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🌀Letter 99: What's my problem with problems?

8 min

Sam Harris, 12 Favorite Problems, Creative Problem Solving, Seneca, Lunar Vibes

If you are new here or missed last week's edition, you can catch up on the past letters here. If you are reading this for the first time, I’d love you to sign up below to join the other learn-it-alls:

Aloha fellow learn-it-all,

Greetings from Diamond Head, O'ahu 🌺

It's been quite the week for me. I've been working at a co-working space because there's been construction under my current home with jackhammering. It was less than ideal last week. This has been my first time formally working in an office space since I used to work in the second tallest building in North America and 25th tallest building the world, the Willis Tower in Chicago (Source: Wikipedia).

On a different note I've been ramping up my beach volleyball and tried out my overhand serve this week. I got six serves over. Including a couple aces. That's the most I've gotten ever in my volleyball career thus far (apart from underhand while in middle school).

I thrive on seeing progress. It fuels the fire in my life. For this reason, I created some Notion tables yesterday to track some new goals I've got stewing.

Now, let’s dive into letter 99 from a learn-it-all. Enjoy!

❓ Question to think about

What’s my problem with problems?

🖊 Writing

I easily feel all-consumed and overwhelmed by them as they take over my life.

We are always going to have more problems to solve. It's inevitable.

To be human means to be a problem solver. The moment I take out the trash, it will then start to be filled again. Like a shiny new car's value, the asset immediately depreciates the moment it’s driven off the dealer's lot. I bought a new computer yesterday, and it feels so fresh like that first bite into honey crisp apple. But, I will need a new computer eventually because technology inevitably decays.

There's always going to be more problems. So what to do with all these problems?

Similar to my relationship with my phone, I want to govern it, rather than give my power to it to dictate me. This is why I turned off my notifications a couple years ago. My new laptop came with notifications on and the popups, pings and red bubbles almost gave me a heart attack. It's one of the first things I shut off. I don't like the dinging because it treats my attention as a commodity rather than treating it as the scarce depleting resource that it is.

I hate and dread multitasker mode Jen because she gets rarely anything done. On the other hand, I love a sense of progress. My most simple solution?

Writing out problems instead of talking about problems.

It helps me to actually make moves and solve the problems. A simple list can take such a load off the RAM speed of the computer that is my brain. The problems can’t sneak up and pounce on me, like a dreary cloud.

When I visually see them, they lose their power. Furthermore, writing them out starts to bake the cake in the background and use the diffuse mode of thinking super power within the brain, rather than always using the working memory to focus on looming worries.

Similar to Solomon's paradox, where people have a tendency to reason more wisely about others’ problems than their own, it creates space to objectively view what is causing friction in my life. Such a simple tool is an effective way of getting out of my abstract noggin for a complex issue to start to break it down.

Rather than have unnecessary suffering and pain from the constant inbox of problems, check your expectations of problems in your life.

Not knowing where to go next after you start writing? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Don't you worry. I've got a couple methods for you to try out below.

🔎 Word to define

Problem: A question proposed for solution; a matter stated for examination or proof; hence, a matter difficult of solution or settlement; a doubtful case; a question involving doubt.

💡Three exercises to start solving the problems in your life

(1) Turn the problem into a question

As you saw above in the definition of a problem, it implies that it must be a question.

I remember Mr. Lapodot teaching me in the 4th grade that Rene Descartes' scientific method starts with a problem, which must always end in a question mark.

Many problems that we have can take the form of frustrations or complaints, which are declarative statements rather than questions. When it is turned into a question it move from a stagnant thought to something with action and motion.

It’s like a shapeshifter that goes into a portal to begin being solved.

Try using out the statement starter, “How might I…” or “What might be the way that I…”

(2) List out your 12 favorite problems 🤨

The Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman once shared:

"You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say, "How did he do it? He must be a genius!"

I like to think of the problems that I list out as things that are close to my heart that I value and I group them into buckets like my health, relationships, creativity, career, spirituality. an iteration of my current favorite problems are as follows:

  1. How can I make more progress on finding relationships in my life that feel authentic and close?
  2. What skills can I learn to improve myself as a friend, writer, athlete, project manager, student and teacher?
  3. How can I harness my love of storytelling into a playful and exciting avenue to form closer connections in my life?
  4. How can I show up daily in my relationship with my spirit, this world, and higher being?
  5. How can I best use my new found sense of creative expression to leverage and build an all-encompassing art portfolio that my future self is proud of creating?
  6. What does my relationship with money, work and my career look like to serve my desires in life today and in the future?
  7. How can I continue to show up for myself in my dyslexic past-perfectionist journey with self-love and compassion?
  8. How can I continue to progress in becoming more vulnerable and intimate with myself, friends, family and a potential partner in my life?
  9. How can I feel worthy of exciting ventures, even if I feel I wasn't challenged to receive them and their reward?
  10. How can I better consume and fuel my body intentionally similar to that of my information diet to live a healthier life?
  11. Which playful hobbies and forms of fitness will serve me best for the current stage and intentions of my life?
  12. What decisions would my wiser future self want me to make for my mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, and intellectual well-being?

(3) Tap into a creative mindset

I recently participated in a Creative Problem Solving workshop, where I was asked what was swirling in my mind. A variety of questions popped up… some that keep me up late at night:

The three I's exercise is to try separating the problems you listed and seeing how it can be solved in different ways. The I’s stand for:

  1. Important. What keeps me up at night and needs to be solved first?
  2. Influence. How much agency do I have over solving this? Am I the main decision maker in this problem?
  3. Imagination. Would thinking about this in a new way help me redefine this problem?

Lumping the problems into seeing which are most important, that I have influence on and can imagine to solve better is a great launching off point to begin on one.

If any of these three exercises has helped you, I’d love if you responded to this email to let me know. Maybe we can help solve each other’s problems 😊

🎧 Listening

I've been listening to American philosopher, neuroscientist, author, and podcast host Sam Harris's Waking Up lessons on Solving Problems. Forcing ourselves to practice mindfulness is too vague, but a new framework and way of thinking how we think is much more useful.

He uses the metaphor of how life is like a video game, where each level up we go there are bigger challenges to go. There are bigger fish to fry.

Kind of like how when in 8th grade. I thought I was a big kahuna at my private school. Immediately, I went back to square one being a freshman at a public high school where my grade was 20 times larger than my graduating class from middle school. My self esteem got shot again and I had a whole new slew of problems to solve. Each stage further we go into life there are new problems. It’s part of what it means to exist as a human.

🌟 Quote to inspire

"The important thing about a problem is not its solution, but the strength we gain in finding the solution." – Seneca

📷 Photos of the Week

I had great wake-up call moving away from the normal day-to-day to go camping with friends at a festival called Lunar Vibes this past weekend .

It was the first time I went to an overnight festival. This experience was a great getaway to camp, dance, sing, listen, watch fire, express, and connect.

I felt like a flying squirrel who was also unmasked physically and creatively. I had trouble sleeping and there were fire spinners and music until sunrise so at one point it was just me and the DJ jamming. I forgot how much I love dancing.

I came out most grateful for the friendships I've found since my time in Hawaii, who accept all the different sides of me. Love and laughter are a beautiful gifts.

I can validate that going off the grid is a lovely experience I highly suggest. Robots need to be always plugged in, but we, as humans, do not.

🙏 Shoutouts

I appreciate you reading this! If ideas resonated or you have feedback to improve my future letters, I’d love you to leave a comment, reply to this email, or send me a message on Twitter @JenVermet. If you want to learn more about who I am, I welcome you to visit my online home.

Never stop learning 😁

Mahalo 🌺


👣 Footnotes

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