When Do You Need to Reframe the Problem?

Johanna's Problem Solving LoopWe have problems in our lives. Sometimes, we can fix those problems. Sometimes, we cope with those problems. Sometimes, we manage those problems. And, some problems might appear to have no solution—now or ever. We need to reframe these problems so we can determine how to proceed.

Some problems are easy to fix when we generate options as possibilities. When I have too many things on my todo list, I look and ask if I am the right person to do that work. I wrote about some ideas for that problem in Are You Working on What Matters?

You can cope with some problems, especially if they are temporary. If you encounter a detour, you drive or walk around. You cope with improvisation. We fly through the change model.

Some problems appear to have no solution. We need to reframe these problems. We can manage our environment or manage our reactions so we can accommodate this problem.

In the words of Virginia Satir:

Problems are not the problem; coping is the problem.

Here’s how I think through whether this is a problem that requires a reframe:

  • Is this a new and urgent problem? Did an event occur that I need to respond to, right now? I might not have taken the time to generate options for myself. I’m feeling the urgency. Sometimes, that urgency prevents me from thinking. This problem might be solvable if I take the time to think.
  • Have I tried to generate options and I can’t? If I’ve asked other people to help generate options and they can’t, the problem might need a reframe.
  • Are the experts in this problem also stumped? More than once, I saw anomalous behavior in a product I developed or tested. I went to the Architect or Hierarchical Person In Charge. When they didn’t know, I worried I had an unsolvable problem as is. I needed to reframe it.

If you have an unsolvable problem, it’s time to reframe the problem so you can fix, cope, or manage it. The reframe allows me to think about how I can live with this ongoing problem or manage my reactions to it.

My vertigo is a problem. If I said my problem was that I had vertigo and wanted to eliminate that problem, I would be out of luck. I can’t eliminate my vertigo. It’s not possible for me to go back in time and change the occurrence of my inner ear hemorrhage. I can search as long as I want for options—there aren’t any valid options for removing the root cause of my vertigo.

I reframed my problem from “eliminate vertigo” to “manage my environment so I can live with vertigo.”

I have many options once I consider how to manage my environment: I use a rollator. I eat properly. I have a flashlight at all times. When we moved, we created a house that was easy for me live in, given my vertigo.

That’s a reframe. It’s how I cope with the problem.

I hope you don’t have problems like this, but I suspect each of us has one or two. If you can’t change an event and you need to live with the consequences, you also might need to reframe your problem.

The question this week: When do you need to reframe the problem?

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