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Houston, We Have A Problem

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Problems manifest in our external world every day. My friend called me last week to tell me that her ceiling was leaking in her dining room…big problem, right? Or is it actually a symptom?

This got me thinking about problems and symptoms and the fact that the issues many of us are struggling with are symptoms, not the actual problem.

Take my friend for example, the fact that her ceiling is leaking is really a symptom. Something is causing water to leak into her ceiling and it will be very important for her to figure out what the root of the problem is so it doesn’t happen again. This means she needs to be willing to explore and uncover what is causing the water to make a mess in her dining room.

Getting To The Root of the Problem

This is also true for the symptoms that are manifesting in all of the areas of your life. If you are dealing with symptoms in your life (issues in your relationship, family, career, etc.), how do you figure out what the real problem is? The answer is to get curious so you can explore and uncover what is really going on, and the best way to do that is to ask yourself “Why?”

Throughout my years of parenting and in my corporate leadership role, “why” was one of my favorite words. It still is today!  Whenever one of my kids or a member of my team would come to me with a “problem,” I would keep asking them “why?” until we uncovered the real problem, which always looked much different than the symptom that was manifesting. We always uncovered the external problem–sometimes it was a skill issue or a resource issue. And, we always uncovered an internal problem—theirs and mine!

I’m not the Problem, am I?

Every external problem kicks off something in you internally. Your reaction to the situations that arise are an indication of the belief system that you carry around. The judgements, justifications and limiting assumptions that follow are all reflections of your perspective and your beliefs.

Asking why is actually really uncomfortable because it usually means that your decisions, actions or inactions are part of the problem that is causing the symptom. Asking why takes away your ability to blame others or point to excuses outside of yourself.

On the flip side, it gives you the ability to take responsibility and work on fixing the true problem. That’s empowering!  As a parent and leader, lots of the problems I uncovered with my kids and my team involved decisions I made, actions or inactions that I took. It was really uncomfortable for me to own that and examine my behaviors as well as help them examine their behaviors. However, when you understand what’s going on inside of yourself, you can make a choice on how you could shift your behaviors, which allows you to help others shift as well, and the whole picture changes!

Creative Problem Solving

Staying curious rather than judgmental allows you to see what is really going on. This is extremely hard because the symptoms we experience trigger emotions of guilt, shame, frustration and embarrassment. Those emotions, in turn, trigger judgements thanks to our belief system.

In my case, I felt like a terrible parent and leader because setting boundaries and saying no was something that I was not able to do. I was frustrated with myself and felt guilty that I put my kids and team under so much pressure. However, when I asked myself “why” this was happening for me, I uncovered the problem—my limiting belief. Once I figured that out, I was able to play with shifting my behavior and ultimately help my kids and my team shift theirs.

The difference between addressing symptoms and actually solving problems is that you see the bigger picture. This allows you the step into the growth zone, take action and tap into the power that lives inside of you! You get to make decisions based on your authenticity rather than a limiting belief that is no longer serving you.

So, next time a symptom comes your way, take a step back and get curious. This will help you find the solution to the real problem.

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