Life is full of difficulties and challenges.
Every week, every year we face something. It could be a financial battle, a health struggle, a relationship conflict, a career shift or trouble at work. It might be a mess to clean up or a bad habit to break.
To live means to confront problems.
Sometimes we get stuck and don’t know how to move forward.
In my experience, there are repeatable steps for making progress to overcome life’s problems.
I see six important steps.
But the process isn’t always linear.
In other words, finding out what doesn’t work is as important as figuring out what does. Which means some things you try will fail, but it doesn’t mean stop trying.
Even if you are moving at the pace of three steps forward, two steps back, you still are making incremental progress.
Pray for wisdom
A pastor we knew growing up was asked how he made decisions so easily and confidently.
He replied, “God promised to give us wisdom when we ask, so I ask Him, believe that he has given it to me and make the best decision I can.”
This is comforting when we’re up against difficult decisions.
List all the symptoms
Start with symptoms. Something is causing distress or pain.
This is the starting point.
This is how we know there’s a problem.
What exactly are the symptoms?
Anxious thoughts that keep you from sleeping? Headaches, stomachaches, back pain? A feeling of dread when you wake up on Monday morning? Loss of interest in hobbies or enjoyable pursuits?
List each symptom.
Correctly diagnose the problem
Not all similar symptoms point to the same root problem.
A correct diagnosis is key to a good solution.
One of our kids had trouble reading when they started school. Our first step was to take him to an eye doctor. His eyes were fine.
It took a few years of investigating and consulting before we had the diagnosis of dyslexia.
This step is critical and not always easy.
Find the experts with the best solutions
With the internet at our fingertips, it’s easier now than ever to find experts.
Realize that different experts are going to take different approaches to solving your problem.
When evaluating an expert, independent reviews are important for determining credentials and helpfulness.
The final step is to execute the solutions, put them into practice.
Most likely, not everything is going to work perfectly the first time. Maybe you haven’t found the right expert yet. Maybe you haven’t found an approach that works for you.
This is an easily overlooked step. I know because it’s easy for me to overlook it.
But it’s so important to take some time to acknowledge how far you’ve come and celebrate.
Don’t wait for the final victory, but celebrate the small wins as well.
How does this work in real life?
An important element here is that you don’t wait for a final victory to celebrate. You celebrate small wins.
Let’s say you’re considering a career change.
What are your symptoms?
You’re bored at work, or unmotivated. Or maybe you’re frustrated with bosses and coworkers or just feel out of step with the organization.
Maybe you have headaches at the end of the day or a feeling of dread as the weekend comes to a close and it’s time to go back to work.
Possibly a knot in your stomach when you encounter certain people or situations.
These are all symptoms that could have a variety of root causes.
After you’ve listed all the symptoms, how do you correctly diagnose the problem?
There’s not necessarily one answer to that. Maybe you need a consultation with a career counselor, a mentor, a sympathetic boss or colleague.
Maybe it’s just you, God and your journal. Maybe you need to confide in a trusted friend or your spouse.
Analyze the symptoms and determine what it adds up to.
The need for more training?
A position or schedule that fits you better?
Staying where you are but recommitting to lifestyle changes to improve your physical health?
A pivot in your field?
Something totally new?
Once you’ve pinpointed the problem, it’s time to track down some experts who can help you.
Who can train you in a new field?
Who should help you navigate burn out?
Who can come alongside to wade through relationship conflict with you?
Who has the expertise to advise concerning lifestyle changes?
Finding an expert might not be a one and done proposition.
Someone you begin the journey with might be only able to take you so far. Or you could find out that you are not in alignment with the values of your expert.
Maybe you are facing a multi-faceted problem that needs the help of multiple experts.
It might take a lot of false starts before you find the expert with the resources to help you. Don’t lose heart. Finding out what doesn’t help is helpful, too.
The next step is implementing solutions.
Possibly this will mean three steps forward, two steps back. Stick with it. Work the program, take the advice. Experiment to find what will work for you.
Stay with it long enough to see results.
Don’t forget to celebrate your successes.
This journey has not been easy. Make the effort to stop and acknowledge and celebrate the wins.
I look back and see this progression in dealing with my health. It has been almost a decade of seeing slow progress after a couple decades of dealing with frustrating symptoms.
I’ve investigated. I’ve tried different approaches. I’ve seen changes. I keep trying, keep experimenting, keep implementing more of what’s working.
I’m so glad to be where I am now.
I’m so glad I continued to pursue answers after doctors, tests and experts weren’t helping. I’m glad I kept fighting and I’m grateful for the slow progress I’ve made for improved health.
Don’t lose heart with what you’re up against.
Hang in there and keep fighting the good fight.