Should I Call Them Problems?

I’ve always said that I don’t really see problems as problems. I don’t really call them that. They aren’t fun, but they’re there, so we have to deal with them… only because they’re already there. So we might as well reframe them. I was going to write about this at some point, and then a client and I were talking about it and I loved how he put it. I was ¬†frantically¬†scribbling down as words as he spoke. With his permission, of course…

He said, “I don’t call them problems, I call them lessons.” Why does this help us out? Because when we call them lessons, it emphasizes that there’s something to learn. And what do we learn? We learn how to handle it the right way so we don’t have to repeat it.

This reminds me of a very moving story that I heard from a fellow attendee at The Monroe Institute’s Gateway Voyage Program back in 2006. She said that her elderly mother had been pretty severely beaten and robbed once. She could not figure out how someone could possibly beat a defenseless old lady that badly – it was totally beyond her comprehension. Emotions were obviously strong – extreme anger and heart-breaking sadness. My friend’s sisters were outraged and were filled with extreme hatred toward the attacker. They wanted this person to die and were totally focused on revenge. My friend saw things differently, though. While she felt many of the same feelings as her sisters, she saw this is a test and she really wanted to pass the test. She did not want to have to retake this one. She prayed or meditated about it and asked for help to handle it the right way and learn whatever she had to learn. In doing this, she was not trying to go about it alone. She didn’t know what the lesson was, but she asked for help in learning it. This allowed her to forgive the attacker as best she could. And note that you can still have someone locked up, defend yourself, or get a restraining order on someone. That’s the outer world. Forgiveness happens in the inner world, though – it’s internal. You view the person as a spiritual being who actually thought s/he was that person. Identity confusion. You forgive the spirit and then do what you have to do to the body. Hearing that story had a very powerful effect on all of us who were in that room, and tears were flowing.

Back to my client and our discussion of problems, he also said, “Sometimes I call them challenges. Problems sound like something you cannot resolve, but challenges sound like an opportunity to take action to do something about it and to learn. You can do something about a challenge, but you just carry around a problem. It’s heavy, too.” Well said! In the interest of being verbose, though (SAT Word Alert!!!)… the distinction here is one of power. “Problem” sounds like you’re a powerless victim. “Challenge” sounds like you have some power to deal with the situation. HUGE difference…

And this leads to a third way to view problems – as situations. Why? Because that’s what they are! This strips them of the bad connotations. It’s a situation, so deal with the situation as best you can. Be very clear about what you can control versus what you can’t, too – that’s important. If you can’t control something, don’t waste your time thinking about it – you’ll just make yourself feel worse.

As the immortal Forrest Gump’s mother said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” And I did not plan on quoting Forrest Gump today, or ever for that matter – it just channeled in. But it’s true – we don’t know what we’re going to get. I love some of those chocolates, like the ones with caramel or toffee in them. But some of them make me feel downright nauseous. Like the ones with the gross colored fillings – what’s up with those? The point is that there’s always good and bad around the corner – always fun and not-so-fun. There’s no point in fighting that or denying that. We don’t have to make those tough times tougher by our choice of language, though. Instead, we might as well use language to our advantage.