The Magnificent Problem Solving Machine
Actually I have a tendency to believe that I think more clearly when I am 30,000 feet in the air. Perhaps it is because my cell phone is turned off, there are no in-flight movies, those sitting next to me are asleep and my only source of entertainment is my lap top computer. Today I happen to be flying to Washington D.C. to join a few friends at our yearly conference regarding bariatric surgery. Yes, I am looking forward to being with my friends, learning more about the work I love but actually I looked forward to the flight to and from my destination the most. Perhaps it is a ‘diffusing’ of life’s stressors in general that I find at 30,000 feet.
Everyday we find ourselves engulfed in work, family, and friends and almost daily there is a certain element of stress that we encounter. Frequently I will have support group meetings about stress and the role that it plays in our lives. Recently members of our group asked me to bring back the “Problem Solving Machine”. It was the ultimate in meetings regarding stress. Yes it is one of those wild and crazy ideas generated at a time in my life when I was dealing with what I felt were pretty big problems. At the time of the trauma I daydreamed about owning a machine which would allow anyone to just drop off their problems, concerns or troubles. Every problem would be ‘sucked’ away being resolved and never to return again. How great a machine would that be? Likely it would not only solve individual problems but also the problems of the whole world. Having way too much time on my hands, I invented the “Magnificent Problem Solving Machine”.
Now obviously this was not a real machine that would really work but rather a physical figment of my imagination - actually it was a vacuum cleaner in a box. If it had been a real working problem solver I would be on my way to our villa, which we could have purchased in the south of France, having more money than I could possibly spend in my lifetime. (Did I forget to mention that the problem solver came with an attachment?)
This particular presentation was requested, not only because our members wanted to verify my sanity status but mostly because of the information that went along with it. The presentation provided information regarding problems pertaining to children, body image, bosses, significant others, eating disorders, money, dealing with tragedy, food, abuse, etc. and not necessarily in that order. At the beginning of the meeting everyone wrote down their problems on small pieces of paper. The instructions were to write one problem on one tiny 2x2 inch sheet of paper. Each individual could have as many sheets as necessary to eliminate all of their troubles. At the end of the presentation each member came up to the front of the room, crumpled up each small piece of paper and proceeded to let the problem be sucked away into the ‘problem solver’.
As people lined up to pass in front of the ‘problem solver’ I watched and listened to comments exchanged among the group. Of course the usual comment was directed toward me regarding my sanity. I was aware of that and quickly agreed that one of my problems was that I had lost my mind. Most important was their response to what they had learned about problem solving and hearing how they felt having their problems sucked away.
Once everyone returned to their seats the meeting continued. I had three questions for them to think about, one was how they felt about having their problems ‘sucked’ away, the second was why they wrote the problem on such a small sheet of paper, the third was if they would have traded their problems with the person seated next to them.
When anyone has what they consider serious issues in their lives the problem at the time seems to continue forever as if there could never be a resolution. Writing the problem on such a small piece of paper indicated that in the grand scheme of life no matter how large our problems seem they are actually small and somehow amazingly enough we are able to survive. Writing the problem down may allow us to understand how we can manage difficult times, it actually allows us to take ownership of our problems. Put the cards on the table so to speak. It may be the choice to share our problems with others or as in this case allow them to be ‘sucked’ away momentarily. It is how we can become the victor as opposed to the victim as we learn to deal with difficulties.
When the question was asked if they would trade their problems with one of their fellow support group members everyone said no. Even though their problems were stressful it was likely that someone else would have even more serious issues than theirs.
When asked how they felt about having their problems ‘sucked’ away, the most popular response was feeling a sense of relief. “If it could only be that easy.” While discussing the actual machine in front of me I asked each of them what the real problem solver actually was as I removed the sign covering the box. Under the sign was another one reading in big bold letters YOU. Throughout our lives it is not always obvious how problems can occur or how they can be resolved. What actually is obvious and often painfully so is that we are each responsible for the resolution, we are the ones who can choose to learn from the event and then move on with our lives finally to have some peace of mind.
One of the handouts available at the meeting was a list of eight qualities of those who have peace of mind. The list was from a study that was done at Duke University. The two most important were:
Forcing yourself to stay involved. Not withdrawing during periods of emotional stress.
Refusing to indulge in self-pity when life hands you a raw deal. Accepting the fact that no one gets through life without some sorrow and misfortune.
The Magnificent Problem Solver was a figment of my wild imagination but it did serve the purpose intended. It allowed each member to be more acutely aware that we can never escape problems even at 30,000 feet in the air.
I am on my way back to Detroit now, in the air and thinking clearly once again. I am thinking this is my ‘peaceful place’, a place free of worries and problems when I realize that a problem has occurred. I am by a window seat and the lady sitting next to me has a broken leg that must stay elevated at all times. It is a 1 ½ hour flight and I have had 36 oz. of water and I am stuck by the window. I guess this only goes to prove that problems can happen no matter where we are. Thank goodness we will land soon, my problem will be resolved.
If you are wondering about the attachment added to the Problem Solving Machine it was a CAN. A CAN that could only be secured in its place with the strength of duct tape. On top of the CAN was the letter “I”…………….. Figure it out.