Too Many Problems at Once

September 26, 2022

A few years ago, I was reading Mark Manson’s book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. I don’t remember much of what the book was about—that often seems to happen with personal development books, doesn’t it?—but one quote stuck with me:

“Life is essentially an endless series of problems.” — Mark Manson

It only takes a few seconds to realize Mark is right. You wake up and need to use the toilet, so you head on over. You’re hungry, so you make yourself some breakfast. You’re a bit smelly, so you have a shower. You need to make money, so you have to show up at your job. And so on.

Let’s divide your problems into several categories based on their size: day-to-day problems, substantial problems, and existential problems. And let’s focus on those medium-sized (“substantial”) problems in particular: you get an annoying (but not life-threatening) health issue, your job has become incredibly boring, you crash your car.

You can handle each of these problems individually, without too much stress. The solutions might not be trivial, but with some effort, you solve them. What, though, if too many substantial problems come your way simultaneously?

Unfortunately for you, me, and everyone else, substantial problems are not evenly distributed throughout our lives. We might go a year without any and then suddenly face four, all at once. How do you handle that?

When multiple things go wrong at once, my initial reaction is often overwhelm: no, God, no! I want to deny reality. I want things to be different. Can I please just have one problem at a time?!

But then I try to leave that reaction-based stance as quickly as possible. I know that denying reality just makes things worse. I know that it’s better to make a plan: write down everything down, break it into small steps, figure out what needs dealing with first, and then work on that first small step.

(Of course, using a good task manager helps! So do meditation and journaling, but I’m trying not to be too cliché here.)

It’s also important to have periods without too many substantial problems. If you always feel overwhelmed by problems, is that because you really are very unlucky (totally possible!), or are you maybe putting yourself in that situation with your choices or taking certain problems more seriously than you need to? If you’re not sure, ask a friend.

I’ll end with the rest of that quote from Mark Manson:

“Life is essentially an endless series of problems—the solution to one problem is merely the creation of the next. Don't hope for a life without problems. Hope for a life full of good problems.”

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