The Behind-the-Scenes Fun of Problem Solving

Most people know me as a very grounded, systems-oriented person. I think I probably I come across as fairly serious, too. Maybe even stern?

Even my closest friends think this. And why not? When I talk to friends, I love to talk about the blow-by-blow minutiae of the various challenges I’m facing. Because I am always looking toward the next problem to solve, and because I like to talk about past problems that I have solved, I’m sure that it can seem that my life is made of problems.

What I don’t think comes across is how much fun I’m having. How happy I am.

[Tweet “Problem-solving can be a game we play. A fun one”]

For starters, I’m a happy person. I wake up happy. I’m happy I get to have some delicious french press coffee for breakfast. I’m happy when my feet slap on the cold tile. I’m happy to read my emails and I’m happy to get to work at whatever it is I’m doing that day. There isn’t really a why to this happy. It just is.

The Behind-the-Scenes Fun of Problem Solving(1)

I feel like there ought to be something that makes a dent in this default state, but there’s nothing I’ve found so far. Because no matter what is going on, I basically feel like I’m playing a game of Tetris. (For the record, Tetris is really the only game I like.)

Tetris is a game that solves a problem of how to configure a bunch of blocks into lines. That’s the problem you need to solve to win the game. To me, life is made up of similar configuration challenges.

Actually, I’m playing several games at the same time.

Game #1: Time


The first is the Time Game. I’m trying to fit all the things I want or need to do into the available time without making it feel too cramped or overscheduled (my stress level goes through the roof when I feel overscheduled).

Some people I know schedule out their week in advance, with little blocks on their calendar telling them what they planned to do. Surprisingly, this is the least effective thing I’ve ever done– I basically just named the one thing I’m DEFINITELY not right now. Instead, I tend to steer by feel. I know when I need to get outside, I know when I need to get ahead of a deadline, and most importantly, I know that there’s always more work where that came from, so I had better be clear on how much of my life I intend to sign away to it.

Game #2: Progress


The second game is the Progress Game. The progress game is my favorite. If I had to point to the one thing that ‘makes’ me happy, it would be the sense of progress that I have cultivated.

You see, much of my time is spent simply maintaining the status quo — making food, cleaning up, mowing the lawn, exercising, taking calls, and so forth. I need to do these things to make money and maintain my lifestyle. But they don’t exactly lead anywhere in themselves. So I want to make PROGRESS. Whether that progress is in the form of streamlining these necessaries, or improving some aspect of the status quo, progress is largely incremental. That’s the whole purpose of the Cumulative Effects Challenge; few projects are one-and-done efforts; they require incremental progress over a period weeks or months. Taking note of the progress tends to ensure I take the steps to actually implement progress. Making a game of such things is self-motivating.

Game #3: Meaning


The third game is the Meaning Game. The Meaning Game informs the other two games. Without it, I wouldn’t know what to try to fit into the Time Game, and I might get demotivated about the incremental changes in the Progress Game.

But the Meaning Game also requires a robust practice of its own. It requires me to orient myself within a larger picture. Of course the perspective helps– I’m happy, healthy and have few constraints, how bad can any of my problems be?

But the reflection helps much more in other ways. I become a student of my own experience. For starters, when I sit down and force myself to crank out three pages, long-hand, I realize that I’m noticing more than I realize. I’m thinking more than I’m conscious of. And of course, it becomes crystal-clear what isn’t working for me and what isn’t aligned with what I want. The Meaning Game is problem-solving, too, but it’s very, very subtle problem-solving, because the problems usually haven’t even articulated themselves yet.

Have I mentioned how awesome problem-solving is?

And I don’t think it’s just me. I articulate these ‘games’ a certain way because of how I think. But I’m guessing these processes sound familiar to you as well.