Several months ago, I had a remarkable experience with my coach. (Yes, coaches have coaches, and in my opinion they always should. Receiving great coaching helps us be great coaches.)
On this particular day of coaching, I was in one of those rare, contented states. I felt in the flow of my life. There were many areas of my life where things were not where I wanted to them to be, but on this particular day I felt a sense of peace that they would get there. I wasn't in problem-solving mode. I was in a different, lighter space.
This left me unsure about what topic to bring to coaching. For the first time, I wasn't showing up with a dilemma to resolve or an area of dissatisfaction to address. I felt a bit like a student showing up unprepared for class.
"I'm not sure what to talk about today." I told my coach. "There are lots of areas that need attention and change, but I feel, for the moment, like I know how to proceed. I feel like things are on track."
I waited, expecting an awkward moment or the beginning of digging around for a topic.
"Excellent," she said. "Now the real coaching can begin."
"What?" I thought. What did that mean?
"The most powerful work on ourselves," she said, "doesn't come from solving problems. When the pressing issues are laid aside, it begins."
In the coaching session that followed, we talked about who I was and what I wanted to create during the next few years of my life. We talked about those topics in the spirit of "no problem." From this place, I could create a clear vision, and paradoxically, I could also see with new clarity what was really happening in a few "problem" areas of my life.
Since that time, I've had the same experience with my own clients time and time again. Deep, powerful personal growth work often comes from sessions that begin from an open clearing, an empty space. There's no urgent issue or problem to solve sitting in the center of the conversation.
The power of "no-problem" is relevant for all of us, no matter how we undertake exploration of ourselves"“ journaling, conversation, reflection, meditation or simply living life consciously.
Problem-solving is one mode human beings can live in. Problem-identifying is another mode. There is nothing wrong with either. They help us improve ourselves and the world. They birth innovations and foster social progress.
Yet human beings are not just problem-solvers. We are also receivers, observers, lovers, experiencers…you can, I'm sure, add to this list. Other modes bring us gifts, ideas, and insights that problem-solver mode cannot.
In our culture, we tend over-focus on the problem-identifier and problem-solver modes. We overwork those muscles. We tend to neglect other modes, such as:
The Observer: The one who just notices how things are.
The Curious Child: The one who examines and explores, led by curiosity.
The Celebrator: The one who appreciates, praises and celebrates what is.
The Creator: The one who brings new things into being, not to solve a problem, but to add beauty or novelty or delight to the world.
The Nurturer: The one who connects, love, adores. The one who strengthens others with words and affection.
Do a quick scan of your life. How much of the time are you in problem-identification or problem-solving mode? What proportion of your thoughts stem from those modes? What other modes do you really immerse yourself in, and how often do you experience them?
Getting to "No-Problem"
Fortunately, we don't need to solve all of our problems to leave problem-solver mode. In fact, the mistake most of us make is thinking we'll adopt one of these other modes of being once our problems get solved.
That will never happen. Human life on earth is problem-full. It is problem-generating!
"No problem" is not a state of reality. It is a state of consciousness. We choose that state of consciousness in order to experience ourselves and life at a different level.
Just as in meditation we set aside mental chatter so that we can experience the deeper peace that abides underneath it, we can set aside our problem-focus to experience the deeper beauty and wholeness of life.
We do that by carving out time during which we consciously let go of problem-related thoughts"”small and large"”when they arise. That includes thoughts about the pressing problem of world hunger to the immediate problem of needing less itchy socks to getting through your inbox to fixing your relationship with Susie.
Four Experiments To Run In Your Life
Here's how to make this practical:
1. Make it a regular practice to leave your problem-solver identity from time to time, and adopt an alternative mode of being (such as those listed above) instead. Maybe it's one hour every evening or some time every weekend.
2. Have a conversation with a loved in which both of you refrain from talking about "problems" "“not yours, theirs or the world's. Where does the conversation go? What was the impact on your mood? On your connection?
3. Write in your journal for thirty minutes without writing about any problems. What emerges? Where did your writing lead you? What part of you took over in the writing?
4. Identify an area in your life that you've labeled as a problem. Try on another perspective such as, "This is not a problem, it just is." Or "This is not a problem, it's a gift." Brainstorm five ways the new thought is true. If you are stuck, invite a friend with some distance on the situation to brainstorm with you.
Expect that as you try all of these exercises, you'll drift back into problem-solver mode. That's completely normal, and just fine. That needs to be said twice! That's completely normal and just fine. When you become aware this has happened, notice with compassion, and let those problem-thoughts drift by, and simply return to your intention.
Cultivate spaces of "no problem" in your calendar and your life. A part of you was made for problem solving, and part of you was made for something else.
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