It’s an inevitable part of being human: facing challenges, resolving issues, dealing with problems.

These often unpleasant and uncomfortable parts of our life can attract a lot of our attention. They can absorb a lot of our energy and take us away from other things that are more rewarding, important and fulfilling.

Perhaps recently you’ve been spending an extraordinary amount of your time on a problem.

How can you tell if it’s just a symptom you’ve been focusing on?

But what if the attention you’re giving it is misguided?

What if your energy is being wasted?

What if the solution you’re after can’t be found where you’re looking.

What if the problem you see isn’t the problem after all?

One of the great skills of excellent problem solvers is being able to properly identify, and put their focus on, the RIGHT PROBLEM.

More specifically, it’s the ability to separate the symptoms from the cause.

I’m talking about being skilled at identifying the ROOT PROBLEM (or the root of the problem).

When you can identify the root of the issue – the source of all the troublesome symptoms that are showing up – you set yourself up for quicker, easier and more effective solutions.

How can you tell if it’s just a symptom you’ve been focusing on?

One clue is that symptoms often show up as the behaviour. For example, you do something that you’re not pleased with (….like skipping exercise or eating junk), or a colleague is regularly irritable or late for meetings.

What you see is the behaviour yet the root cause of the bad behaviour is usually underlying emotions or thoughts such as fear, anxiety, or habit that’s developed over time to name just a few.

A second clue is the problem keeps recurring. This means something that never seems to be resolved such as a body ache that won’t go away, or an ongoing argument with your spouse. If it is a recurring issue, you’ve likely been addressing the symptoms, not the root.

The next time you find yourself needing to deal with a problem, approach it with a different perspective than you have in the past. Or if you’re currently in the middle of a troubling situation, try to separate the symptoms from the root cause.

Get curious on whether what you THINK is the problem, is the real problem.

Question whether there is something more fundamental underlying the behaviour that you witness.

The more you do this to begin with, the greater your skill will become at developing lasting solutions in less time with less effort.

And then you’ll have more energy to put into the things that really matter and fulfill you.

Do you have a problem you’re currently facing? How has this changed your approach. How can we help you identify a new solution? Leave us a comment and let us know.