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Why your brain holds on to problems

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“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Photo by Mario Azzi on Unsplash

The human brain was designed for problems. It solves problems because it identifies problems. Think about that. The human brain is a problem solving machine. Animals might solve simple problems out of instinct, but humans solve complex problems, because we label things as problems.


How to survive

Our problems can cause us a lot of anxiety. Being overwhelmed by the problems of our lives can cause stress, depression, victimization, anger, and hopelessness. So why the heck would our brain, the very organ that orchestrates our survival, hang on to something so painful?

Because the things we label as problems our brain sees as a threat. It doesn’t matter if a threat creates negative emotion. If the bear’s going to eat you, the bear’s going to eat you, and your brain is going to keep that bear top of mind so you don’t stop paying attention to it. Doing so could mean being eaten the moment you let your guard down.

So it would seem the entire reason for the brain to label something as a problem, keep it labeled as a problem, and then possibly try to solve the problem, is based on survival in the moment. When something threatens us or the things we value or love, it becomes a problem.

Something that cues the brain that survival is going well is the feeling of comfort. When a person feels comfortable, they often feel safe. They might not feel creative or inspired, but at least their survival, their way of life, doesn’t feel threatened. Until something comes along that is uncomfortable, creating a reason to label it as a problem.

Because of this, we label  A LOT of things as problems in our lives. And if problems mean we feel threatened, we no longer feel safe. We’re thrust into a state of ignorance, because for the time being we don’t know how to solve the problem. And ignorance creates anxiety. So basically, the more problems, the more anxiety.

The opposite of ignorance is understanding. 


Is it really a problem?

I ask myself this question a lot. Problem creation is one of the brain’s, and ego’s, favorite things to do. I know it seems nice to imagine having no problems, but really think about it. 

No problems means no solution finding. No problems means no creation. No problems means just swimming along in nothingness.

Life is problems. Everything, from a seed trying to burst through the earth, to magma causing the earth’s crust to move, to a monarch butterfly trying to migrate could be labeled as a “problem”.

The label of a problem comes from our creative, human mind. So ask yourself, is it really a problem?

There’s a lot attached to that, isn’t there? A lot of emotion comes along with labeling something as a problem, and then reasoning with ourselves whether or not we could not label it a problem brings its own emotions.


Solve it or rename it

So here’s what I recommend: either solve the problem, or relabel the problem. 

Again, the brain solves problems because it identifies problems. If you don’t think there’s a problem, then there’s nothing to solve. But you know as well as I do that another human on this planet can think something is a very big problem that you don’t consider a problem at all.

If our brains label things as problems in order to drive us into problem solving and creation, what happens if we get overwhelmed and don’t try to solve the problem? Anxiety. 

So if you’re not going to try and solve the problem, do you even need to label the thing as a problem? 

Think about why you’re actually defining it as a problem. 

Why is it a problem for you? Is it your parent’s problem? Your religion’s problem? Your sibling’s problem, or your best friend’s problem? Society’s problem?

Are you defining something as a problem because it truly challenges your core values, or are you defining something as a problem because somebody else taught you to?

Honestly answer that question for yourself. And here’s one more little tidbit for thought: if you don’t feel compelled to solve something you think is a problem, why hold on to it as a problem? So you can just stay mired in anxiety?

Remember, your brain labels problems and keeps them front of mind because it is convinced that this problem is threatening your survival. Often times, that JUST ISN’T TRUE. In those instances you are getting used by your brain.

Flip the script. Use your brain to identify whether or not something truly is a problem, and if it is, use your brain to find the solution to the problem.

And if it’s not truly a problem? Stop calling it one.


Work with me

Want to let go of some problems? Want to solve others that have been perplexing you? I can help you create a dynamic shift in your thinking, permanently, that will lighten the anxiety and put you back in control of your brain.

Book a complimentary consultation with me to start exploring the possibilities.

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