Don’t look at the problem, look at the solution

Photo by Mihis Alex from Pexels

If you’ve ever ridden a bike or a motorcycle then chances are you’ve experienced the phenomenon of moving towards what you look at, rather than where you want to go. This is called target fixation, which Wikipedia is kind enough to define as

[the] attentional phenomenon observed in humans in which an individual becomes so focused on an observed object (be it a target or hazard) that they inadvertently increase their risk of colliding with the object.

In other words, sometimes we can focus so much on something we wish to avoid, that we end up heading straight into it.

Driving a bike is usually done at speed, forcing us to react or think quickly, but focusing on more serious problems tends to come with more time and the opportunity to consider several different options. Still, a similar problem arises in those situations: paralysis by analysis.

In analysis paralysis the problem comes down to overthinking the benefits and disadvantages of every possible solution so as to avoid risks. The problem is that there is no perfect solution in the real world, so no decision is made and issues just get worse and the decision is forced by external factors. Whatever your age or life experience, I’m sure we’ve all gone through something like that: paying so much attention to a problem or situation that we end up becoming unable to solve it.

Since there is no perfect solution to every situation, and most of our decisions end up being of limited importance in the long run, it would be better to focus on making decisions that are just good enough. Furthermore, it seems that people in the ancient world were aware of this problem and came up with several different solutions to it. Through different means of divination and fortune telling, choices could be attributed to the will of various gods rather than putting all of the pressure on one person. At the same time, using decision-making mechanisms that rely on a bit of interpretation gives the decision-maker the chance to disregard the results of divination and fortune telling if they aren’t really sold on them. You can ignore the stress of having to make the decision and just concentrate on confirming it or trying something else.

Since the modern world doesn’t look kindly to having weird rituals involving animal or human sacrifices, how take all these ideas and implement them in our life?

  • To begin with, recognize that most things that seem important, really aren’t. How often do you feel stress or regret about things that happened years ago? What makes you think that today’s issues will be that important in the next five or ten years?
  • Once that realization is made, focus on figuring out what really matters. If some choice you make goes wrong and you cannot limit its consequences, chances are you are messing with something important. If things can be repaired, redone or have limited effects, then they aren’t that important.
  • Focus on the things that actually matter, and be conscious about the things you decide about them. At the same time, those things that don’t matter can be left to chance or to going with the flow.
  • Evaluate and correct. So you’re gonna make mistakes along the way. Good, figure out what went wrong, and try something different. If you have correctly identified the things that do and don’t matter, then most of your mistakes should be small and easy to fix or solve, leaving you only the important stuff to actually worry about.
  • Rinse and repeat.

I think the previous steps would be a good start to focusing more on the solutions rather than on the problems. See you next week!