Part 4: The Experience Of Problems

MC Escher - Waterfall illusion
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In this section we’ll be exploring the notion of “Time” in relation to Problems.

Now that we’ve explored the concepts of what a problem looks like (the Shape of a Problem) and how they work (the Process of Problems), let us now consider the experience of a Problems or:

What happens when you have a problem?

Or rather, when they appear to happen (for a lot of people, most of the time).

On the left is an image by MC Escher of a waterfall (click on the image). As you can see, it’s an illusion – the waterfall seems to fall down into a well then flows round and then re-joins itself back at the top. The water seems to be continuously going round and round with no real beginning or end.

Keep this in mind as we explore this next section on The Experience of Problems.

Thought Experiment: Problems Past & Future?

Can you think of a minor Problem that you had in the Past that you’ve now resolved? (Go for a small one, like tying shoe laces as a child. Try and avoid anything that might be traumatic… like if there was a major problem learning to tie laces a child, then use something else! I’m not there to help you out of a traumatic memory, so let’s use something easy, shall we?).

Depending on how your mind works, you may have a feeling that you can go back to; or maybe there’s a sound that you remember; a picture may come to mind or even a thought. Perhaps a combination of any of these together.

How is that representation of your Past Problem that you remember different to you being here, right Now?

You probably have some notion of how what was is very different to right now, right?

In a similar way, if I were to ask you to think of something that may cause you to be anxious in the future – or just some future event – you’d have some way of knowing that it’s coming rather than it happening right Now.

So what’s going on here? Our minds have a fantastic ability to create points that we know as Past and Future. We’re able to discern between Now and Then. However, when it comes to a Problem, our perceptions of Time can become confused and get trapped inside an illusion.

When Problems Happen: The Grand Illusion

Now, let me ask you something else:

When did you experience your Past or Future Problem?

Consider this question very carefully.

If you’re following, what you’ll notice is that – even though I asked you to think of a Past or Future Problem, the reality of your experience is:

Your Problem is Happening Right NOW.

…or at least, it’s happening right at the moment when you considered it! To anyone experiencing a problem it seems like the Problem is happening “back then”… but is it?

This may seem like an obvious statement but:

You can only ever experience the Now.

…and if it is so obvious, then why do we naturally assume that our problems happened in the past? We’ll explore that idea in the next section.

It’s okay if this is a bit confusing. Not everyone gets this first time (so well done, if you did).

If you are confused then, not to worry, in the next bit, I explain how it works in a bit more detail.

Problems: Past, Present & Future - Right Now

MC Escher - Waterfall illusionThis concept may seem odd, so let’s go back to the picture by MC Escher of the Waterfall to use as an analogy.

If I were to ask you to say where the Past, Present and Future was exactly on the Escher picture, it would be quite difficult.

The easiest way would be just to choose a point and label it as “Past”. Then, as you follow the stream round, you can pick another point and label it as “Present/Now” and so any point after that one, would be the “Future”. It really wouldn’t matter where you picked any of these points to be – they’re equally correct (as well as being equally incorrect!).

What’s amazing is that our minds are capable or sorting and storing information and giving them labels to represent a position in Time. These representations in time are actually a bit like the illusions you see with the Escher picture.

What we often don’t notice when looking at illusions like these (and trying to make sense of the logic of time within the image) is the “real reality”. We get so absorbed in trying to sort information that it’s very easy to get lost by attempting to place ourselves inside the picture!

If you were to take the idea of the Escher picture and put it into context, Now would actually the point where you’re standing in front of the picture looking at it. You’re not inside the picture – you never were! The Past and Future points are simply ways of trying to make sense of things if you were taking a position inside the picture.

The truth is: The only Time when you ever experience is right NOW. Any Past fears or Future anxieties are actually nothing more than arbitrary labels of self-created events. To put it another way: The Past and the Future don’t really exist – they are simply “constructs” in the mind. You made your fears and worries and just keep replaying them out.

I’ll be explaining the importance of these arbitrary labels in a following section.

Why Is Understanding The Experience Of Problems Important?

This idea – being clear on when the experience of Problems happen – is very important as it provides us with a better understanding of how to move forward from being stuck inside the Problem.

The feeling of being “stuck” and constantly going round and round – playing out the same patterns – is common for all problems. As a Conversational Therapist and NLP Master Practitioner, my role is to help guide people to understanding the illusion for it really is.

Do you remember the Problem Mind Bubble? Are you starting to see parallels?

Going round and round in the Escher picture is very similar to The Process Of Problems. Understanding that you’re outside of the Escher picture looking at it (rather than being inside it) is the same as being outside of your Problem Mind Bubble. When you change your perspective – where you are, in location to your Problem – it changes the meaning of your problem.

The Experience Of Problems: Summary

I hope you’ve enjoyed this slightly mind-bending section. So, in this section, we’ve covered:

  • The experience of a Problem happens in the Now.
  • Past and Future events are nothing more than arbitrary labels of self-created events.
  • It’s easy to be trapped inside the illusion without realising you’re actually outside!
  • Understanding where you are in relation to your Problem can help us move forward when dealing with Problems.

In the next part of this series we’re going to make a quick detour and have a look at Why problems happen.

The Anatomy Of A Problem Index:

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