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You Can’t Solve a Problem Until You Label it Correctly

One of the biggest and most costly mistakes people make is expending mega energy trying to solve a problem they’ve totally mislabeled. Of course, most of the time, they don’t realize that they’ve made a major blunder in how they’re viewing the problem. They just keep on trying one solution after another or the same one over and over, but never get anywhere. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:
Say, Joanie has been struggling for decades to get her husband Ben to understand how hard she’s been trying to lose weight but can’t seem to stay on a diet. She wants his support and he just keeps telling her that she lacks self-control and that something must be wrong with her if she can’t stick to a diet. He shares his happiness about her losing weight and his disappointment when she puts it back on. She defines the problem as, “I can’t get him to understand my struggles, so I must be doing something wrong and therefore need to keep explaining in the hope that at some point he’ll see it my way.”
Joanie defines the problem as Ben not understanding how hard she’s trying and how badly she wants to be thinner. But, that is not really the problem. Ben isn’t interested in learning about why Joanie puts weight back on and he doesn’t care much about her struggles. Ben wants Joanie to be thinner or healthier. The problem is not that Joanie hasn’t found the right way to explain her struggles so that Ben will understand them. The problem is Ben’s not caring about what Joanie is going through, and his disinterest in understanding her frustrations. This is pretty much how Ben is about most things: he doesn’t try or seem to want to see things from her point of view. He’s what I’d call Ben-centric. Most likely, he’s so narcissistic that he can’t and won’t ever understand.
The real problem is that Joanie has a husband who is not empathic or compassionate about her weight struggles or many other things. Rather than try a gazillion different ways to get Ben to understand and support her, Joanie would do better to redefine the problem. If she defines it as figuring out why she sometimes takes care of herself and sometimes doesn’t, she’s on the right track. If she defines it as Ben not being very into her feelings and whether or not she can live with that, she’s onto something. We can’t change others, but, a curious thing happens when we define a problem as about us: we start to change. In this case, Joanie could go to an eating disorders therapist to explore why she’s inconsistent in her self-care. Or she could consider and talk with friends about how she can feel good about herself while being with Ben—or whether she even wants to stay married to such a self-centered man. If you have a problem that isn’t getting solved, make sure you’re labeling it the right way and, if not, redefine it.
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