How You Frame The Problem <em>Is</em> The Problem

It's going to be pretty difficult to improve damn near anything if you don't start with the assumption that it can improve and that you do something about it.
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Is there something in your life that you would like to see improve in some way? That could be anywhere from fixing something that is negative over to simply going from good to even better; from digging out of debt, getting a job, finding a more loving and caring relationship, becoming a more loving and caring person yourself, getting rid of the job you do have in favor of something better, to simply learning how to enjoy what you already have.

Clearly, there is any number of conditions in which you may find yourself ranging from fantastic to horrific. The question simply comes down to how satisfied you are with your current experience of life and what can you do about it.

Notice the question isn't about how much you have of anything in particular, but one of your level of satisfaction with what you have. And what can you do about it?

From time to time, people ask me what I do for a living. Depending on the circumstance and context of the question, I can answer in a variety of ways. Sometimes the answer is that I am an author, an educational psychologist, a management consultant, or a coach.

My favorite answer: I help people get what they think they want as fast as possible so I can ask, "Was that it?"

I'll bet you've been there; in fact, some of you may be there right this very minute. Did you ever want something, really long for it, work your butt off to get it and then wind up wondering why you ever wanted it in the first place? Again, most of us know what this is like first hand.

What makes this so interesting in my work is that people seem to want and need a combination of both. Surely physical circumstances make a difference and yet people can have "everything" and still find themselves wanting at several levels.

You Can Never Get Enough of What You Don't Truly Want

Eric Hoffer, the longshoreman philosopher is often quoted as having said: "You can never get enough of what you don't need to make you happy. Sometimes, he is quoted as saying, "You can never get enough of what you don't really want." Same thing, really.

If I am after the experience of being secure, free and at peace, is there any amount of money (or house, or car, or perfect relationship) that will produce the experiences I seek?

The obvious implication here is "NO!" People have been happy with next to nothing, miserable with all there is, and everywhere in between.

So, what is it that you want out of life and what's in the way? If your answer is on the material side of things (money, house, car, etc) and what's in the way is someone else (Bush, bankers, greedy capitalists), then we have a real dilemma. Especially if you have lost your job, house, car and most everything on the material levels of life.

Surely, there are many of us in trouble, having lost everything due to circumstances ranging from hurricanes and oil spills to manipulated financial systems. I know a bit of what it means to have lost everything having come through a period earlier in my life when I wound up living in my second hand car after my father died and our family went through our third bankruptcy in 10 years.

However, I was quite fortunate that in the midst of my turmoil while literally living on a dollar a day, I got some great coaching from some equally great people who encouraged me to take responsibility for my circumstances, figure out what I wanted to do about them, get off my poor-me mindset and get busy.

Of the many profound lessons I learned at the time, one stands out right now: how you frame the issue is the issue. This can also be stated as, how you frame the problem is the problem.

If you're out of work right now, and your mindset is that some dirty, greedy SOB is to blame, you may be right. The only problem with this framing is that as long as you stay focused on those dirty SOB's , you will continue to be at the mercy of SOB's who may not care all that much about your circumstances.

If your life circumstances and how you experience them are going to change for the better, how will they get better? Who is going to be at the helm, guiding the change? There's no question that improved external factors can help; however, what are you going to do regardless of what happens out there?

Sooner or later, it's going to come down to you and what you choose to do.

If you read these HuffPost pages enough, you may slide into that group that has become so very good at blaming everyone else. Surely, we have no shortage of culprits to blame, ranging from oil companies to bankers to misguided politicians.

However, we have always had culprits to blame. The real question comes down to what are you going to do about it? And, in particular, what are you going to do about it as it pertains to your circumstances.

If you frame the problem as something that somebody else created, then as surely as you are a victim of what somebody else did to screw things up, you will remain a victim to the next set of screw-up's.

What would happen if you reframed the problem as something that not only impacts you, but as something about which you can exercise some choice? I hope you have noticed that even as the job situation continues to be "bleak," some folks have managed to find their way through all of this, finding jobs, opportunities, and ways to make things better, even if only marginally.

How would you have to frame the situation in order to make things even marginally better? What could you do that might take even the smallest of steps forward? Is there anything at all that you could do that might help, even in the slightest?

Of course, the cynics out there will decry these questions with all their usual pablumesque rejoinders about drivel, etc. However, if you are going to experience any improvement whatsoever, sooner or later it is going to come down to you to get off your assets and do something about your current condition.

It's going to be pretty difficult to find that job if you don't go looking; it's going to be pretty difficult to improve that strife-filled relationship if you don't look at your own role in it; it's going to be pretty difficult to improve damn near anything if you don't start with the assumption that it can improve and that you do something about it.

Sure, small improvements are only small improvements. However, how does anyone ever get better without taking those first micro steps? And if things only improve marginally for the time better, are you better off doing nothing or doing what you can?

If you don't like this advice, then don't take it and see just how much things change for you as you sit there blaming everybody else out there for your situation.

Once again, there's no question in my mind that you will be right. There are many to blame; the only problem seems to be that blaming somehow isn't sufficient to change anything.

What can you do to help your own situation? What will you do?

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)