What Exactly Is the Problem Here?

How to be happier.
Jan. 22 2009 6:27 AM

What Exactly Is the Problem Here?

My Eighth Commandment is "Identify the problem." This sounds like such an obvious thing to do—if you have a problem, of course you know what it is, right?—that it’s hard for me to explain why that commandment is so important.

The fact is, I’ve found that often I’ll suffer some mild annoyance or inconvenience for years, because I just don’t take the time to think about the nature of the problem and how it might be solved. I think this is a mindfulness problem—not paying enough attention to what is actually happening in the present moment.

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Yesterday afternoon, I experienced a perfect example. When I’m writing my book or my blog, I try to work outside my home office, at a library or a coffee shop, where it's easier to concentrate. Recently, for a variety of reasons, I’ve been doing more on-line tasks, so I’ve been spending a lot of time at my own desk.

I’d noticed over the past few weeks that my eyes and even my face felt funny—strained and tired. I just kept telling myself that it was nothing, no big deal.

Then yesterday, I told myself, "Identify the problem! Problem: my eyes and facial muscles are tired."

Having acknowledged the problem for the first time, I asked myself, "Why do I have this problem?"

I answered: "My eyes are strained because there’s too much light coming in from the window behind my computer monitors. I have a shade, and it’s down, but it’s letting too much light through."

"Aha!" I thought proudly. "I’ve identified the problem! Too much light. So how will I solve this?" Well, I thought, I could buy a big piece of poster-board and prop it against the window, or I could hang a sheet over the window. Then I noticed—I have a blind on my window, as well as an inner shade! I’ve never used it, and I’d completely forgotten that it was there. This whole time, all I needed to do was to lower the blind.

Problem solved. I feel like an idiot, but my eyes feel a lot better.

* Through Twitter, I just discovered the blog by Gwen Bell and am having a lot of fun cruising through it. Lots of great material there.

* If you haven't seen it, you might enjoy my one-minute movie, The Years Are Short .