When confronted with a problem there are only four possible options we have with respect to our response to it. I have found thinking about these four options helpful in reducing stress when encountering a problem. A key in confronting a problem is deciding which of the four approaches you will use to dealing with the problem. We all have choices. Here they are:
Option One: Solve the Problem
This is a great solution. A key issue, however, is whether your problem is actual solvable. Unfortunately, many problems cannot be solved or are not within our control. Sometimes, we aren’t willing to take the steps necessary to solve the problem. Thus, the option of solving a problem is not always available to us.
For example, suppose you hate your job: your boss is a tyrant, you don’t like your co-workers, your work isn’t very interesting and the pay and benefits are not great. What to do? Can this problem be solved? Maybe. You can look for a new job or career. However, if the job market is tight and you can’t find a new job, there may not be a good way to solve the problem. At least not right away. Or, maybe a new, better job would require a move to another city and you aren’t willing to move away from friends and family. Maybe you are a lawyer and you realize that you hate practicing law but this is what you are trained to do and you make a decent living and are supporting a family and feel like you can’t change careers because you aren’t really trained to do anything else. There might not be a solution to the problem you are willing to undertake.
Option Two: Change Your Attitude or Perception
If you cannot solve the problem, it may be possible to change your perception of the problem so that you feel better about it. Our thoughts shape our realities. Sometimes this is the easiest solution, sometimes it is the hardest.
In the job example above, maybe it is possible to change your attitude about your boss, co-workers and type of work. Approach the situation with humor (view life as a game) and positivity. Work through the day with a smile and focus with gratitude on the little things that are good about your job or career.
Option Three: Radical Acceptance
Radical acceptance means going all in and recognizing that things are just the way they are, the problem will persist and totally accepting this fact. With radical acceptance we are just going to let things be as they are.This is really a subset of option two above, changing your attitude, but is a very important solution and thus has it’s own category. This is often very hard to accomplish but can be incredibly freeing.
Here’s an example: I have a friend who broke his leg skiing. When the ski patrol was assisting him they commented on his good attitude and he replied with something to the effect of “being upset about it isn’t going to un-break my leg.” Amazing radical acceptance by my friend. This story of his actually inspired me to have a much better attitude during my own ski injury a few years later and helped me radically accept my situation.
A bit more on radical acceptance from Psychology Today: “Radical acceptance is about accepting life on life’s terms and not resisting what you cannot or choose not to change. Radical acceptance is about saying yes to life, just as it is.” Article on Radical Acceptance
Option Four: Stay Miserable
This doesn’t sound like a very good option for dealing with a problem, yet it’s one we all tend to use from time-to-time. Sometimes this is an absolutely legitimate reaction to a problem. If your dog dies a perfectly appropriate reaction is to be miserable – at least for awhile. Often, however, it makes sense to focus on one of the other three ways of dealing with a problem and avoiding the option of being miserable. A key is realizing that staying miserable is a choice.
These four solutions are from Dialectical Behavior Therapy which is a type of therapy that focuses on how we respond to situations. Its core premises include finding the “middle path,” acceptance and mindfulness.