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How You Define the Problem is Part of the Solution

Letting go is really no more than an approach to a problem. Since, by definition, we are active participants in creating our own reality, the number of solutions we’ll see to any problem is limited by the way we define the problem in the first place. I like to tell my clients, “the way we define the problem determines the solutions we won’t consider.”

“The way we define a problem determines all of the solutions our minds can’t possibly consider.”  – Joe Caruso

If you went to see a chiropractor because your feet hurt, she’d probably find a problem with your spine; a surgeon would, more often than not, find a surgical solution; a dietician would tell you to change your eating habits; and an orthopedist might suggest that you need orthotics. Before we consider the solution to a problem, we have to consider how we’ve defined it, because that will determine the kinds of solutions we allow ourselves to see. That is, in effect, the law of congruency.

At one point in my career, I decided to do an informal study of people who wanted to lose ten pounds, to see if I could determine why some succeeded while others failed. Weight loss is a $64 billion industry in the United States (in 2014, according to Marketdata Enterprises), with a 95% failure rate (research shows that 95% of dieters gain the weight back within 3 years). I wanted to know how that could be, and why. I discovered that some of the people I was studying lost some or all the weight and then gained it back, some had less than good results and simply quit trying, and some actually succeeded in losing all the weight and keeping it off.


It didn’t matter which one of the thousands of different diets they picked. A diet is nothing more than a list. Trying to change people’s behaviors, and the outcome of those behaviors, by merely giving them a list is really an exercise in futility. We’ve all made lists. We all know what we’re supposed to be doing, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to do it. We can always move an item from the top of the list to the bottom, or from one day to the next. And even if we did complete everything on our list, it wouldn’t change our behavior because we’d still be using the same old approach to the problem instead of looking at it in a different, more effective context. If lists helped to change behavior, we wouldn’t always be making new lists for the same problems.

Trying to change people’s behaviors by merely giving them a list is really an exercise in futility.

What finally made the difference for those who were successful was that they actually asked themselves, “What do I need to let go of in order to lose ten pounds.” The answer might have been, “I need to let go of French fries.” Or, “I need to let go of eating after seven o’clock at night.” Or, “I need to let go of chocolate.” But it was that commitment to letting go that made the difference because it allowed them to shift the perspective from which they viewed the problem, and their reality shifted to line up and become congruent with their view of it. In effect, they were using the fourth rule of engagement—that “you can help people shift their perspective”—but they applied it to themselves.

More reading about changing a habit:

This excerpt is reprinted from Chapter 5 of The Power of Losing Control. Get the book on Amazon, or through our store.

© Joe Caruso and Caruso Leadership. Reprints available with permission.

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