Ask Not “What is the Right Solution?” But “What is the Right Question?”

Have you ever had one of those nights where you find yourself erring on the wrong side of being a hot mess, having finally stumbled your way home only to be solidly stopped by the obstacle called Door? It doesn’t make sense, I’ve done this before, could be running through your head as you continue to fumble with your keys, trying to make the world – or at least the door – stop spinning. This is my house, right? The story could end here, with a good evening tragically ruined by an unplanned nap outdoors, but alas, a happy ending is in sight. For suddenly you see the light, figuratively and literally, and with this unexpected blessing do you realize that you’ve been fruitlessly stumbling around in the dark this whole time. With that obstacle cleared, now it is just a straight line from the key to the keyhole, and all is not lost.

Life is full of moments like this because so often we mistake our problems to be the door when we are in fact desperately trying to grasp at answers in the dark. But we live in a solution based society, where the answer is Product X, what is the question? We are so good at throwing Band-aids on our symptoms that we rarely, if ever, focus in on the underlying problem itself. Because to get to the root of the problem, one has to take the time to get to know oneself, to truly understand how you yourself operate so that upon sorting through your tendencies you can then change or eliminate those habits that aren’t serving you.

Because what are habits if not a foundation of happiness? We all have something that we wish we did consistently more of, and something else that we know we could do without altogether. Habits, whether in their formation or their breakage, are the strings flowing through our day to day which tie us in to leading our best lives. But as most of us can attest to, they are not always the easiest beast to tame and we may all have drawers full of ripped up resolutions and expired expectations.

The world knows this too and steadily capitalizes upon it – walk out your front door (or open up your computer) and there will be no shortage of tools, courses, products or people who readily await you with open arms, itching to embrace you with their method for getting you to stick to your guns, success guaranteed! But why only take it from them? You can, with just the click of a button in the Google machine, find out in an easily digestible Top Ten list the habits of all your favourite successful people, and then some (how about their grandmothers?)

The solutions to the problem of habit forming are everywhere, with new ones popping up all the time like mushrooms after the rain, and yet the number of people who are happily getting more active, quitting smoking, or not thinking negatively all of the time are not increasing just as exponentially. Habits, after all, are not a one size fits all. Looking over the shoulder of someone else, whether that person is a proven success or just their marketing brochure claims they are, is really only telling you what worked for that person. Who you are and what will make most sense for you is not going to come out of the pages of a book, written about someone else’s life. Taking that important step to find out about yourself will be the difference between jamming a key in the door in the dark and turning to find the light switch.

This is not as hard to do as it may seem. Author Gretchen Rubin has a very useful quiz on her website you can take to dig a little deeper into understanding your own habit tendencies. According to Rubin, there are four different categories of which we fall into:  The Upholder which is a person who will readily meet both inner (what we set for ourselves) and outer (what others set for us) expectations. These are the kinds of people who can quit smoking because they suddenly decided to, or if their doctor told them to, and they will stick to it. The Questioner which is a person who will readily meet inner expectations but not outer. If this person told themselves to quit smoking they will, but if their doctor told them to they will want to question why they should. The Obliger is the person who readily meets outer expectations but struggles when it comes to the inner. This person will easily commit to quitting smoking if their doctor ordered them to, but if they were just choosing to do this for themselves they will have trouble sticking to their resolve. The Rebel lastly is the person who finds it hard to meet both inner and outer expectations, who even if they know they should quit smoking because their doctor told them and they themselves want to, can’t commit to making any changes.

If this tool isn’t completely useful for you, find others that may resonate more. The point here is that once you can have a better understanding of what your inner workings are like, then the issue of tackling your problems will be much more narrow and specific. If someone recognizes that they are indeed an Obliger, when it comes down to habit forming they can know that finding an outside source which will hold them accountable will be more effective than simply trying to find ways to stretch their willpower. The need to form the habit is still there, but now you are better equipped to tackle the issue specific to you, not just what is mass marketed to the entire population in general.

We are very good at grasping when there is a problem, usually because we have some kind of pain or inconvenience as a result of it, but we are not always so good at knowing what the problem is. If we can pinpoint the issue, that is half the battle. From that advantage we can stand upon the battlefield and survey the fighting grounds, know our enemy and strategize what is our greatest strength against its biggest weakness. Without this knowledge it would be like trying to fight a shadow, an adversary that shifts and turns with you no matter how complicated or intricate your answer to it may be.

Recognize that you are unique, and what you need is just as unique. And sometimes, though we may lose our focus to tunnel in on just the problem closest at hand, it can behoove us to take a step back and widen the perspective. Even though we are hard wired to seek out answers, sometimes the first step shouldn’t be directed at deciphering the best solution and instead to re-assess if what we are trying to solve is the best use of our time. Let the light come on, and suddenly the problems we face may not be as difficult as we like to think.


Author’s Note: Thank you for reading! One call to action I have for you, dear reader, is if you like the article to please share it with your friends, co-workers, family, cats…I appreciate it, truly! Cheers, and see you back next week 🙂 


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