Four Types of Problems

People are fantastic at finding problems to worry over.  We worry about the weather, the economy, our children, our homes and a myriad of other problems.  Think about it – news and sports radio are businesses that are essentially built on a 24/7 discussion of problems!  Generally, this is not an impediment to success and most people can worry about a whole host of problems while still completing necessary tasks.  People can go to work, pay bills and effectively manage daily life, yet still find ample time to fret over whether a favorite baseball team should fire its manager or whether a reality television starlet should dump her boyfriend.  Sometimes, people spend so much time worrying about problems facing others that they do not focus enough on their own problems.  It’s also all too easy for people to find themselves caught needlessly worrying about problems that they have no ability to solve.  This can be especially burdensome following a brain injury or stroke, as survivors have many new problems to be concerned with yet almost always have diminished cognitive resources available to spend on solving such problems.  It is often helpful to place problems into categories and then to determine just how much time should be spent on a given problem based on the category it falls into.

It is often useful to categorize problems based on two general ideas.  First, can this be considered my problem or is it simply not my problem?  As an example, if I have diabetes then this is clearly my problem.  If a famous Hollywood actor has diabetes this is just as clearly not my problem.  That is not to say that we need to be heartless about said actor’s health difficulties, but ultimately we should be spending more time devoted to addressing our own problems than we spend on those of others.  An equally important second consideration is revealed in the answer to another question.  Do I have the power to change/affect a given problem or do I not have that power?  For instance, if I have memory problems I can do exercises to improve my memory.  If I have a terminal case of cancer, there is nothing I can do to change that fact.  We should be spending more time and energy on problems we have the ability to change and less  on those that we cannot.  If we combine these two ideas we come up with  four problem categories:

1.    My Problem-I Can Change/Affect

2.    My Problem-I Cannot Change/Affect

3.    Not My Problem-I Can Change/Affect

4.    Not My Problem-I Cannot Change/Affect

Let’s give a few examples to help clarify these four categories.  First, let’s look at the category of My Problem-I Can Change/Affect.  An example of this type of problem could be that I need money to pay my rent.  It is my problem (after all this is my apartment) and I can affect it by getting a job or asking a family member for money.  Another example could be recovery from my brain injury.  It is my injury so it is my problem.  I can affect or change it by going through rehabilitation.  Since this category involves personal problems that we can do something about, this is the category of problems we should spend the most time and effort working on.

Second, let’s give a few examples of My Problem-I Cannot Change/Affect.  As mentioned earlier, if I have terminal cancer then it is my problem but ultimately I cannot do anything to change this.  Another example could be if I am nervous about what my doctor will say following an upcoming CT or MRI scan.  It is my problem as the doctor will be talking about my health.  But frankly, all of the worrying and problem-solving in the world will not change the results of the scan or the doctor’s feedback.  Since these are my problems, spending some time thinking about them is fine.  I probably do not want to spend too much time/energy on them though, as there is ultimately nothing I can do to solve these problems.

Third, let’s give a few examples of Not My Problem-I Can Change/Affect.  This category is essentially where the idea of charity resides.  If my friend is out of a job, I can give him some money to help pay for food.  It is his problem and not mine, but I can help out if I choose.  If a child is too poor to afford notebooks for school, I can donate notebooks to meet that child’s need.  Again, this is not my problem but I’m free to do what I can to help solve the problem if I have the resources to do so.  Since I can change/affect the problem, it is fine to spend some time and energy thinking about it.  I want to be careful to limit my expenditure of time/energy here though, since it is in the end someone else’s problem.  Sometimes we tend to spend more time fixing other peoples’s problems than our own problems, which is not a healthy approach to life.

Fourth, let’s give a few examples of Not My Problem-I Cannot Change/Affect.  This is the category that is sports radio and reality television’s bread and butter.  If my favorite team is playing poorly, this is not my problem.  Unless I work for the team, whether they win or lose does not meaningfully impact my life.  Moreover, unless I work for the team, there is nothing I can do to help it to play better.  Despite sports radio’s 24/7 pot-stirring regarding the performance of given players and managers, I’m fairly certain that the team never takes playing advice from the fans.  Similarly, if the latest reality television star is about to marry someone that I consider to be a poor match, it does not truly affect me.  After all, this is a stranger’s new spouse and not mine.  Further, no matter how much I worry or complain about that potential spouse, it can have no potential effect on the decision being made.  Let’s bring this category a bit closer to home.  Another example could be if my brother is dealing with a tough drill sergeant in Army Basic Training and this is making him notably upset.  This is my brother’s problem, not mine.  He is the individual in Basic Training, not me.  Moreover, the drill sergeant is not going to change his training methods because a family member is not happy with them.  I could complain all day but nothing will change about this situation.  Problems in this category should be given the lowest priority, especially in the life of a brain injury survivor.  They should only be afforded any time and effort at all if each and every item assigned to the other three categories of problem has already been completely resolved and the survivor has surplus time that he or she chooses to spend on them.

In review, when faced with problems it is often helpful to categorize those problems based upon their relevancy to our lives and then to determine according to those categorizations how much time and effort should be expended on solving each one.

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center:


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