Sometimes it is obvious to us what our biggest problem is. We can pinpoint one thing in our life that is by far our biggest source of unhappiness or stress, and we know that if we were to correct it, our life would be substantially improved. When this happens, it makes self-improvement easier in a certain sense, since it provides us with an obvious route to improving life. If you have twenty problems, all of which produce roughly equal reductions in your happiness, it can feel overwhelming just trying to figure out where to start fixing things. But when you have one problem in your life that is clearly the biggest, it is likely that problem that you should be working hard to improve.
It is common that people will live with big problems and allocate very little time to trying to fix them. They will spend 50 hours a week working, 10 hours surfing the internet, 5 hours watching TV, and won’t even put 1 hour per week into resolving their biggest source of unhappiness. They become so used to living with their biggest problem that they stop trying to even generate solutions. Or they come to believe that their major problem is unsolvable. Or they somehow become convinced that the same method they always use to try to solve their problem will work this time, even though it’s never worked before. Or they come to believe that their negative thinking and emotions occur as a necessary consequence of the things that have happened to them, and therefore convince themselves that there is nothing for them to solve. Or the fact that they have this problem so bothers them that they refuse to even think about it.
Consider A, a typical example. A has been depressed for years, and his depression is quite obviously the worst thing in his life. But he does approximately nothing to try to improve it. He doesn’t read books on overcoming depression. He doesn’t read articles on how to manage living with depression, or try to any significant degree to understand why he has thoughts that make him depressed. He doesn’t look into what types of therapy have the best track record for curing depression. He doesn’t take medication to treat his very unpleasant emotions. He doesn’t talk to people who have overcome depression and ask for their advice. If you buy him a book on depression, he probably won’t even read it.
Or take the example of B, who feels guilty on a near constant basis and has for years, but he does nothing to try to fix it. Or the example of C who avoids meeting new people because of crippling anxiety, but he has never read a book about social anxiety. Or the example of D who is constantly lonely, but doesn’t restructure her life to make sure she meets a lot more people. Or the example of E who is constantly being hurt by guys she dates, but hasn’t made any changes to the way she dates, who she dates, or the way she thinks about dating. Or F who knows he drinks too much, but has never looked into strategies to help a person in his situation drink less. Or G, who hates her job, and has for six months, but isn’t even looking for another one.
Putting a few hours a week into solving the biggest problem in your life does not come naturally to most people. Most people don’t set aside time to just think and brainstorm solutions. Or create reading lists of books and articles related to their personal challenges. Most people don’t make a point to talk to five smart friends to get their advice on the biggest issue in their lives, write down the proposed solutions, and carefully evaluate them. Most people don’t keep a list of all the things they plan on trying in order to improve their major problem.
If your biggest problem has been your biggest problem for a long time, it will probably take a lot of effort to solve. Your first attempt likely will fail. You may have to spend many hours brainstorming a solution. You may have to discuss the problem with a number of people to get their ideas. You likely will have to do research on how similar problems have gotten solved by others, and look at the best evidence you can find for how well the different approaches work.
Ask yourself right now:
- What is the biggest problem in your life?
- What are you doing now to solve it?
- What articles or books might help you figure out solutions?
- What techniques have been proven to work for this sort of problem?
- Who could you talk to that may have good ideas to help you solve it?
- Can you set-aside some time right now to work on thinking up solutions?
If, for a long time, you’ve been using the same approach (or no approach at all) to fix this problem, and it doesn’t seem to be helping, you probably will need to try new things. Go read some relevant articles, read some relevant books, schedule time in your calendar for serious thinking and problem solving, talk to people who tend to generate good ideas, and make a list of at least five new potentially helpful things that you are going to try. Actually resolving the biggest problem in your life is very likely worth this effort.