Just the other day I was talking to a friend about a particular problem I was having. It was an issue that had taken over my mind for days and I couldn’t quite figure out how to unravel it. But then my friend gave me a great analogy.
My friend pointed out to a cabinet we happened to be standing by and said “imagine this cabinet is your head. In this cabinet there are a lot of files. Some files are so big they require binders to hold them together and some others are only a single piece of paper. Every once in when you are organizing the cabinet and you go through those documents you discover that some of the files are irrelevant and that you could reduce some of the binders to a couple of pieces of paper. Likewise you gotta ask yourself if this issue deserves just a paper or a whole section of your mind.”
What this particular friend was trying to say in a roundabout way was that I had to put my issue in perspective before I could even begin to solve it. And at the time it just happened to be the perfect advice to help me unwind my thinking.
Think about this: how often do we blow problems out of proportions, how often do we overanalyze situations and how much of our mental space do we devote to the most trivial of issues?
It is very challenging to be objective in our thinking, but one of the best ways to resolve conflicts in our lives begins with stepping back and deciding how truly important the problem is. We have to decide, in the grand scheme of life, how high the issue ranks.
The stakes are too high for us not to do so.
The mental, physical, emotional, and even financial toll are too high. They are high because, and I guarantee you this, the grander you make something the more it leaks into every area of your life. Your ability to focus becomes impaired, your productivity goes down, and your cardiovascular and other physiological systems are adversely impacted.
Essentially what we are talking about here is stress. And there is no question about the impact of stress.
So the question becomes: how do we decipher the importance of the conflict we are facing?
In order to do so, there are 3 questions you must ask yourself:
1) Is it within my control to influence the resolution of the conflict or issue?
Even if you cannot help the outcome or otherwise influence it, you can still manage what reaction you choose to have to it. In this case your action is to decide to accept the things you cannot change.
If you can resolve the problem or influence it, your next step is to identify what actions are available to you and then to rank those actions in order of feasibility.
And if the action you take does not produce your desired outcome, you have to decide that it is okay and it will in fact be OKAY because you will have taken all the steps you can.
2) What is the impact level on myself and those I care about if it is resolved and likewise if it remains unsolved?
If the issue has no impact on anyone or a negligible impact on yourself and it is causing you this much grief then it has no place occupying this much of your energy.
If, on the other hand, you not addressing this issue results in consequential effects on you and others then it is definitely worth your time.
But before you decide how much of your time it is worth, I recommend you think of three scenarios—what is the best outcome, what is the worst outcome, and what outcome falls in the middle. And one more thing: are either of these outcomes something I could find a way to deal with if I had to?
Thinking of these 3 scenarios will lend you tremendous perspective on the issue. Most of the time, when I have thought of these 3 scenarios, I often find that the worst outcome is something I could actually learn to live with if necessary.
3) In 6 months to one year from now, will I actually even care about this or will I be regretting how much energy I devoted to it?
If you cannot conceive of yourself giving a care about whatever it is that is bothering you now in a few weeks, a few months or a year from now then it is unimportant. Period.
It means that is unnecessarily occupying your head-space and that you need to remove its clutter from your mind ASAP.
However, if it going to continue being consequential to your life in the near to mid future then you definitely need to spend time on it.
When you go through these 3 exercises you will find that how important your problem is becomes crystal clear and as a bonus it will also help you to identify solutions.
Once you put the issue in perspective, it takes a lot less of a toll on you and it de-clouds your thinking thus allowing you to think more objectively and creatively about it.
If used consistently, you will find that this process often turns most apparently ‘big’ problems into small potatoes. So why not give it a go?