Holistic Problem Solving

I despise people who use the term “holistic” with a passion. Just Google it really quick and see what comes up: “Holistic Healing.” “Holistic Bodywork.” “Holistic Skin Care.” Oh, and my personal favorite: “Holistic Pet Care.”

Basically, “holistic” functions as the battle cry of the new age nutcases of this planet. They use it as a vague description for an alternative, more wholesome way of going about things, without really knowing what that entails. Kind of like the same type of person keeps bringing up the word “energy” in conversations, without any concrete meaning attached to the word.

Despite this obvious abuse, the idea of “holistic” can have a huge, measureable impact on your life and your productivity, if you drop the hippie-sentiments. The true concept behind the word is actually a profound one: Any alteration of the elements of a given system will have a significant impact on the system as a whole; either strengthening the system or weakening it.

Substitute the word “system” for the word “life” in the definition just given, and you start to see what I’m getting at: Areas of life that we tend to treat as separate are really highly interconnected. As a result, success or failure in a certain area might massively depend on seemingly unrelated factors.

A great example is weight lifting. You meet these guys who complain about not being able to put on more muscle, but the only solution they can think of is to obsess about training plans and reps. However, as soon you ask them a few pointed questions about their sleep habits, their diets and their stress management, you start to wonder how they were able to put on ANY muscle in the first place.

To go back to the abstract level again: In many cases, the solution to a problem does not stem from the same area as that problem. You might have a weight lifting problem, but the solution could be improving your sleeping habits. But this is exactly what most of us do – we tend to stay fixated within the same area, looking for possible solutions. It makes life (seemingly) easier.

I chose weight lifting as my primary example, as people are vaguely aware that sleep and diet somehow play into it, so it’s easier to see the connection. However, as soon you switch the focus from weight lifting to other subjects, we forget about holistic problem solving again and exclusively look at solutions within the limits of that subject. This is a fool’s errand, though. In truth, your success in business might stand and fall with something trivial, like your ability to organize your to-do list. You making it as a professional musician might ultimately turn out to be a time management issue: Can you consistently block off these 3 hours of daily practice or not? Turning blogging into your job might ultimately come down to you getting better at long-term thinking, foregoing the desire to obtain quick success. And so forth.

I would venture to say that almost every major skillset to be learned or problem to be solved contains a deeper problem, a different skillset that is not inherent to the original skillset. Recognizing and taking that “hidden” problem seriously is not optional – it is rather the point where you make it or break it. You might be a talented and knowledgeable financial trader, but when you don’t know how to enter a zen like state during high-stress situations, all that talent will go to waste. You might have a knack for start-ups, but if your diet doesn’t support your 60 hour work week, you will soon be out of business.

Every area in your life affects the other areas. Thinking you can just tackle one while putting the others on hold is delusional; this is one of the reasons why I don’t buy into the One Thing philosophy. Just because we WANT it to be that way, so things become linear and simple, it doesn’t make it that way. Life happens on many levels at once, so you better start to learn how to look at the bigger picture. Isolating certain areas of life is not only artificial, but it does not work.

In this sense, the ultimate analogy for life becomes that of a great, completely interconnected apparatus. Its success as a unit is dependent on all of its parts supporting each other. This is the true irony here: People use the term holistic as an expression of their fluid, organic world view, when it really refers to a highly mechanistic position.

One last thing: This is also the reason why we have put up with all these “5 Ways to Become Better at XY” type of article in the personal development field. These articles usually go on to suggest that the solution to your problem is within that same field and the given advice is usually microscopic, not making even a minute difference in the long run. But we, the readers, want exactly this kind of advice; as we don’t want to be forced to step back and consider this much vaster and more complex apparatus that is life. The latter seems way too overwhelming – I’d rather have the easy, insignificant solution instead. Highly irrational, but that’s us.

But then again, you are here at nielsbohrmann.com reading these fantastic big picture articles on personal development, so this probably does not affect you at all…

Until next time.