Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Staying Focused

Luckily for most of us, life is seldom rocked by catastrophic events or unexpected and unpleasant surprises. But when such things happen, the repercussions are myriad, not the least of which is the inability to stay in tune with what one is doing. A sudden jar to one’s habits tends to de-stabalize, catapulting us into what are frequently frigid and uncharted waters. The object of living becomes a commitment to return life to what it used to be, at least a conformity to ritual, tradition and repetition, those elements of daily activity which are the first to be destroyed when a severe shock occurs.

It has been said that there are two classes of people who are reluctant to try new foods, children and the uneducated. Dealing with change is seldom the instinctive preference of anyone, educated or otherwise. Likely it is the abhorrence of the unknown which is the real culprit in the scenario. When you think of all the new things we have had to do in our lives thus far, one has to wonder why we even hesitate to try anything else. In a small way it is plain inertia which militates against any change of direction.

Getting a grip on things is perhaps the simplest and quickest way to adjust to new circumstances. One has to accept that material changes have arisen and that they must be wrestled to the ground. Very often the displeasure which unfortunate events cause us to feel, do at the same time deter us from even addressing them, much less handling them. It is not uncommon in troublesome times to prefer to seek refuge from the storm, rather than contemplate how we may ride it out. Naturally, if the alteration to one’s life is palpable and serious enough, it is equally unlikely that it will all just disappear. Choices and decisions must be made. The alternative is hardly inviting. Wallowing in despair and ruin is not about to make anything better. If the situation is bad, it doesn’t merit any further assistance in propelling it in that direction. What is needed is some positive thinking and some attempt to improve things, not confound them.

Challenges and set- backs are the stuff of history. Never has there been an era when humanity wasn’t at some time or another plagued with disappointment. On the individual level, however, we are inclined to view the patterns of history less philosophically. It requires energy to take ownership of one’s own inconveniences, failures and set-backs. Regrettably there is as often as not no one who can kiss it and make it better. Granted, family and friends, motivated by the most thoroughly well-meaning sentiment, are quick to offer countless theories of how lucky one was to have escaped even worse misadventure, or suggesting that your road to recovery is such a fortunate event, considering all the horrible things which have recently transpired. But, really, those tender words seldom do anything to rid one of the dreadful reality which has gripped one’s life. In the end, as great thinkers have observed, the universe is ultimately personal; we must learn to deal with our own life on our own terms.

As one easily recognizes upon a moment’s quiet reflection, the resolution of any problem involves first the description of the problem. Problem identification goes hand-in-hand with problem solving. One mustn’t, however, stop at one without the other. To attempt to solve the problem without clearly identifying the problem is equivalent to getting on one’s horse and riding off in all directions, strictly hit and miss. No, in matters as compelling as these of which I speak, one must first take the time to dissect the problem into its constituent elements, break it down into smaller bite-size pieces (on the theory that we’ll eventually chew it up and spite it out). This undertaking may at first seem both superfluous and tedious, not to mention downright disheartening, but the process will enlarge upon the depth of the problem and thereby unravel the knots sufficiently to permit penetration of what once appeared to be an impenetrable mass of misfortune. Distance obscures; likewise, close analysis reveals. Understanding that a problem operates on many levels, while it may at first blush imply that one has in fact more than merely one problem, does in fact permit one to reduce the corporate severity of the problem by dismantling the larger structure into smaller and likely more manageable components. Furthermore, the resolution of the different problems will no doubt require different solutions; one quick patch job will not do for the entire mess.

Getting oneself into the mind-set to deal with a problem is often as uncomplicated as talking to oneself, asking oneself the first question that springs to one’s mind, then answering equally quickly; then followed by a supplementary question, then another answer, and so on, until some level of satisfaction is attained. The trick is to be extremely candid with oneself in both the questions and answers, speaking from the gut, as it were. It takes some practice to develop the procedure, but by definition it will eventually work, even if one doesn’t like either the questions or the answers, because it brings about the voicing of the problem. By removing the festering worry from within, we rid ourselves of it.

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