How to Deal with Your Problems and Achieve Lasting Relief

Don’t avoid your problems, deal with them.

Dimitris Leo ⭐
Jun 22 · 13 min read

all have problems in our lives. Things we want to take care of. Things that frustrate us. Things we would like to change.

We create these problems by setting expectations. “I have to get rich,” “I have to be in a happy relationship to feel better,” “I have to lose weight.”

If we lower our expectations to the absolute minimum, we can all be happy. If my only expectation from life is to do just enough to survive, I have a much better chance to achieve it than if I set out to become a millionaire.

Many religions advocate this approach. They urge us to abandon our materialistic life, forget our shallow goals, and become more spiritual.

This advice always made sense to me, but something was missing. To follow that advice felt like quitting life.

If all of us forgot our goals and abandoned our dreams, there would be no progress for the human race. Nobody would build anything. There would be no cars, no airplanes, and no skyscrapers.

There would be nobody to innovate and improve our quality of life. We would have never sent astronauts to space. We would just survive and live out our days, like every other animal on this earth.

But we have been given a very precious gift.

We have been blessed with a brain that can dream new realities and make them real. We can plan, and take action to achieve those dreams.

So after a lot of thinking on how I can embrace the spiritual solution of letting go without sacrificing my targets and dreams, I came up with the following solution.


Make a list of all your problems.

The first step is to make a list of everything that is bothering you. Don’t hold back. Write everything that you would like to change, both short and long term.

Let’s write an example to make the process easier to follow. Let’s say I have the following problems.

Problems to solve:

  • “I want to lose 20 pounds.”
  • “I want to fix my shoulder pain.”
  • “I want to find a person to fall in love with.”
  • “I want to quit my job and find a job with a more understanding boss.”
  • “I want to fix my relationship with my parents.”
  • “Grandad’s got cancer.”
  • “I want humanity to achieve world peace.”

So here we have an example list of all things that are bothering me (not a real list).


Split the list into problems you have control over vs. those you don’t.

The second part of the plan is to split the list. In our example, we would have the following.

Problems I have control over:

  • “I want to lose 20 pounds.”
  • “I want to fix my shoulder pain.”
  • “I want to find a person to fall in love with.”
  • “I want to quit my job and find a job with a more understanding boss.”
  • “I want to fix my relationship with my parents.”

Problems I have no control over:

  • “Grandad’s got cancer.”
  • “I want humanity to achieve world peace.”

Accept the problems you have no control over.

This part is very important. Life is not fair and is not supposed to be easy. There will be things that happen to us that will make us sad and frustrated. We will wish we had the power to change our situation, but life doesn’t work that way.

Acceptance for the things we can’t change is one of the most life-changing mindset shifts we can make in our lives. We have to accept we are not powerful enough to change the world ourselves. We are just humans after all.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t make plans to solve these problems. In the example above, I might not be able to do anything about my grandad’s cancer at the moment it happens, but I can devote my life to beating cancer. I can become a researcher and help make progress in the search for a cure for cancer.

I might not be able to stop wars now. It might not even be possible to stop wars at all, as it might be in our nature to be aggressive. But I can have a dream to make the world a more peaceful place to live. And I can devote my life to this cause.

We shouldn’t just accept the status quo. There are very noble causes we can contribute to, and make the world a better place. But if we want to keep our mental health intact, we should accept that what we want to achieve might take time. We have to accept it might not happen in our lifetimes.

The recent outrage over the death of George Floyd in the hands of the police is a good example of noble causes. But this is a collective effort. If we tried to elicit change as individuals, we wouldn’t be able to.

And even as a collective, there are things we might not be able to change, at least not in our lifetimes.

We should accept that some of our problems are out of our immediate control and let go of the expectations we hold. This can make many of our problems go away.

“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize that and you will find strength.”

— Marcus Aurelius

Of course, acceptance isn’t easy to achieve. It takes a lot of practice to become better at it — it takes a mindset shift. We have to become more humble and understand we can’t control everything. And this can be scary. But it is also a liberating thought.


Analyze the problems you can control.

On the other hand, for many of our problems we have control over.

In the example above, I can take immediate steps to start losing weight and fix my relationship with my parents. I can start going out to meet people and find a relationship, and I can visit a doctor to fix my shoulder pain.

The tricky part here is deciding to change. Many of us become overwhelmed by our problems. We can’t find an easy solution, so we leave them unsolved.

The problem is that these problems start accumulating and there comes a point in our lives when there are too many problems to solve.

I realized how important the accumulation of small problems is when I got my first car. I didn’t have a lot of money, and my car was old. Some things needed fixing but weren’t urgent, so I didn’t fix them. And for everything I did fix, I would opt for used parts to lessen the cost.

After a few years, I decided to buy a new car, and I thought of selling my old one. I made a list of the problems, so I could either fix them or tell the potential buyer about them.

And the car had more than 20 things that needed fixing. It was at that point that I couldn’t, in good conscience, sell my car, so I decided to withdraw and recycle it.

People are exactly like that. We let problems accumulate, and we keep on living. We take a big breath, we put on a brave face, and keep on living. Each problem on its own is not big. But add them all together, and you have a huge mess.

The solution? — Tackle each problem head-on at the moment you realize it exists. Don’t waste your life living with burdens that will cripple you.

Take each problem and analyze it. What can you do about it? How much time will it take to be solved? Do you have the knowledge to solve it or will you need an expert to help?

Ask these questions, think as hard as you can, and ask for help if you become overwhelmed. After giving the problem all your attention, create a plan. It might take a week, it might take a month. But when you’re done, you will have a good strategy to solve the problem.

In the example above, I want to lose 20 pounds. The plan would be to go to a nutritionist and ask for a nutrition plan I enjoy that helps me lose the extra weight. It would also involve telling some of my close friends and family to hold myself accountable. The last part of my plan would be to have a close friend or a psychologist I could talk about since losing weight isn’t easy and I would probably need someone to talk about my struggles.

When we have created the best plan we can think of, we should start implementing it. But it might take a lot of time to achieve.

To lose 20 pounds I would have to follow the nutrition plan for more than 6 months, probably close to a year.

The great thing about any problem, though, is that we don’t need to wait for it to be solved to stop thinking about it. Just the fact that we have created and started implementing a solution is enough. Or it should be.

We should stop thinking about a problem the moment we embark on the journey to solve it.

But that isn’t easy to do. Because our brain likes to remind us of the problem again and again. Our thoughts can sound like a broken record and this can hurt our mental health.

This tends to happen a lot if we haven’t given the problem all the attention it requires. We replay the problem in our heads with the hope we will find a solution.

This is why it’s very important to respect your problems and give them time. Introspection is one of the best tools we have to understand ourselves and our problems. Writing also helps declutter our minds and find a more elegant solution.

If we have a problem that we have actively found a solution to, the only thing that stands between us and the solution is time. So we can relax, keep our consistency, and let time do its magic.

On the other hand, if we avoid our problems by distracting ourselves, this problem will be in our thoughts for weeks, months, and even years. It will stay there until we find the courage to deal with it. Avoidance and distraction are not long-term strategies for dealing with our problems.


Here’s what to do if you obsess over a solvable problem…

This obsession in our brain to remind us of our problems might not be a disfunction. It might just be our brain begging us to give our problems the time they need and deserve.

But what happens if we have done just that? What happens if we think of a well-thought plan, we start implementing it, but we still get stuck on thinking about the problem?

Meditation is the best solution there is for this problem. When meditating, we learn to keep our thoughts away. We learn to focus on something and keep our focus only on that thing. Usually, it’s our breath, but you can focus on whatever you want.

Meditation is one of the simplest activities in the world, but it is tricky to implement. Every time you inhale, think the word “inhale”, then when you exhale think the word “exhale.” You can also count the seconds for the breath, so that would look like “1, 2, 3” for the inhale, and “1, 2, 3” for the exhale. You can focus on whatever you prefer.

So as you’re breathing, your focus should be on your breath. As you do it, you will find it is very difficult to stay focused. After a few seconds, your mind will travel to your anxious thoughts again. This is very normal for an untrained person. When you catch your mind traveling, just re-focus on your breath.

A great tip that has worked for me while meditating, is to imagine that time slows down and freezes. Have you ever seen a movie, when time just stops, and everyone stands still? Imagine the same for your thoughts. All your anxious thoughts just stop moving, they freeze in time, while you breathe and everything inside your mind is calm.

Practice meditation and you will be better equipped to deal with obsessive thoughts. You will be able to keep these thoughts away easier and for longer.

But remember, meditation helps with obsessive thoughts. It helps calm you down. But we shouldn’t use meditation to avoid real problems that we haven’t analyzed. This would be counterproductive since the correct solution would be to take steps to solve the problems first.

If you want to read more on meditation, here is a great article that you can read:

Thanks to Marta Brzosko and Better Humans for this one.


Patience will set you free.

Besides meditation, developing patience is a great way to stop obsessing over a problem.

As we’ve already said, most of our solvable problems can’t be immediately solved. It might take months or years for a well-thought-out plan to give results.

We all get impatient sometimes and want instant results. And we can make ourselves miserable through the journey of achieving our goals. Every day is a struggle until we solve our problems.

But as many wise men have said, life is about the journey and not the destination. Even when our problems get solved, we will have something else to focus on, a new problem to solve.

If we spend our days waiting to start living when our problems get solved, we will waste all our lives waiting. We must learn to embrace our problems and find the patience to wait.


Learn to love the journey.

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon — don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon — you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind —
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Itaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Ithaka — C.P Cavafy

This is one of the classics by Cavafy and one of my favourites.

Everyone has his own Ithaka, his own goals to achieve in life. Cavafy wants to teach us how Ithaka (our goals and destination) might seem poor when we reach it. But a wise man understands that Ithaka gave us the journey. And the journey was marvelous. Full of ups and downs, full of stories of misery and happiness.

We should love and embrace our problems. They are a necessary part of our lives and they give us something to live for. A life with no problems would be no life at all.

So we shouldn’t just be patient about our problems. First, we should develop a plan to solve them. Then we should get consistent about doing what we have to, in order to solve them. And while we wait, we should learn to love the journey.

Instant gratification might sound nice on paper, but it leaves us unfulfilled and unhappy. Our problems give our lives meaning. And we should never forget that.


Gratitude is about what we have.

To start enjoying the journey of life, we should stop focusing only on the problems. Especially when our problems have been dealt with, and the only thing we need to do to solve them is to stay consistent and give them time, it’s crucial to remind ourselves of all the good we have in our lives.

Pat yourself on the back for achieving what you’ve already achieved. Think what you have now that a past version of you would beg for.

I’ve written a short article(2 min read) on how to strengthen the positive effects gratitude can have on our lives. You can check it here.

Remember to enjoy what you already have, and have a little patience for the problems that remain pending. If you continue doing that, you will spend the journey feeling content, and as you go, you will have more and more to feel grateful about.

Every successful solution to a problem will become another thing to be grateful about. And if you ever feel overwhelmed by your thoughts and feelings, meditation will be there to help you relax.


Conclusion

For most of us, the moments we are not thinking about our problems are all due to distractions provided by our environment.

They usually happen when we trick our brain, flooding it with neurotransmitters that affect our mood, like dopamine and serotonin. It can happen from drugs like alcohol and cocaine. It can happen from obsessive distractions like shopping therapy, pornography, or binge-watching TV shows.

Without reading even one psychology book, without thinking about it, we instinctively know what will make us happy. And we look for it. We look for something that will make us forget about our problems, even for a little while.

But wouldn’t it be much better if we could be content without distractions? Wouldn’t it be much better if we didn’t have these problems to avoid?

Instead of avoiding the problems we all inevitably get in our lives, we can take them, analyze them, and find solutions for them. If we can’t do it by ourselves, we can ask for help. And if there is no solution to our problem, we will be wise to accept it and move on.

Just this one simple mindset change can make a huge difference in our lives. So let’s make a conscious effort to change our mindsets.

Avoiding our problems will lead to nowhere. Finding the courage to face them like Odysseus did will make us much happier and content. And if we work on our mindsets enough, we might even start enjoying the challenges life gives us.

I’ve followed this guide and I’ve seen great results. I have less problems than ever. And the problems I do have, I am much more relaxed about them.

Of course, life is a journey. I’ll have to deal with many problems throughout my life. But with this guide, I feel confident that I’ll be able to weather any storm.

It’s not easy, but it’s the only way forward. And if I am strong enough to follow it, you are strong enough too.

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Dimitris Leo ⭐

Written by

On a mission to make the world a kinder place. Writer on Self Acceptance, Compassion & Improvement, Mental Health, Psychology, Leadership, Fitness and more…

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 120,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

Dimitris Leo ⭐

Written by

On a mission to make the world a kinder place. Writer on Self Acceptance, Compassion & Improvement, Mental Health, Psychology, Leadership, Fitness and more…

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 120,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

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