What Do You Do with a Problem? (The Wednesday 1-2-3)

Happy Wednesday Reader!

One of my favorite children’s books is What Do You Do with a Problem? by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom.

It’s a beautiful little story about a young kiddo who has a problem – and has no idea what to do with it. The kiddo tries to ignore it, hide from it, shoo it away, but the problem just seems to get bigger. And the bigger it gets, the more the kiddo worries, which only makes it grow bigger!

Sound familiar?

The resolution to the story is that our young protagonist finally has enough and realizes the problem needs to be faced up-close-and-personal. And when that happens, the kiddo recognizes the problem – like all problems – also holds an opportunity for a new way of being.

So what does looking at the things that challenge us “up-close” really look like?

There’s a framework I love to use in these moments known as the “Iceberg Model.” It’s a really helpful tool, somewhat similar to the Peel the Fruit activity, that helps us get clear on what’s really happening – not just in front of us, but beneath the surface as well (hence the iceberg metaphor.)

And when we really dig into the problem and see what’s in it, under it, and all around it, we can begin to discern what invitations there are for us.

Here’s how it works:

Practice: The Iceberg Model

When conflict or challenge arises, I recommend taking some time to journal on each of the categories below. But, if time is short, you can just think through each using the question prompts as well.

  1. Events: What behaviors or actions are happening? What is visible and known?
  2. Patterns: What events have been happening over time? What trends do you see?
  3. Systems: What structures and/or systems are influencing, reinforcing, or encouraging this pattern of events?
  4. Mental Models: What beliefs and assumptions support and embolden these events, patterns, and systems?

Before I share an example, here’s why this process is so vital for us:

Problems rarely happen in a vacuum.

When we only address what's right in front of us (the problematic events), without any attempt to look at patterns, supporting structures or systems, or underlying core beliefs, we tend to get absorbed in the work of “fixing” the symptoms…which often fails and perpetuates more harm.

This looks like us placing the blame solely on specific people, grasping for hyper-individual solutions, and reaching for quick “duct tape” solutions, rather than engaging in (typically longer) discernment and listening processes.

Facing problems “up close” requires us to see all components of the iceberg.

Here’s a practical example of what this might look like:

Events (the problem): I decide to meditate every evening before bed for 15 minutes. It starts well…but by the third day, I choose sleep over practice. I go a week without trying again and then give up on the plan, despite knowing it would be beneficial. I continue to feel disconnected and numb to my own life, now with even more guilt and shame.

Patterns: I recognize this isn’t the first time. The same thing has played out before with diets, workout plans, and basically any kind of habit-building rooted in a desire for a healthier life. I realize I have a pattern of starting > attempting > stopping >feeling guilty > giving up > repeat.

Systems: My day-to-day schedule is completely packed. Between surviving the demands of capitalism (including working a job I don't particularly enjoy), meeting family commitments, going to doctor’s visits and grocery store trips – I'm usually physically and emotionally exhausted by the time I might realistically have a bit of silence. The structure of my day (which I've co-created along with cultural expectations and demands) is simply not made for “me time."

Mental Models: Realistically, although I don’t want to admit it, I notice how much I buy into the “productivity over everything” cultural belief. Society’s norms underlying meritocracy, hierarchy, and production feed the ways I use my time and set up my schedule – even outside “working” hours. Even when I do manage to prioritize stillness or reflection, I find myself feeling a bit selfish, antsy, or like I'm "wasting time."

As with all deep inner work practices, you might notice there are no answers here.

But once we get clear on the beliefs, assumptions, and systems supporting the problematic events and patterns we experience, we can begin to see the invitations calling for us.

Hope this tool helps 🙂

❓ Questions

  1. What is one problematic event or behavior in your personal life you can work with using this Iceberg Model? After you do: what actions are you feeling moved toward?
  2. What is one problematic event or behavior you see in one of your communities or in society as a whole? After you work with it using the Iceberg Model: what actions are you feeling moved toward?

🧰 Resources

⏪ If you missed last week's email:

I shared a practice for unblending our "body image" from our actual bodies.

Hope all is well-enough with you,


IG: @andrewglang

The Wednesday 1-2-3

Inner work frameworks, practices, and questions – all in a five-minute read. Delivered to your inbox every Wednesday morning before you even wake up. Written and curated by Andrew Lang.

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