A few days ago, I was reading Do the Work! by Stephen Pressfield. It’s a wonderful little book that elaborates on the scuffle we feel whenever confronted by a problem. More often than not it isn’t the actual issue per se that causes us the grief, rather it is our knack of coming up with a million reasons, excuses, alibis and justifications as to why we can’t or shouldn’t or won’t do what we know we ought to be doing in order to overcome the issue. This propensity is what Stephen calls as ‘resistance’ and he goes on to share the most profound piece of wisdom I have ever read:
The “problem” could mean anything. It might refer to your tendency to procrastinate, a bad habit you want to quit, a healthy behaviour you’re avoiding, a puzzle you’re trying to solve, an interpersonal problem at work, or even an actual math problem. Indeed, it applies to nearly every challenge we face in life, and it has since then become one of the cornerstones of my personal philosophy.
Let’s unpack & decipher the quote and see in a little more depth what the author is telling us:
The Problem is Not You.
The fact that something is challenging is not a sign that something is wrong with you the person. You are not the problem. Your unique personality, brain, and genes are not the reason a situation is difficult.
The Problem is The Problem.
The challenge you’re facing is an entity separate from yourself. It is the problem. It is the source of the difficulty. You may feel entangled with the problem, but once you solve it, you can be sure it will pass. The problem will be gone, and you will still be here, free of it.
It’s Hard Because It’s Hard.
The struggle you’re experiencing is due to the fact that you’re confronting a challenge maybe genuinely difficult for you. Difficulty is normal. Many things in life are hard, and despite how it may seem, they’re also hard for a lot of other people too. You are not alone. It is not a personal inadequacy; its just plain difficult only till such time that you learn a skill to overcome it easily.
The Solution is Mechanical.
There is a way to solve this problem, and it involves the application of tools and tactics rather than brute-force willpower or raw intellect. Be strategic. And you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Odds are, your problem is very similar to one faced by countless other people. Someone else has already worked out the solution. Learn from their methods.
Work The Problem.
Knowing what to do to solve the problem isn’t enough. You have to actually do the work of solving it (hence the title of Pressfield’s book). Steadily and faithfully apply the techniques that have been shown to be effective, and you will eventually overcome the problem. There is no magic pill or special secret that will instantly solve the problem. You have to be methodical and patient. The mechanical solution is likely to be a step-by-step process. You have to take those steps. You have to work the problem.
So, the next time you are beset by a frustrating, seemingly impossible problem, remember Pressfield’s wise words, recognise the resistance that is stopping you from ‘doing the work’ and work the problem not letting it define you or your life.