One reason that we continually fail at things is that we tend, unwittingly, to repeat our failures. We have a habit of plugging away with the same old strategy even though it isn’t working. One way to break this pattern is to do something different.

While most of us thrive on a challenge, some are greater than we can handle, or they just keep coming back.

It can be frustrating to be stuck with a problem. Not just because it is a problem, but also because failure undermines our confidence. Continually bumping up against our inability to fix something which we think should be fixable

We are creatures of habit. There’s nothing wrong with that and it has many advantages when our habits help us do things more efficiently. As ‘practice makes perfect’ we also tend to get better at doing whatever it is through repetition. But struggle is self-reinforcing, so continuing to wrangle the problem when that’s not working reinforces the unproductive habit. And it makes us short-sighted.

Just because we can’t see a solution to a problem that doesn’t mean that the problem has no solution. In the long run, our inability to see alternatives is emotionally draining as it is impractical. One way to break the cycle is to stop trying. Another is to do a little research and bring in advice from outside (the box?).

Time to change

Sometimes, taking a step back for a moment and doing nothing can release the tension and give us the space to think. One thought might be, whatever the problem, someone somewhere has been able to solve it. So asking around might be a help.

Repetition lets us down when we keep going over old ground by attempting to fix a problem with a strategy that really, deep down, we know doesn’t work. For example, shouting, to ‘win’ an argument, or dieting, to lose weight, when we know we can’t stick to it.

These examples, and others like them, end up making the problem seem even more unsolvable, or adding another one to it (shouting doesn’t resolve anything and I feel bad about shouting; failing at a diet also leads to self-criticism). If it doesn’t actually make the problem worse, successive failures certainly make it seem more resistant and unsolvable.

Do something different

At times like that, it is difficult to remember the injunction to ‘do something different’. But that’s what’s needed. When we repeatedly apply a strategy that doesn’t work our usual methods are not only ineffective, they can actually ensure that the problem stays with us.