the problem is not the cake on the floor

cake on the floorWe all have problems. Big problems, small problems. Real problems, perceived problems.

Hell, I know people that spend a great deal of time creating problems. For themselves and for others.

Then there are the people that can spend hours and hours telling you about all of their problems but have nothing proactive to say about how they are going to solve their problems. These people are the worst!

Do you want to know a secret? Do you want to know the difference between people that always have problems that never seem to go away and people that solve problems effectively and efficiently?

The difference is in how they identify the problem.

An example:

Let’s say you have baked a beautiful cake for your father’s birthday party. In the attempt to get it from the counter to the fridge, it falls on the floor.

What is the problem?

I’ll give you a hint. The problem isn’t the cake on the floor so stop looking at it. That’s happened. You can’t solve that. For all intents and purpose, that is in the past.

The problem is “how do you get another cake in time for the birthday party tonight?”. That is the problem that needs to be solved.

Trying to solve the event of the cake falling on the floor is a grand waste of your time.

she bumped me . . .

someone spilled water on the floor . . .

I told him to open the fridge . . .

For all of the time you spend trying to solve “why” the cake fell on the floor, you could be half done baking a new cake (or half way to the bakery).

Once you solve the real problem – getting a new cake – then, if you feel it’s necessary, you can go back and identify why the problem occurred and find ways to avoid this problem from happening again. (don’t let the kids in the kitchen!)

Project management is my day job and we do this all of the time.

We have a deadline and, if there’s a problem in the chain, we can’t stop to stare at the cake or point fingers at the person or people responsible for dropping it. We solve the problem and move on to meet the deadline.

When the job is done, we do what’s called a “post-mortem”. That is the time to look at the events that caused the problem and put process in place so that those events don’t happen and cause problems again. (and, yes, sometimes the solution is to fire someone in the chain – sad but true)

So think about how you identify your problems. Do you attempt to solve the event that caused the problem or do you pro-actively work to identify and solve the real problem?

The problem is not your maxed out credit cards so stop ranting at your bill. The problem to solve is how you’re going to pay them off. And doing a post-mortem when you’re done (or almost done) will help you identify how your credit cards got to that point and how to not let it happen again. (and, yes, sometimes the solution is to fire the cards aka cutting them up or encasing them in ice)

The problem is not that you hate your job so stop belly-aching. The problem to solve is how to identify what kind of job would make you happy and what you need to do to get that job.

The problem is not that you lost your job. The problem to solve is how to get another job. This one is an example from my own life. Ten years ago, my husband and I had just separated when I lost my job very unexpectedly. I allowed myself one day to feel sorry for myself but then had to put down the wine and focus on the real problem. I am proud to say that I had another job before my 5 weeks notice was even up!

I think, if you look around, you’ll see that the people who are generally the most happy and successful are the ones who identify and solve their real problems and don’t waste time wallowing in the events that caused them.

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