The Problem is the Solution

Posted by Lissa Carter, LPCA

When mental or emotional discomfort enters my awareness, I have a choice: I can view the feeling as a problem, or I can view it as a solution.

How can a problem be a solution? Because discomfort engages the awareness.  When I notice that something is wrong, for the first time, I can take action to change it. 

In the name of efficiency, whenever we take in information that doesn’t fit our previous experience, the brain simply disregards it. It is only when this information reaches a critical mass, or induces a certain level of emotional discomfort, that our brain is willing to even “see” it at all.

Our brains aren’t bad—they do this to protect us. It’s important to be able to process information quickly.

But it is just as important to be able to perceive true information about the world around us, rather than working with old ideas that may no longer serve our development. 

To do that, we have to be able to feel discomfort, the discomfort of being WRONG. We have to be able to notice and face the information that tells us we are incorrect, rather than avoiding it. We have to be willing to revise our opinions of experiences that have felt true in the past.

In short: we have to have PROBLEMS!

So: how do we use our problems to create solutions? How can we use our awareness that something is wrong to reshape our brains?

According to current neurological research, there are two ways you can create new brain circuits as an adult. One is through overwhelming emotion. For example, if you have always loved chocolate cake, and then one night as you are eating a piece of chocolate cake you get the terrible news that a family member has passed away, your ideas about chocolate cake are going to change. You won’t associate eating cake with happiness anymore, you’ll associate it with grief. Now, when you think about chocolate cake, you'll feel sad instead of happy. Overwhelming emotion can rewire our circuits instantaneously.

The other way to make new circuits as an adult is through repetition. This entails laboriously repeating a behavior or thought again and again until the brain takes to it.  For example, last year I undertook a challenge to eat completely clean for 30 days. Every morning, for 28 days, I reached for the sugar bowl to stir sugar into my morning tea. And every morning, for 28 days, I remembered that I was not eating sugar, and put the sugar bowl back. 

On the 29th morning, I did not reach for the sugar bowl. 

Slowly, through repetition, my brain changed its circuitry and learned not to reach for the sugar bowl in the morning. 

The Permaculture and the Psyche group that will be starting in April is a deep dive into these two life-changing skills: emotion and repetition. It will be a hands on exploration of transforming problems to solutions by building new circuits in the brain. 

This is what I so love about the Expressive Arts: if you want your life to transform, deep emotion and repetition have to be engaged. When the emotion is evoked by lovely music, by delicious motion, by moving and heartfelt words, by brilliant colors and lines and brushstrokes and shapes; when the repetition is engaged by exploring a theme first through art, then poetry, then movement, then music; the transformation happens seamlessly. And it is passionate and powerful and safe and lasting.

Process from a previously held  Permaculture and the Psyche  workshop

Process from a previously held Permaculture and the Psyche workshop

I love this about permaculture too. Yes, the world is full of terrifying and desperate problems. But as we learn from nature and repetitively, with deep passion and emotion, apply her solutions to the land around us, we gain agency and hope. As we transform problems into solutions, again and again, we find that we are transforming not only ourselves, but also the world around us.


If you are interested in joining the Permaculture and the Psyche group that starts on April 3rd, contact me below.  Sign up with a friend and I'll send you a special discount code for 1/2 off the series registration price!