanent solution to your weight loss problem.
Dynamics in the weight loss scenario are everywhere in your life. Common examples include: managing anger, but we still blow up; quitting smoking, but we still smoke; getting a new job, but we remain in the old one; starting a new healthy relationship, but we remain in a destructive relationship; communicating more effectively, but we don’t communicate effectively and remain true to our ourselves. Why is this?
The Problem: The Tension-Resolution Model
Robert Fritz in his book The Path of Least Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your Own Life says we fail to change ourselves when we problem solve. That’s right! Problem solving is responsible for, well, not solving the problem.
Problem solvers feel victimized for not receiving what they want. They feel miserable and depressed, blaming circumstances for their reality. Circumstances clinch them by the throat to direct what they do.
Fritz says we fail to change when we try to solve our problems because mental and emotional oscillation occurs between tension and resolution. One moment the pain creates tension. You could be sick of loneliness and really want a hot chick who has a great personality. The tension pushes you to improve your dating skills and better your life to attract such a girl. You may get a phone number or even a girlfriend. The tension dissipates – as does your efforts to improve your life. Eventually, you stop doing what worked to attract her. The attraction disappears and you fight with each other more, which causes the two of you to break up.
We try to make something go away rather than create what we want.
The tension-resolution model describes tension as the problem. As the tension builds, you feel compelled to solve the problem. The intensity of the problem lessens as does the tension when you problem solve. You have less motivation to keep the problem at bay. The end result: the unwanted behavior returns!
Old habits reenter our lives because we problem solve instead of changing the underlying structure. Fritz says to solve a problem means to remove something – the problem. We try to remove anger, smoking, swearing, complaining, blaming, loneliness, and laziness. Weight is regained because you did not want the 20 pounds. You lost your girlfriend because you feared loneliness. You try make something go away rather than create what you want. Your reactive nature to problems keeps you stuck in trouble. Problem solving can only make something go away – and it does a poor job at that.
Problem Solving Hurts Your Relationships
Problem solving does not create what you want in relationship communication and persuasion. We try to change people by expressing our frustration or “having a talk” to build tension. They temporarily change to reduce the tension but quickly revert to old patterns. Sending people solutions makes them resist what you try to create!
One third of my Communication Secrets of Powerful People program is about effectively creating solutions in others. We desperately try to change people by criticizing, ordering, threatening, questioning, or advising, but this creates a tension-resolution dynamic to prevent change. You can pain someone into changing, but if they don’t have the underlying structure to change, they will not change. (If you are interested in being a charismatic individual that changes people’s minds, I encourage you to get the program by clicking here.)
The Path of Least Resistance
If you have visited Boston, the crazy road structure probably befuddled you. It appears Boston had no planning in their road infrastructure. Rumors say that Boston’s road structure is based on seventeenth-century cow paths. When cows walked the land, they walked paths that provided the least resistance. Step-by-step the cows choose what was easiest to them.
Dirt paths developed overtime, reaffirming these paths to be the easiest direction of travel. When humans populated the lands and began constructing roads, they followed the cows. Settlers paved the dirt roads because it was easiest to work with paths created by cows. The problem though is the cows followed their path of least resistance rather than create paths optimal for human travel. Boston’s roads are now meandering structures confusing to its travelers.
William Fowler, director of the Massachusetts Historical Society, says Boston’s road paths were not founded on cow paths. The example, nonetheless, serves its purpose to explain human behavior: energy flows along the path of least resistance.
In physics, objects travel through a system following the path of least resistance. Like water in the Amazon river, our energy flows along the easiest path. Like wind blowing through the Grand Canyon, our energy flows along the easiest path. Like pedestrians walking along a busy New York street, our energy flows along the easiest path.
Energy flows along the path of least resistance.
Laziness is human nature. Our innate desire pushes for easier ways to do activities. Does this mean we secretly desire to sloth in front of the television while eating a bag of Doritos and sipping our favorite beer? Of course not. What it means is we take the easiest path to get where we want to go. Our energy flows along the path that provides minimal resistance. Fritz says, “You got to where you are in your life right now by moving along the path of least resistance.”
Why Self-Help and the Law of Attraction Suck
We fight the path of least resistance by using techniques like willpower, affirmations, and positive-thinking. We use these self-help techniques to motivate change, but attempts to problem-solve fail to create a solution.
The problem with traditional self-help does not stop there. The messages sent through affirmations, willpower, and positive-thinking create the opposite effect to your desired outcome! The techniques create a paradoxical effect of no change. The subtle messages communicated from traditional self-help skills is that “I lie to myself because I find it difficult to change”.
You can see this by analyzing intention manifestation, the law of attraction, metaphysics, and similar principles that publicly took off when The Secret hit Oprah. According to these areas of study, if you continually reaffirm what you want and stay true to the universe, the universe manifests your dreams.
The structure of new age fields of thought ironically cause people to not change. If you truly believe something, you do not reaffirm it to yourself. You do not rise in the morning to spend 15-minutes chanting affirmations that the universe will create want you want if you believe you’ll get it. The unconscious messages sent through willpower and positive-thinking say you will not change or find it difficult to change because you need the techniques to manipulate your subconscious mind.
Dr. Maxwell Maltz in The New Psycho-cybernetics emphasizes that willpower does not create change. Techniques that consume willpower stem from internal friction burning limited energy on fruitless efforts. Energy that could get your goals is wasted. You need to channel valuable willpower and determination into choices and decisions that get your desired future.
How to Create a Permanent Solution – The Secret to Lasting Change
A radical shift in choice towards fulfilling what you want leads to permanent change. In terms of managing anger, for example, if you make the fundamental choice that governs your behavior to be a calm person by safely expressing anger, you do not fight your anger by trying to resolve it; rather, you change the structure of your anger to create a new behavior that brings what you want. Situations that test your anger lead you to create results and processes aligned with your fundamental choice and desired outcome.
People subject themselves to their circumstances by living in a respond-react environment. Fritz put it nicely when he said problem solving “subjects you to the whims of circumstances” (seen in situations where people expect things to be a certain way in order to make them happy). In problem solving, you wander (and wonder) through life’s maze where your environment is the walls. Your environment dictates where you go.
Permanent change in human behavior does not arise from problem solving where you rest at the helm of life’s circumstances. Lasting change comes from a new underlying structure of your being that guides life. Instead of fighting change, you become the change because it is your new path of least resistance. It becomes easier for you to do what you want and move towards your goals than doing otherwise.
Lasting change comes from a new underlying structure of your being that guides life.
Until a fundamental choice of good health is made, one cannot be truly healthy. Individuals in psychotherapy who fail to make an authentic fundamental choice of good health remain the way they are. They stick to old patterns of unhealthy behavior. Some are even addicted to their challenges – without their problems, their identity is void. They may say they want to change, but deep down they want their challenges because they fulfill a need. They fail to choose an empowering vision or try to solve a problem instead of changing the underlying structure of their life.
Fritz emphasizes that the real solution to change is knowing your present reality and possessing a clear vision of what you want. This means knowing exactly where you are and where you want to go without delusion. Once you define what you want and understand your present reality, you feel freedom. You become at ease with yourself. A new structure directs your energy to effortlessly create what you want.
The greatest problem people have when defining what they want is they define what they do not want. “I don’t want to be lonely”, “I don’t want to blow up at my kids”, “I don’t want to lose my temper”, “I don’t want to be fat”, and “I don’t want to be unhealthy”. Knowing you do not want to travel to New York for a holiday does not help you go on holidays. How are you suppose to arrive at your destination if it is unknown?
An awareness of what you want allows your creative mind to compose processes that manifest your desired solution.
Artists are excellent models to follow because they create a solution and know the end result. An artist stares at a blank canvas ready to start a new project. If he paints without a vision of the end result, he will not know when the painting is complete. He will feel unfilled and demotivated as the painting continues because he responds and reacts to the present moment of painting. If he knows what he wants, he will paint to achieve his vision. He will create a painting that fulfills his desires and know when the painting is complete. He does not seek external validation for his painting because the satisfaction is internal knowing the painting matches his vision.
Artists are not all spontaneous. Creativity is not always analogous with spontaneity. The best way to create comes through knowing what you want. An awareness of what you want allows your creative mind to compose processes that manifest your desired solution.
Putting It All Together
Here is an example of something I struggled with that touches on everything discussed. Though I learned communication skills for years and used bits here and there, I never fully changed my behavior. I tried so desperately to communicate well by using willpower, positive-thinking, and determination, yet I reverted to old habits. My energy flowed along the path of least resistance of poor communication. It was harder for me to effectively communicate than poorly communicate.
How to Create Good Tension
Tension will always exist as long a discrepancy resides between your present and what you want. Unmotivated persons feel no tension so they remain unchanged. Once tension dissipates, you no longer create. Your job as a creator is to uphold tension by following the tips below:
- Write down 20 reasons your present is undesirable and 20 more reasons why you want your future. See this exercise here where you can get more tips to create ongoing motivation.
- Write down the future you want in clear detail. Think big.
- Envision the future you want everyday.
Sometimes I would solve the problem, but I was merely making something go away; I was not creating what I wanted. What I wanted was being ignored in favor of removing what I did not want. Other times, the “change” was temporary. I tried to solve my problem of poor communication instead of changing my underlying structure that would create permanent change.
As I discuss in my communication secrets program, I was resisting what I did not want, which created a persistent problem. There was the tension-resolution dynamic. Sometimes I changed. This decreased the intensity of the problem, but then so did the tension and my effort to communicate well. My willpower was burned so I let problems be – after all, interpersonal problems began to resolve. Tension would eventually increase again as the cycle started over.
I solved this by analyzing my current reality, where I was in my communication, and its affects on me. Next, I developed a crystal clear vision of what I wanted then made the choice to have it. When I made the fundamental choice to be true to myself, to communicate effectively (not “to avoid bad communication”), permanent change took place. My identity and life orientation changed to be one who uses effective communication.
Today I do not exert willpower to communicate effectively – though I need to remember my vision and remind myself what I want. I effectively communicate with minimal effort. My new structure has changed my life orientation.
You and I always gravitate to the processes aligned with our fundamental choices. You still need to learn the “how” of what you want, but that comes naturally once you follow this decision path.
Analyze your current reality. Next, think of what you exactly want. Have a pure vision of your desired reality. Write it down on several sheets of paper. You can make what you want clear by writing it in detail on several pages (I have a 10-page document that describes my perfect day). Lastly, make the fundamental choice to get what you want – and mean it. These are the foundations of lasting change.
When you follow this plan to change your structure, you create permanent change. People, information, and other processes seem to magically drop into place. It becomes easy for you to create what you want. Your energy flows along this new path of least resistance.
You are the creative force in your life. It’s time to live how you want.
Joshua Uebergang aka "Tower of Power"
Joshua Uebergang, aka "Tower of Power", teaches social skills to help shy guys build friends and influence people. Visit his blog and sign-up free to get communication techniques, relationship-boosting strategies, and life-building tips by email, along with blog updates, and more! Go now to https://www.towerofpower.com.au/free/