Identify the problem!

Is there a habit you just can’t seem to make stick? Or is there a task you just don’t tackle no matter what? It may be time to identify the problem!

When you’re struggling with a habit or a project, there is usually a very specific reason holding you back. You may try all kinds of approaches, but until you identify the concrete issue, you’re unlikely to resolve it.

The walking dilemma

Let’s say you intended to go for a walk on most days. It’s a straightforward goal, but for some reasons you didn’t manage to make it happen. What could be the reason?

Perhaps you intended to go for a walk at the end of your workday to transition between work mode and home mode. However, you worked until too late and had no time for a walk left. A good solution for this could be to set an appointment with a friend to walk-and-talk (in person or virtually). Because you have a set appointment, you’re much less likely to miss your walk.

Or maybe you had made an appointment with yourself to walk after lunch, and you were about to do it, but then it was raining. First of all, I feel you, that really sucks! You did everything right, but the weather messed up your plans. Well, you can also be flexible, do something else after lunch, and go for a walk later when it stops raining. Or you could just buy some rain gear (revolutionary, I know!).

Alternatively, you may have felt that it’d be boring to just walk, so you avoided it. In that case, you can find an enjoyable activity to do while you walk such as listening to a podcast or audiobook or talking to a friend on the phone.

Lack of information and magnitude of task

Identifying the problem is most important for me when I lack information or when the magnitude of the task feels overwhelming. A typical issue is the conundrum of photo albums. It’s great when they’re done, but it takes forever for that to happen. First, you have to choose the photos; then, you need to put them in the software and arrange them in a photobook; finally, you need to add captions. It’s a lot of work!

I’m happy to announce that I’ve made an annual album with favorite photos for the last 4 years! It’s mostly because 1) I’ve put it on the calendar, 2) I’ve found an easy software to use, and 3) I break it down into small tasks and put the first one on my to-do list (e.g., ‘choose favorite photos from 2020 from my phone’).

Another such issue is setting up a will. Jacob and I need to make a will, and we’ve meant to do it for 2 years now. The issue is that we don’t have enough information: we don’t know the procedure, we don’t know the laws, and we don’t know what we want to include in the will. At the same time, the task is so overwhelming that we just shove it under the rug. Not great.

Whenever I struggle with a task or a project, I make myself identify the problem. I need to understand the concrete reason which prevents me from getting the thing done. Once I’ve done that, I can come up with a concrete solution.

Sometimes that’s not enough, and then I need to add on some of the other tools such as a deadline, an appointment that’s related to the task, or external accountability by involving someone else. Perhaps I should take my own recommendation and make an appointment for that will…

Let me know if you identify the problem! What task were you struggling with, what was holding you back, and how did you resolve it? I’m curious to hear.

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