I had occasion to explore this issue myself this week, when I discovered that somehow my utility company had switched the account number and name on the bill it sends to my home each month.

Confidently and proudly paying my bills online on the first of each month, I simply looked at the amount due, punched in the numbers, and sent the payments off, mentally dusting off my hands after a chore well done. Little did I know I was sending that amount of money into limbo.

Reality hit me when I got a notice on my door saying the power was going to be cut off due to nonpayment of bill. The fact that a dear friend was due to arrive shortly for a week-long visit – possibly a visit without hot showers – didn’t help my sense of panic.

Ridiculous as it may seem, proving that you didn’t call the power company and set up an account in someone else’s name for your home address is not easy. Getting evidence that electronic payments were made to the company, and on time, is not so easy, either.

It took several deep breaths and a search through some files to start getting at what had happened; it took several more calls to bring the matter to the attention of people who could actually do something about it. Even after I had organized my thoughts and taken the first steps towards a solution, I still found myself incredulously going over this crazy mishap.

Rumination involves going over a problem again and again. Perhaps we are searching desperately for a solution, and think going over and over the circumstances will produce a solution. Maybe we are rehearsing our version of the event in order to tell someone else, later, of the horror we have gone through.

As psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky explains in her great book The How of Happiness:

“Overthinking ushers in a host of adverse consequences: It sustains or worsens sadness, fosters negatively biased thinking, impairs a person’s ability to solve problems, saps motivation, and interferes with concentration and initiative. Moreover, although people have a strong sense that they are gaining insight into themselves and their problems during their ruminations, this is rarely the case. What they do gain is a distorted, pessimistic perspective on their lives.”

Problem-solving involves a goal-oriented activity in which you pause, take a deep breath, map out the logical steps to take, and then take them

Here are the steps to get you out of rumination and into problem-solving:

Keep your eye on the goal: Think that’s easy? When you are frustrated, your goal may have shifted from reaching your objective to getting rid of your bottled-up frustration. This can lead to venting emotionally to an innocent person who could even be trying to help you.

Solution: Go to a quiet place and punch a pillow for a bit while you come to your senses and remember what you were after in the first place.

Map out the steps to take: What information do you need, and where can you get it? Perhaps you must have a paper trail, as I did, to help solve the problem. If the evidence involves a format at which you’re not skilled – I’m not a computer expert – search your memory banks for someone who is, and ask for help.

Who do you know who will be supportive, informative, or whatever you need?

Solution: Take several deep breaths to get back to being logical; then map out your steps.

Mind the gap: There will be times when you have set things in motion, such as asking for information or help, and there is a time gap until you get that help.

Bulletin here: You don’t have to keep thinking about the problem during this time period! It isn’t going to disappear (don’t you wish it would) if you don’t keep going over it. It’s just hibernating until time for the next action step.

Solution: go to your “base camp.”

Set up a base camp: A base camp is something to which you can retreat in order to rest and refresh yourself before another foray into the wilderness that is life.

Think back over all the good things, no matter how small, that have happened that day. In my case, the same utility company, on the same day, sent a repairman for a scheduled tune up of my furnace. (The left hand apparently didn’t know what the right hand was doing.) He left his phone number in case I needed his volunteer help in the future changing the filters. I will need help, and I will gratefully use that number.

My doctor’s appointment at 8 a.m. that day yielded amazingly good results: low cholesterol and low blood pressure (ok, that changed a little by 3 p.m., when the notice arrived). I could rejoice, and even gloat, as I looked at the printed results.

Amazingly good things had happened on which I could focus. It was still hard to tear my attention away from the problem, but I did it by connecting with supportive friends and focusing on the creative work I do, not my sad story.

The problem will be solved within the next few days. Hot showers will continue.

Life will go on, filled with its triumphs and frustrations. When those frustrations show up again, as they inevitably will, it’s a good idea to have a format to follow.

The Confident Introvert

“What are they afraid of?” my department manager used to ask after meetings in which a number of department members sat, silent and resentful, while he was unaware that his habit of springing surprise agenda items and asking for an immediate decision was very upsetting to these talented, educated introverts. Understanding, appreciating and utilizing the skills of introversion are foreign ideas to some – even to introverts. Now you can read about it in
The Confident Introvert.
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