People have problems; they’re a reality of living life. However, most people are trying to solve problems at the level of the symptom, while the disease goes untreated. I’m going to tell you how to determine if the action you take is only solving the symptom while the root-cause is left untreated and left to manifest more problems again in the future.

Let’s explore how to identify the root cause by diving into a very common dilemma that surfaced this week for a client. With her permission, I am going to share how we got to the bottom of her problem - the inability to create work-life balance. I want to be clear that it would have been easy to jump right into setting priorities or boundaries, but just taking any action is not the answer to all ailments. No, what we want is to solve the real problem with right action, which means we want to know why this woman created the situation in the first place. So, we start there:

Step One: Do you own the problem?
Yes, owning the problem has to be the starting point. Most, if not all, of our problems are self-created by our beliefs. This woman could have easily blamed the culture, her manager, or the heavy workload. Instead, she said she wanted to figure out how she was creating this situation. This was a perfect starting point.

Step Two: Are you specific enough about the problem?
Once there’s ownership, you want to determine how this situation is a problem. Though a lack of work-life balance is commonplace in our society, the way it impacts this woman’s life will be specific to her. She shares that she isn’t able to leave the office until everything is done. As you can see, this is still too broad - so we explore how she continues to do this problem almost every day of the week. This is called a strategy.

Step Three: How do you do the problem?
In this step we are exploring, in detail, how someone runs a strategy that creates a specific problem time and time again. You want them to relive the experience as if they are looking through their own eyes. Using the same level of intricacy she would use to describe tying her shoes or making the bed, the client provided step-by-step details of what happens when the clock says it is time to leave but her head says stay a little longer. As if we were watching a movie together…frame-by-frame…in slow motion…she walks me through how she does this problem. Early in the process, she explains she feels guilty…bingo!

Step Four: Can you connect to the emotion of the problem?
At some point, an emotion will be part of the strategy. It could be anger, sadness, guilt, anxiety, or fear. In fact, often the problem itself is an attempt to avoid a more exaggerated emotion. For our purposes, the emotion tells us we are getting closer to the root cause by tapping the beliefs held at the unconscious level. If emotions aren’t surfacing, it means the person is trying to rationalize their behavior instead of exploring it fully.

Step Five: What does the emotion tell you or what comes after the emotion?
Once you connect to the emotion, this is the time to pay close attention. Language always holds important clues to what’s really going on. For this client, there was an internal conversation that said, “If I don’t get everything done or say no, it would mean people might not want me. They might go to someone else in the future.” As we explore this statement together, the client discloses it is almost impossible for her to say “no.” The problem is getting even more specific — her inability to say no — and we’re on the threshold of uncovering the beliefs behind the behavior.

Step Six: What would it say about you as a person if you abandoned this problem?
This step will uncover the beliefs behind the behavior. In her case, by saying “yes” all the time, she has been attempting to avoid disappointing people and being viewed as selfish or unproductive. Here are the beliefs she uncovered: it’s not okay to disappoint people, to be selfish, lazy. And not being nice is absolutely out of the question…even if it generates self-sacrifice and resentment in the process.

Step Seven: What is the earliest experience that comes to mind as you talk about these beliefs?
Our job now is to connect to the experiences that created these beliefs. The easiest way to do this is by asking the unconscious mind to give you the first or earliest experience that comes up after talking about your beliefs. And like magic, the unconscious mind will serve up some important insight.

What came up right away for my client is a memory of getting that look from her father if she ever disappointed him; no words were necessary. So, this woman learned early in life that being nice, obliging and productive was the perfect way to be loved and, more important — to stay out of trouble. As you can see there was no malicious intent or childhood trauma involved; just the work of the little brain creating a well-intentioned strategy to make her feel loved. In fact, this is the root cause of the problem — an overriding need to be loved and wanted.

Can you see that putting first things first, making schedule changes or delegating wouldn’t have solved the problem at the level of the root cause? Once she feels she is truly wanted, needed and loved as a result of who she is—not by what she does— she can show up fully unencumbered by old strategies. Until then, she has the invaluable opportunity to negotiate, reframe or let those old beliefs go, allowing her to determine what new strategies she’d like to employ in order to have more balance in her life.

Author's Bio: 

Susan Crampton Davis has been coaching and guiding individuals to success for more than twenty-five years. Today she focuses on helping people to identify and remove the limiting beliefs that stand in the way of greater happiness and success. Susan is a graduate of Evergreen State University, a master-level NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) practitioner, a registered hypnotherapist, and a practitioner of Belief Reconditioning Therapy™, which is a client-centered therapy that involves several healing modalities. Prior to starting Awakening Works, Susan held senior leadership roles at some of the best companies, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Getty Images, Staples, Amazon, and W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc.