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How to solve big problems in your life

I’ve settled on a solid process for solving big problems in my life and I want to share it.

The first step to solving a big problem in your life is to take full responsibility for it. What does that mean? To start with, you need to commit to fully understanding the problem yourself – whatever it takes.

Research it to an extraordinary level. There’s no excuse for not doing this. We have an abundance of information available to us nowadays. The internet, books, podcasts etc.. It’s also never been easier to directly access very smart people who can help you. People who have solved the issue you have (or are helping other people solve it). It’s really not that hard if you’re willing to put the effort in.

As you research it, be mindful of getting to the root cause. Often you’ll need to go beyond the symptoms and work out what’s really going on. Once you’re there, start to make notes on potential solutions. Give weight to solutions that seem to be commonly referenced. Don’t worry too much about having too many things, or what’s right or wrong. You can sort that out next.

Many people skip the above stage. They blindly find the first person who might be able to help. And then they accept a solution and help from that person. This is a really bad idea.

That’s what I mean about taking full responsibility. You’re going to need to own the problem and solution. You can’t rely on anyone else to care as much about your problem as you do. You can’t rely on anyone else to do whatever it takes to come up with the best, well rounded solution for you. And you can’t rely on anyone else to take the lead in helping you with the solution.

You won’t be able to find that person, and nor should you be able to. Other people have a finite amount of time to help other people. They are also trying to help lots of other people like you at the same time. And what’s more, they have their own problems to deal with. Do you think that when you’re not seeing them, they are paranoid and losing sleep about about your progress? Unlikely. I’m not saying they don’t care. They just care a fraction of what you care. That’s just the cold truth.

So, take the first step to full ownership and deeply understand your problem. You have to be able to grasp what’s going on. You have to avoid being blindly led by someone else.

Once you’ve done that, you need to start to sort through potential solutions based on what you know. Try and come up with a pretty decent plan.

You probably have too many solutions. Strip out the noise. Try and get down to what will attack the root cause and move the needle the most. You want no more than a handful of things to focus on. Once you have that, highlight the top two. If you did these, it would have the best chance of solving the problem.

OK. Now you actually have a plausible, well researched plan.

The next step is to seek out an expert who can help you shape that into a stronger plan. Ultimately, someone who can help lead you to the solution.

Look for a truly smart person who has a solid reputation. Preferably someone that you know has helped other people, and people that you know.

You’d be surprised at how easy it is to approach and get time from people who are at the top of their field. It might sometimes (but not always) be expensive, but it’s usually worth it. Wasting your time and money on wrong solutions is far more expensive.

Now, here’s why it was important to go through the research stage yourself. Firstly, it will help you weed out people who cannot help you. It’s amazing how a few hours of research will put you in a position of knowing more than some “experts”. Trust me, you’ll be able to sniff out charlatans with ease.

Secondly, when you do find the right person, you’ll be able to hold your own in a conversation with them. You’ll have a decent grasp of the problem and have a good sense of what you should be doing about it. The expert will then add their value by strengthening your plan, and helping you through it. Importantly, you’ll be able to understand how they are helping you.

Here’s the final step. Identify a couple of small actions you can take right now to get the ball rolling. And do them immediately to start some momentum.

Here’s an example of how that worked for me recently.

I’ve had a recurring problem for many years. Recently I hit a point where I decided to step up and really figure out what’s going on and find the best way to solve it.

I did my research, and boiled it down to a handful of things I needed to do. I also found someone who is very good and can help me strengthen my plan and get me from A to Z.

But, before I went to that person, I wanted to sanity check my plan. I emailed it over to someone I know who is super smart and very accomplished with the problem I have. However, they aren’t in a position to actively help me.

Here is how he opened up the reply:

‘Honestly, you have already answered your own question with your listed approach. You know what you’re doing and are taking all of the right steps.’

That was pretty awesome to hear. It was validation that I understand the root cause well and have a very good sense of what I should be doing to solve it. Of course, being super smart, he also gave me some extra pointers. These helped shape my thinking and plan of attack.

The next step is to reach out (I’ve already done this) and start working with the person I who will work with me on this. I’m looking to them to help further shape the plan and actively help me get to where I want. I also signed up for and paid for a product that will help me.

But here’s the most important bit. I can’t and shouldn’t rely on this person (or any other person) to solve my problem. I have to own the problem. That includes fully understanding the problem and deciding the plan. It also includes deciding who I should take advice from and who I should work with to solve it.

Anything less is a cop out.

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