Turning a bad situation into a growth opportunity

Calvin-hobbes-32-uppwyd2ye8-1024x768In life we are often presented with situations that are less than ideal. Whether they be work related, interpersonal, or even habits of body and mind, the default response to these difficult circumstances is to “fix” them or to avoid them if at all possible.

It should be fairly obvious that avoiding the situation can not result in personal growth or a change in the situation (unless by accident- which happens rarely). Things may change over time seemingly by themselves, although in reality other factors apart from you are affecting the potential for change. This route leaves the outcome of the situation completely to chance. Depending on the situation, this can work out well or be disastrous (or somewhere in between).

If we attempt to fix the situation by doing something about it directly a few things can happen. Examining the word “fix” provides some insight into this process, so let’s take a look at some possible definitions of the word and how they apply to this idea.

1)To put into a stable or unalterable form.
If we take a bad situation and try to fix it directly, we often end up solidifying the situation; making it more difficult or impossible to change. This is because every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If you push on something, it will push back, unless it’s already moving in that direction.

In example: If you need someone to do something they don’t want to do, telling them to do it will likely result in the person digging in their heels; making the goal of getting them to do whatever is required more difficult or just plain impossible. If you force the action/change there will be collateral damage because you are breaking/deforming the structure holding the situation together. In this example you can destroy the relationship between you and the person you’d like to do something.

2)To correct or set right
This at first glance this would appear to be a good thing to do. You see a problem and correct it; no more problem right? Unfortunately it is never this simple. When you change something within a system of balance (we all live in many systems of balance) you are affecting the entire system, not just the thing you changed. Therefore, when you fix one problem in a system another inevitably arises as the problem you fixed was balanced with something else. You can’t remove something without replacing it with something else. Our tendency to repeatedly fall into this trap is exacerbated by two things: faulty perception of what the real problem is, and our next definition of fixing:

3)To direct one’s efforts or attention; concentrate
This definition would again seem to be a good on the surface, however, how we go about directing our attention (concentrating) often leads to too narrow a view, not allowing us to see the entire system we are affecting. We then start fixing problems only to move on to the next problem that we faultily perceive to be independent of the last one. We then feel like we’ve accomplished something by fixing many little things but in reality we haven’t done much of anything (except maybe destabilizing the system) if we don’t account for their relation to the whole. I have to continually remind myself of this in working with the Alexander Technique, as it’s completely unhelpful to lengthen one part of the body at the expense of another- something which is almost guaranteed to happen if I do not keep the whole person in front of me in my awareness.

How can I improve/resolve a bad situation if I can’t fix it without collateral damage?

The first step is to turn our attention inward. How can we create the conditions for a change to be possible? The current state of balance (conditions) in the system we are looking at does not allow for the change we perceive is necessary. Be curious about what’s going on in the system. It’s helpful to refrain from thinking about things in terms of good/bad, right/wrong, specific problems/solutions as these types of thinking narrow our focus. If you do narrow in on a “problem” take a wider view of the area surrounding the problem and rather than directly fixing it, ask, “What can I do in myself to encourage the problem to change?”

If someone has a habit of verbally attacking you, you may be tempted to give them a taste of their own medicine or teach them a lesson. This will only result in them digging their heels in or, if enough pressure is applied, they will break and there will be collateral damage- which isn’t of much value either. Ask yourself, “What is their intention? Why might they be treating me this way? What could I have done to cause them to react this way? What do I know about this habit? What can I do to meet their needs without causing a negative reaction? What is likely to happen if I proceed with my planned action?” (This requires taking time before acting and the result is often different than what we expect.) “How can I learn from this?”

In short, don’t jump to fix a problem; open yourself to the possible solutions to make room for a change. This ensures personal growth, regardless of the outcome in the specific situation (and it’s usually the best way to improve a bad situation anyways).

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