Recently, a couple of sessions have reminded me of the old Apollo 13 movie with Tom Hanks.
The first involves a woman who was feeling the pressure to stay at work later in the evenings in order to get everything she felt needed to be done. She is a consciences worker, and wants to do the tasks necessary to get ahead in her career. She also has small children at home and would like to spend time with them in the evenings.
Another session involves a woman taking care of an elderly relative. When she signed up for this ominous task, the conditions were understood and seemingly manageable. However, unlike the marriage vows of “for better or worse”, her initial agreement did not include a set of variables that have since come in to play. Thus, she now finds herself trying to maintain her original agreement, but under a whole different criteria with far more rigorous constraints.
One of things that always intrigued me when I worked in residential treatment was this: people who had been starving, feeling unable to eat another bite would come into treatment and immediately comply with the nutrition set before them. People who said they couldn’t get through the day without binging came into treatment and the binging ceased. These examples also made me think about Apollo 13.
When Hanks uttered the infamous “Houston we have a problem!”, the ground team began their mission of finding a way to help repair the capsule and bring the crew down to safety. All of the engineers pulled out their slide rules to find a solution. and I remember asking my husband why they didn’t use calculators. He reminded me that the calculator had not yet been invented. While there were some solutions that were readily apparent to the ground team, these were quickly eliminated when they realized the needed supplies were not on board the spacecraft.
Finally, the team replicated all of the supplies that WERE available to the Apollo crew and began to find a solution that could implemented. Ultimately that is what happened and the rest is, of course, history.
So often, we get stuck on a problem because we insist on finding a solution that is dependent upon something that either hasn’t occurred or might never occur. In doing so, we prevent ourselves from moving forward until that variable occurs—meaning we don’t move forward.
Sometimes what we see as a problem is really an opportunity to see the capability we have to creatively look beyond our self-imposed limits and for us to do something differently from where we currently are. Again, this involves a spirit of willingness.
In the example above with eating disorder treatment, the patients who immediately changed their behavior became willing to do something different. Food didn’t instantly become tastier, the sense of fullness did not immediately dissipate. What changed is the elimination of an paradigm in which they felt they couldn’t do those things. The support around these individuals allowed them to sit with the same set of discomfort without feeling overwhelmed while they tried on new behaviors.
I suggested the woman who is missing her children consider looking at her job as having a mandatory, non-negotiable quitting time. Act as if the building will blow up at a certain time and you have to get out. That paradigm shift would encourage her to prioritize the most important tasks that have to get done and to let lesser ones go until the next day.
And the woman taking care of her relative will ultimately have to take stock of what “supplies” she currently has on board, rather than those she wishes she had to insure proper care for her elderly charge. It will mean acknowledging that the original mission has changed and she may no longer be adequately prepared for the new one with which, she has been presented.
None of these are easy solutions. Nor is continuing to beat one’s head against the wall stuck in the rut of the non-productive status quo. The difference however, is that the latter never changes. And in that sense true identification of the problem presents an opportunity for growth and change.