Problems: How much space do they take up in your life?

As much as we might like to make our problems disappear, we can usually accept that’s not the way reality works.

Some people use the technique of minimizing, or even ignoring problems But pretending something doesn’t exist often gives rise to a cascade of additional problems—the domino effect, I call it.

the domino effect

There is a more effective way to lessen the trouble that a problem brings into your life, and that is to shrink the problem down smaller. Here’s how you can do that, complete with illustrations.

The large gray circle represents the boundaries of your life. The scope of it contains smaller circles, or all the things you give your time, attention, and energy to: relationships, work, hobbies, caring for your physical needs, and so on. The black circle is a problem in your life.

a problem in your life

Now, the more time, attention, and effort you spend on the problem, the larger it grows; it gets bigger and/or worse.

the problem gets bigger or worse

The way to shrink many problems is not to try and force it to become smaller, but to shift your focus to other areas of your life. When you feed a problem attention it sucks that energy in and grows bigger. The more time and attention you give to a problem, the less you have to enjoy the pleasant parts of your life. When you attend to the positive and rewarding areas and endeavors, the problem might not completely disappear, but diverting your energy away will cause it to become smaller.

shrinking problems in your life

Sometimes problems even edge out other activities so they disappear from the circle. I remember one period in my life when I was dealing with something difficult, I stopped listening to music. I love music, and it had always been a source of joy and restoration for me. When I noticed this, I had to actually force myself to listen to music—the problem was so entrenched in my life that it had influenced my perceptions of a positive activity.

When I started listening to my music collection again, it helped make me happier. That in turn strengthened me to take a better approach to the problem and to have a healthier life while having the problem in it.

Not all problems are this amenable to shrinking them down to a tolerable size. Sometimes a problem is complex. Sometimes it gets hooked into your beliefs. Or maybe it’s just been around so long, it’s almost become a habit. If for any reason you’re having difficulty budging that problem, calling a De-Stuck-ification Agent might be the best thing you can do for yourself.