Do you know the difference between acute and chronic problems? Do you realize each requires a different strategy?
Simply put, acute problems arise suddenly, can be identified rapidly, and can be solved quickly…not to say easily. Chronic problems are on slow burn. They typically became problems when you weren’t watching, or you inherited them with your position, or were born into them with your family. These are long-term difficulties, they have already had long-term effects, and they promise to linger because there is no easy resolution.
So, when a problem arises, first ask, is this fresh on the scene? Have you faced this issue before? If yes, it’s probably not acute. It’s likely a chronic issue.
For Acute Problems Identify And Modify The Variables
Solving acute problems is a matter of identifying and changing the variables to directly change the outcome. They have this pattern:
- A problem occurs. (You step on a nail)
- You identify the variable causing the problem. (Nail)
- You modify the variable. (Remove nail from foot)
- Problem mostly solved.
To solve acute problems, first determine the source. Be honest. Is it you?. Seriously. If that’s the case, those are the easiest to solve. Stop being a problem.
If you’re not the source causing the problem, finding a solution becomes a matter of control. Do you control the variables needed to resolve the issue. That’s why solving acute problems is easier when you’re the source. You control your own actions. When you don’t control the variables, acute and chronic problem solving share a common tactic. Quickly limit your exposure to harm, to the degree possible.
Many acute problems arise from a failure to practice situational awareness. Avoidance of problems is wiser than solving them.
For Chronic Problems Clarify, Then Modify Your Thinking
Chronic, persistent problems wear you down by attrition. You feel resigned to their existence. They aren’t one-offs. They’re either constant, or predictably regular. Even when they feel like a never-ending string of acute events, using acute tactics won’t work. So, what do you do?
Recognition that it’s chronic is step one. Knowing this relieves you of the responsibility for implementing a solution with resources and actions you directly control. Here, it is helpful if you have a friend, spouse, or partner emotionally mature enough to listen to you without trying to offer pat suggestions and solutions. Guys…I’m talking to you(us). This is sexist, but, in general men are poor listeners. We think we can solve any and every problem. Sometimes the best solution is to just listen. Allow your partner, friend, wife, or lover to just vent.
This act of talking through a problem is psychologically and emotionally validating to the one suffering a chronic situation. And often, the ability to talk it through, giving vent to the feelings that arise, is a pressure release valve that reduces the negative impacts, at least for the time being. It also provides a valuable opportunity to clarify how you’re thinking of the problem. Hearing yourself talk about it, can give you insights to help cope with the problem if it cannot be easily or quickly solved. Sometimes knowing we have someone with us, gives us the courage and perseverance we need to face a problem, even if they cannot make it go away.
Changing your view of a problem can often provide some emotional protection. It won’t change the other person’s behavior (if the chronic problem is with a person), but it will change how you see them. You may modify your own connection to them. Changing your thinking may lead you to establish boundaries valuing your own integrity and asserting your own rights. It may cause you to re-categorize the person as you see them in a new, less flattering, more realistic light.
Sometimes The Problem Isn’t Yours To Solve
As you learn to differentiate quickly between acute and chronic problems, it’s also important to recognize when a problem is not yours to solve. This is most often true in chronic situations. You may be hit with the overflow of an issue that is really someone else’s responsibility to deal with. An example would be of a parent trying to negotiate a truce between adult siblings. I’ve written before that this is not the time to be an umpire.
Another example would be with a rude, unprofessional co-worker. This is a classic chronic situation that is unsolvable if you aren’t their direct supervisor. That problem is the bosses problem to solve. As a rule, whether acute, or chronic, don’t pick up problems that aren’t yours to fix.
In this world we have it on good authority that we will have trouble. In many ways, life consists in effective problem-solving. There is nothing wrong with wishing you had no problems to face, but wishing won’t make it so. It is better to embrace the idea that problems are going to come, but you can learn to be effective at solving them, or at least coping with the unsolvable ones. That starts with differentiating quickly between acute and chronic problems, and the strategies for dealing with both.