For most of my adult life, I have been a fixer. With precision-like focus, I could spot a problem and set about resolving it without hesitation or deliberation.
Sounds like a recipe for success, right?
Except it didn’t have the desired effect on the quality of my life. Sure, it helped me to keep moving forwards rather than being thwarted by obstacles. But the issues kept coming. It seemed to be a never-ending deluge; things like my website being hacked, my phone constantly dropping signal, a broken boiler, misunderstandings in my relationships — everything we have come to expect from our day-to-day living.
I think we have all become acclimatised to dealing with the curve balls that life throws our way — and maybe that acclimatisation is not that healthy for us.
What do you do when one of these problematic balls gets chucked your way?
The people I speak to fall into one of two camps. We have the Fixers and the Procrastinators.
For the Fixers, the first sign of a problem is the cue to take action. Their motto is “fix it and move on“. They like to meet challenges head on and pride themselves on their ability to solve a difficult problem. Being a Fixer is good for the ego — “Pitch me a problem ball and watch me knock it out of the park”. There’s a lot of self-esteem to be gained in resolving issues for the Fixer.
On the other hand, the Procrastinators have a very different motto, “if there’s a problem, I’ll get round to doing something about it later”, except later doesn’t really exist. The later the Procrastinator refers to is not a point in time, but rather a state of mind. They hope that there will come a moment when the motivation miraculously appears and they will be inspired to take action. But whilst they wait for this miracle, they will constantly remind themselves that the problem still exists and berate themselves for not doing anything about it. This creates the vicious cycle of lack of motivation and lack of action — the perfect approach for cultivating feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness.
On paper, it may seem that the Fixer has the upper hand. After all, getting things done feels much better than putting things off. But the bigger issue for the Fixer is that rather than removing problems, they just keep coming thick and fast. If you have ever had the feeling that your life is a constant battle of sorting, fixing and re-ordering, then you are over-playing your fixer strategy. Like the saying goes, “when you only have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail”. You are most likely identifying problems that don’t really exist.
So if procrastination leads to self-condemnation and fixing simply creates more problems, then what’s the alternative?
The art of non-meddling.
Non-meddling is the willingness for issues to exist peacefully in your awareness, giving full permission for them to self-resolve without your input. You don’t avoid and you don’t tackle the problem. You just allow it to be.
Let me give you an example. A few weeks back, I went to my son’s prize-giving evening. We pulled up in a dimly lit public car park. I went to pay at the meter, and in the darkness, I read the sign saying that after 6pm, the fee was £1. So I paid my money and we went into the hall to enjoy the evening. When we returned to the car, there was a piece of paper flapping on the windscreen — a fixed penalty notice. My first reaction was confusion. I wondered if they had failed to see the ticket I had displayed. But the fine notice said I had overstayed my payment. When I went back to the sign, I realised it did say after 6pm but in tiny writing underneath there was the word “weekends”. Above, it read that weekdays was £1.50 per hour all day. My confusion switched to indignation. The sign wasn’t clear and now I faced a £50 fee for the mistake.
It would be lovely if I could claim at this point that I settled into some kind of Zen-Buddhist state of mind and welcomed the situation as an opportunity to practise acceptance but truthfully, I was too convinced of my righteousness. I started to collect evidence to support my case. I took photographs of the sign to show how difficult it was to read the fees correctly, and then I humphed and grumbled all the way home.
The next morning, I woke with a different clarity. This was one of those problems that hook me into my fixing strategy. I could appeal but if I didn’t pay the ticket within 7 days, the fee would rise to £100. I asked myself what mattered more —the £50 for a simple mistake or the need to be right (which could cost me double that)? It was an easy choice.
A couple of days later, feeling completely at peace, I logged onto the website to pay my fine. Except there was nothing linked to my number plate. I called the helpline number. The operator explained that the tickets are electronically generated and with no records, there was no way to pay what I owed. In other words, my parking ticket had somehow deleted itself. I love it when a problem self-resolves!
So how does non-meddling work in practise?
Here are the key steps to making it work:
- Be honest with yourself about the issue or challenge that you face. Ask yourself, “does this matter…really?” What are the consequences of not doing it? What are the consequences of doing it? Be clear about your reasons. Pick your battles carefully.
- If it doesn’t matter, acknowledge the problem but consciously decide to let it be for a while. How would you feel if this problem self-resolved? What would that give you?
- If it does matter, you need to take action. What would be the smallest next step to resolving this? You don’t need to have the whole solution mapped out. Just take a single step in the right direction – maybe make a call or send an email. Once you know things are moving forwards, let it be. Focus on how you will be feeling if the problem resolves itself. That’s your only work!
You may need to take more small steps but the important part is to remain emotionally detached. If you find yourself too involved with the problem, simply step back and remind yourself how good you will feel when things are resolved. Even if the challenge doesn’t fix itself, simply detaching from the emotional intensity will make everything seem a great deal easier. Non-meddling is the perfect choice if you want more peace and simplicity in your life!
Ready to have a go?
Let me know how the non-meddling approach works for you using the comments below. I’d love to hear how you get on and what you notice as a result. Do the nature or frequency of problems change in your life when you practise non-meddling? Does emotionally detaching from your problems bring any other benefits to your life?