When you have a real* problem, you need to quickly patch it to fix its real symptoms. A patch is a good idea because it is immediate and you can't fool yourself into thinking you have fixed the root problem, and you can't yet fix the root because it requires research, the right tools, and so on. Even if the patch is messy, it's better than the alternative of doing nothing, and it's better than fixing the root problem because it's very difficult to fix the root while the symptoms are distracting you. Patches cost time and/or money, so this is another good reason to stay solvent and able in every area of life so you can respond to problems as they come up.
As soon as you've patched the problem**, begin the principled correction, that is, the fix of the problem at the deepest, most original point possible. This is much more work, but you're motivated because you know you'll be patching the same problem over and over until you've cut off its source.
Roots have their own roots, and fixing a root problem that has its own causes is just a deeper patch. The only solution is to patch the deepest visible root and dive more deeply into the problem. This makes it sound like any fix is "patches all the way down," but it's not true. Eventually you will reach the point at which the problem is equal to your understanding and make your last correction. Beyond that, you won't be able to tell whether you're making things better.*** Or, possibly, you'll reach the root of all problems, but I can't advise you there as it's well out of my league.
It's also important not to rotely patch one step at a time. Start as deep as you are able and skip as many steps (as other people see them) as you can without creating more work and distraction for yourself.
This surface-to-root approach applies to any field, although I'm writing this with business and programming in mind. If you reach the point where the nature of your work itself is the problem, you don't have to give up what you do, but you will have to find the solution outside of your field and change it.
*That is, not one you invented to avoid a real problem.
**If your team is large enough, you can isolate yourself from the symptoms while others patch them. This is only possible if you can study the problem in isolation.
**Please keep trying as this is a good way to learn, but you'll want the help of wiser people. It's hard to decide who are the wise people that will increase your wisdom; this is why there's such a fight from some people to keep teaching the oldest, best books in schools so students have less of a choice about becoming wise. As an adult, you have some ability to see where wisdom exists just beyond you before you actually obtain that wisdom for yourself.
Leo Babauta has inspired millions through his writing on Zen Habits, where he's shared his experiences in building up great habits, cutting clutter and junkfood from his life, learning about great parenting and building a wonderful family, eliminating debt, increasing his income and productivity, and living a life that's more happy through and through.
Leo is now graciously participating in GiveGetWin with a practical class on "action-oriented contentment", and he sat down with Sebastian Marshall to share his thoughts on what motivates him, around what contentment is, on trusting yourself, on being compassionate and compassion as an impetus for action, on self-compassion and treating yourself well, and happiness in general. Enjoy:
"Practical, Action-Oriented Contentment and Compassion" by Leo Babauta, as told to Sebastian Marshall
Usually I come to this page with an idea of something to write about. Not today. This will probably be one of those random posts with little bits of everything in it. Have you ever noticed that my first paragraph is always long enough to make that drop cap thing on the left look right? Often I'll want to start off with a single sentence, but I write some fluff to make it look right.
I just gave my fish some medicine. They still have fin rot. It's really scary because huge chunks of their fins just dissolve into the water, so they look really pitiful. I've bought tons of different kinds of medicine for them, but none have fixed them yet. Each time they seem better, but then after the treatment the symptoms start showing up again. Of course I'm trying to treat the root problem, too, although I don't really know what it is. I change the water and feed them less. Almost everyone feeds their fish too much.
I really love my fish. I think they're the best pet ever. I can go out of town and not have to worry about them, but whenever I have a spare moment I sit and watch them swim around. Now I don't like watching them as much because they're sick so it makes me feel bad. It's amazing that they can just swim around and not die of boredom. I couldn't.