Monday, June 20, 2011

Are you Treating Symptoms instead of Solving Problems?

     I enjoy problem solving.  Problems are like puzzles and I love getting the best of a puzzle-maker.  The difference between puzzles and problems is that puzzles only have solutions, while problems have solutions and symptoms.  In other words, if you leave a puzzle unsolved, life will go on unaffected by the unsolved puzzle.  Leave a problem unsolved, however, and it creates a world of symptoms to deal with.

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     The above would lead one to guess that people would choose to solve problems in order to avoid the symptoms.  Instead, many choose to leave their problems alone and then deal with the ensuing aftermath, one symptom at a time.  They then treat the symptoms as though they were the true problems.

     One place where this happens is, obviously, in our health.  If poor diet is the problem, the symptoms may include lethargy, gaining body fat, and increased blood pressure.  Instead of eating better, we go on crash diets, start intense and short-lived workout programs, drink lots of coffee (or sugary energy drinks), and take blood pressure medication.  Dumb!

     Going beyond health, this also happens in our work, home, and spiritual lives.  Check and see if any of these seem familiar:

·      John tackles any task given to him at work.  He’s really good at tasks, but lousy at looking past the next task to see if someone, with John’s training and support, could offer help.  Rather than grow as a leader, John takes on more and more tasks, works longer and longer hours, and then blames his excessive workload for his not “being able” to train anyone else.  John’s promotions come few and far-between, if ever.  No one else wants to work at his grueling pace… he has effectively locked himself into his job.

·      Robert has a good marriage, yet he and his wife tend to pick at little things that annoy one-another.  These little things lead to little fights, but instead of taking an introspective look at his life and choosing to mature as the leader of his family, he lets the fights continue.  The marriage stays good, but it never reaches the level of intimacy and connection that it should.

·      Susan believes in God and would call herself a Christian, but she finds herself struggling with certain scriptural issues.  Rather than digging deep into her Bible, searching her soul, and wrestling with her questions, she diverts her attention to others who fail in areas where she has no struggle.  She becomes bitter and judgmental inside while keeping a “happy Christian” face on the outside, keeping herself from developing any real relationship with God.

     If you treat symptoms instead of handling problems, you are a “symptom-medicator”.  It is no different than taking daily medication to treat symptoms instead of eliminating the root cause of an illness.  Here are four symptoms of being a Symptom-Medicator:

1)   The “problem” (aka: the symptom) keeps coming back – Problems, when dealt with, don’t usually return.  Symptoms are caused by problems, so dealing with them doesn’t stop the problem from recreating them.

2)   The only time you take action is when you feel uncomfortable – Think of the man who only deals with his leaky roof when it is raining.  The best time to deal with problems is when the symptoms aren’t distracting you.

3)   You play the blame-game – An easy default for dealing with symptoms is to assign blame for them to someone else.  Strangely, this popular approach treats neither the problem nor the symptom.

4)   You consistently act on your own / you lead without counsel – Seeking the help of others often reveals the underlying problems that cause symptoms

5)   You act without a plan and then react when things go wrong – Symptoms can be dealt with in the moment, but problems almost always require a plan.  If you want to solve your problems, you have to take the time to figure out how you’re going to do it!

     So, how about it?  Do you treat the root causes of problems, or do you habitually utilize the "long-term medication" approach and only deal with symptoms?  What is one problem you could attack at the root?

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