Oftentimes, and unfortunately so, it seems that multiple problems always stack up simultaneously. We could be outside in shorts and a t-shirt one minute, when suddenly, the clear skies might turn to thunder and rain while simultaneously getting a phone call that our dog has leukemia.
When these problems appear it can oftentimes feel so overwhelming that we might forget how to respond rationally in the moment, leading us to make terrible decisions shortly after in response.
This is why it is helpful to have a clear formula for dealing with problems in life, something that we can turn to during times of intense stress and something we are certain we can rely on.
These three questions can help clarify the type of problem we’re dealing with and whether it’s something worth addressing, something to ignore, or something we need to accept.
Is this problem something I can control?
This first question is incredibly helpful because it forces us to distinguish whether or not the problem—that has already happened—is in your control.
For instance, say you’re going to sleep and you remember that you left the oven on. This is something that you can control, and so you head to the kitchen and turn it off.
However, maybe the next morning you’re running late for work and when you rush out the door and get into your car you notice that you have a flat tire.
This is clearly a frustrating situation, but we can save ourselves unproductive anger if we recognize that this is something which is out of our control. After doing this, we can see the problem for what it is and determine how to respond appropriately.
Is this problem something I can change?
This brings us to the second question. In the case of the flat tire scenario, we realize that we can’t control something bad that has already happened, but now we ask ourselves if it’s something we can change.
If you have a spare tire and a car jack, it turns out that this situation is something that we can rectify relatively quickly. If not, then this is something that can’t be changed, at least not in the time frame needed to get to work that day.
So with this question in mind we can either make moves to change the problem, i.e. fix it, or search for alternative solutions.
Is this problem something I can let go of?
Let’s say with the car scenario that we can’t fix the flat tire, we can then ask ourselves this third question: Is this something I can let go of?
In this scenario, the answer is no. Letting go of this problem would lead us to abandon our car which is not an option. While we can search for alternative solutions, i.e. take a taxi or Uber to work, we know that the problem is something that we can’t ignore.
However, if the car was a rental car—depending on your personal morals—this might be something we could call the rental car company and then let go of pretty quickly.
While these three questions may seem simple, that is precisely why they can be so helpful. Using a framework like this can be useful in that it allows us to focus on something productive in times of crisis rather than flailing about and feeling helpless or confused and admit defeat. Even when there is a problem that we can’t do anything about and can’t let go of, we can still feel some solace in the clarity that comes with diagnosing the problem and accepting things as they are.