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Solving seemingly unsolvable problems

As students, we solve problems every day – whether it be an issue related to our studies, jobs, personal life, health, society or environment. Although we work towards our aspirations and set new goals all the time, some things just do not seem to get any better, no matter the effort. However, it is crucial not to ignore these seemingly unsolvable problems, as they will most likely come back to us in one form or another when left unchecked. Let me give an example of such a problem that is very simple and seemingly insignificant but familiar to many people living in today’s world.

“Let us say that Mary is trying to lose 15 kg of her body weight. She is currently weighing 80 kg but desires to reach 65 kg. Mary is in good health overall, fairly active and not excessively overweight. Despite the absence of an objective need to lose weight, she has been trying to achieve the weight loss goal for a decade now. She has tried strict and not so strict diets, fasting, daily exercise programs and whatnot, but without any long-term success. There have been short periods when she has been very close to achieving her aim, but the results have never lasted long. Now, Mary does not talk about her desire to lose 15 kg anymore, but deep inside, the idea of wanting to weigh 65 kg does not fade away. Therefore, she is still on the lookout for new diets and tries to avoid eating with others to save herself the trouble of having to justify refusing food.”

To help Mary, most of us would probably encourage her to accept her body weight as it is, not let weight define her worth and eat with others to maintain relationships. It seems like a good way to solve the problem, right? Unfortunately, it is unlikely that she will be able to follow this advice and make the weight problem disappear. Even if she can fully accept her weight of 80 kg by following a well-refined professional strategy, she might not feel fulfilled. Mary might start feeling scarcity in another area of life, such as her finances or relationships, and start blaming her unhappiness on perceived problems in this new area. Therefore, Mary’s dissatisfaction seems impossible to solve.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to solve such a problem when some not so obvious but essential steps have been skipped – just as impossible as building a house but forgetting about the foundation. The house’s walls can be constructed exquisitely, but without a solid foundation, the house will not stand still, no matter the effort. Therefore, in the example above, Mary’s weight was not the problem to be solved at this stage – the weight was just like “a part of the wall that had fallen a bit out of place due to missing pieces in the foundation”. As hard as it is to take, putting a great deal of effort into solving the symptoms – such as her weight – will probably never succeed at solving her problems. Therefore, as the first step towards successfully solving her situation, Mary needs to identify the missing parts in her “foundation”, which can also be called the root cause(s) of her issues.

With this story, I encourage you to think about whether you have something in your life right now that seems impossible to solve. If so, can you identify whether this thing is a root problem or a symptom of something bigger, or in other words, “a missing part of the foundation” or just “a damaged part of the walls”? To increase the chance of long-term success in both personal and professional life, step away from symptoms and start tackling root problems as early as possible!

Grete Kurik, BSc (Hons) Human Nutrition

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