How We Use Problem Solving as Protection, and Why It’s a Bad Thing

How An Anxious Childhood Can Make You A Depressed Adult Obsessed With Unique Problem Solving Skills, and What You Can Do About It

I grew up a problem solver, and an achiever. Over time, I had grown incredibly afraid of failure, ridicule, or being wrong. This built me into an astute problem solver. A skill which was useful at the time — probably vital — though has become outdated, and a driving force behind my depression swings.

This problem solving armor takes shape very early for many of us, and protects us from many early blows that would otherwise be detrimental. As they grow stronger over time, they actually begin acting as blinders to other aspects of life outside of problems.

How can we shed the weight of this outdated armor, while still remaining protected in the face of failure, or ridicule? Hopefully this article can help.

The Problem Solving Armor

How We Become Gifted Problem Solvers.

My problem solving ‘armor’ was actually crafted from many different directions and influences. In school, I struggled in social settings and found myself preferring to be alone. My only social reward came from solving problems, and my biggest window for this was academically.

From an early age, I was exposed to terms like ‘advanced’ and skill grading like ‘above grade level’ which are positive things. Yet, I didn’t feel advanced in any other setting. I struggled to keep up socially, and felt my only value came from academic success.

From a different angle, my life at home was tumultuous for a long time. Amidst the chaos, I struggled to find ways to stay afloat. My life-raft became problem solving, and keeping things moving even when the train wanted to derail.

My problem solving armor acted as an engine in these formative years. The tidbits of fuel I received from solving problems for others kept me going enough to make it out I think. My armor was thoroughly crafted — and rigorously tested.

Problem Blinders

How Our Fixation on Fixing Problems Turns Into a Sheer Fixation on Problems.

Thanks to this early onset knack for solving problems, my eye became exceptionally good at spotting problems. I could look at any situation and see the flaws, loopholes, and recovery paths. Instead of planning success, I would plan recovery after failure.

This almost hyper fixation on ‘problems’ heightened my negativity bias, and made me constantly aware of the negatives surrounding my circumstances.

An unfortunate side effect of this long standing skill is a serious positivity drought. Oftentimes, I simply cannot find positives in a situation. Instead, I focus more on how I could recover from disaster if or when it strikes.

This issue of a negativity bias becomes heightened by facing situations where you have little to no control. This history of problem solving, typically makes us lean towards areas where we have control. When we don’t have immediate control, the only answer is disaster.

Taking Off the Armor

Letting Go Of Control, and Learning to Move Without the Weight of Armor.

Our problem solving armor was incredibly useful. In times of our most daring adventures — it may have even saved our lives. However, I’ve grown into times of peace. I’m not hunting my demons with the same ferocity. Dragons aren’t clouding the sky above me… Yet, I’m still walking around draped in this heavy protective suit.

My protective problem solving armor is simply outdated. Rusting and encumbering, I had to find a way to shed the weight and carry on without feeling too exposed.

The answer is simple and profound, yet profoundly difficult. I simply had to let go.

I had to let go of my craving for control. My knack for problem solving — turned habit for micromanaging. I had to release myself of expectations that I had to face and resolve the problems of others.

I had to let go of my protective armor. Embracing my safety for the first time. I had been too busy sharpening my blades to see that the battles have mostly subsided.

How To Be Safe Without Our Problem Solving Armor

Less Armor is Less Scary if we Factor in Less Battles.

The world feels like it should be scary without the protection of my problem solving armor. I had never considered a life away from the battles I was waging before. This protective suit came with a lifetime guarantee, but was ready to be stored back in the barracks.

Though no matter how safe I am, I can’t continue on a course without planning my safety. I had to make a plan of action to ensure I don’t take on more battle wounds now that I have shed my protective layer.

The first, and most important, practice to help me remain safe — gratitude. A simple act to express my gratitude for my own safety in each and every moment is enough to energize me beyond belief. When I am rigidly focused on gratitude — I feel as though I could conquer a mountain.

An Armor-less Plan of Action

To remain safe in this world without our renowned protective plate coverings of problem solving, we will have to enlist the following plan of action.

  • Recognize How You Crafted Your Armor — What were you protecting against?
  • Let Go of Craving Control
  • Practice Gratitude
  • More Curiosity, Less Expertise

More On Curiosity

I have started a Monthly Newsletter designed to boost curiosity and creativity.

At the end of every month, you’ll receive 9 bullet points of interesting, bizarre, or beautiful things I have come across that month.

If curiosity killed the cat, we’ll need all 9 lives… Sign up for the Nine Lives Newsletter here.

Originally published at on March 5, 2021.

Starter of projects, and wielder of words. What I will do with either is beyond me. —

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