The Only Problem Standing in Our Way

The Problem in Our Head

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind
of thinking we used when we created them.
– Albert Einstein

Never Forgive Him

She showed up at my front door before work at 7AM this morning with the most troubled, despondent expression on her face (which is not typical of her disposition).  “I’m sorry I didn’t call,” she said.  “But I haven’t slept all night, and I really need to talk to someone.  I just need some advice.”

I invited her in and poured her a cup of coffee.  “So, what’s on your mind?” I asked.

“Last night, my husband told me something about his college years that he never told me before,” she said in a shaky voice.  “And I completely disagree with his actions.  It’s horrible, really… and I just can’t stop thinking about it!  I don’t know if I will ever be able to forgive him.”

“Well, before you tell me anything else… Why do you think your husband confided in you?  I mean… Why do you think he told you?”

“I don’t know,” she replied.  “I guess he finally trusted me enough to tell me.”

“Did he commit a crime?”  I asked.


“Was anyone physically hurt by his actions?”

“No, not really.”

“So, how do you feel about him right now?  Do you still love him?”

“Of course I do,” she replied.

“And whatever he did back in college, do you think he learned his lesson?  Or do you think he would do it again?”

“Oh yeah, I’m fairly certain he learned a big lesson,” she replied.

“Okay, so let me get this straight… Last night your husband finally felt that he trusted you enough to tell you about a dark secret from his college years.  And although somewhat unsettling, he didn’t hurt anyone, and you think he learned his lesson – which means he grew emotionally from the experience.  And to top it off, you’re still completely in love with him.  So what exactly can you never forgive him for?”

She sat in silence for a second, made a crooked half smile, and then shook her head.  I mimicked her facial expressions and shook my head back at her.

Then she started laughing.  And so did I.

More About Us, Less About Them

Sometimes the problems we have with others – our spouse, parents, siblings, etc. – don’t really have much to do with them at all, because these problems are actually about us.

And that’s okay.  It simply means these little predicaments will be easier to solve.   We are, after all, in charge of our own decisions.  We get to decide whether we want to keep our head cluttered with events from the past, or instead open our minds to the positive realities unfolding in front of us.

All we need is the willingness to look at things a little differently – letting go of ‘what was’ and ‘what should never have been,’ and instead focusing our energy on ‘what is’ and ‘what could be possible.’

Because, as my friend discovered this morning, sometimes the only problem standing in our way is the one we created in our head.

Photo by: Phil H.


  1. says

    How unaware we are of the problems we created in our heads. Instead of focusing what’s really happening, we confine ourselves to the ghost we create on our minds. Sometimes, it only takes common sense to figure this out. :-)

  2. says

    We have a tendency to set up “rules” about how the world should be and how others should act. Often, we get upset because someone breaks one of these rules. Although some rules do make sense–like you point out in this article, “don’t hurt others”–other rules we come up with are just completely arbitrary and pretty pointless stuff. So I completely agree with you: sometimes, the problem is just in our heads.

  3. says

    I really liked this post. Not many people realize that most problems they have are internal instead of external. Sort of like how other people don’t make you angry but you yourself allow yourself to feel that way. Short, to the point, and very eye – opening.

  4. says

    Sometimes we use our head where we are supposed to use our heart. Why cry for the past when relations are maintained by living this moment?

    Nice article.

  5. says

    A friend told me a few years ago that when we get aggravated or upset at another person we should view it as a mirror to what is going on inside ourselves.

    Ever since then, I’ve tried to see things in those terms – sometimes a VERY hard exercise. But one that is completely worthwhile.

    On the flip side, when we decided to sell everything and take our trip around the world, the reactions we got from people were sometimes really harsh (“how can you leave your family like that?” or “don’t you think that’s a little irresponsible?”). That’s when I got to see this from the flip side – their reaction was all about *them* and had absolutely nothing to do with me.

  6. says

    excellent piece – although I would be inclined to say it even stronger –
    “sometimes the only problem standing in our way is the one we created in our head” – most times………at least that’s been my experience!

  7. says

    I totally agree with this post. Although the problem was never revealed here, I think the problem was thinking that it was a problem in a first place. Thinking about things in the past that bother us in the present is futile thinking.

  8. says

    Hey Marc,

    Hulbert makes a good point, as your example with your friend shows.

    Sometimes, we make up the problems in our heads. The other person, and anyone else, doesn’t see it that way.

    And, just like your friend did, talking to someone else can help to externalize the “problem” so you can see it objectively. Then, you’ll find that it’s not even an issue to begin with.

    The other person doesn’t even have to talk. It’s just someone for you to verbalize your thoughts to.

    Of course, for the non-self-conscious crowd, we don’t need a person – we can just “talk” to a plant next to us or something :)

    Here’s to getting out of our heads and stopping the overthinking,

  9. says

    Such a great point. It really does come down to choice and perspective. How are we going to choose to view situations…and how we are going to choose to allow them to impact our reality and experiences. Sometimes it is all about just getting out of our own way. Great post.

  10. DC says

    So mindful………so “NOW”………such a simple example of the unrealized fact that we each create our our reality. What is for us is only what we think!

  11. says

    I am pretty good about seeing situations from another persons perspective…I am forgiving and open to things not always being MY way. However, I do not have a lot of people around me who feel the same way.

    I am astranged from my mother, divorced my husband, and do not speak to my father, simply because for them, it HAS to be the way they see it, and there is no room for anything else.

    Hopefully I can teach my kids to be more open minded…Most times, when you are troubled by something, the first step is to truely get out of your own way…THEN you can see more clearly.

    Thanks for the article… Its nice to be reminded I’m doing ok….

  12. Old Wise One says

    Great understanding about human condition in The Only Problem Standing In Our Way. It is enlightening to watch our own reactions to experiences, to see that there is the experience out there externally and then our interpretation, our re-creation of it.

    The winter wind can just be cold weather, or if we have theatrical, literary, poetic instincts, that wind symbolizes the season of death and darkness. And so it is with entire cultures interacting with each other. Hilary Clinton ranting and threatening Iran for their nuclear build-up – rightly so from our point of view – but what do the hard liners in Iran on the other side of the planet think of Hilary?

    Some great moments of peace when we are neutral and being objective, BUT neutral takes training. Meditation is one route to get there, and I am not saying
    that I am a master of it. The wind is just the wind.

    Angel enters the apartment from work and complains about such and such; she must have had a hard day. My wife gets all worked up about opening cereal boxes and Frito chips packages in a certain style to keep the food fresh for centuries. Very interesting. It has only taken me since 1975 to realize that cereal box training is nothing to get riled up about. Yes, I am a slow learner, but I don’t hold her training agendas against her anymore.

    You know, life is all about learning and how wonderful it is to be neutral.

  13. says

    Nice post, with a great reminder and lesson about putting things in perspective and getting out of our own way – sometimes people are looking for a problem or responding the way they feel they “should”

    From a storytelling perspective, am I the only one who is incredibly curious what the “secret” is…? :-)

  14. jong jong says

    Accepting one another, trusting a person is very important even though their is billion living in one world. The answer is always the one that’s is easy to find.

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