Is it inner or outer?
Every problem has (often) both an inner and outer aspect; you could say every problem is two problems
This first problem is an inner problem (an intrapersonal problem), which is best to be solved first. Then the outer problem (which may be an interpersonal or other problem dealing with the outside world) is much easier to solve, once the inner problem is resolved.
Sometimes only one problem exists: the inner problem. Once the inner problem is resolved, then we realize no outer problem exists.
"Ask Dwight How" specializes in solving almost any type of inner problem. And, for some types of problems (like how to say "no" to others), the outer issues are also addressed.
Our bad habit
Our habit, most often, is to focus right away on the outer problem, not acknowledging the inner problem and the importance of addressing it first.
Consider these examples.
You’ve argued with your spouse. Immediately you start focusing on the upset, thinking about how your spouse should change (or maybe you should apologize). You focus on the outer problem. You’re either unaware of or you’re ignoring the inner problem, the most salient of which is that you’re blaming your spouse instead of assuming 100% responsibility for the quality of your relationship with him or her. Only after resolving this problem should you consider the issue of how to clean up the argument with your spouse.
You’re frustrated with how long it’s taking to finish a task. You immediately start thinking about how to do it more efficiently or whether or not you can leave it for another day. You’re either unaware of or you’re ignoring the inner problem of not having set the task up so that you could enjoy the process of working on it. After you’ve solved this problem, then the efficiency issue may or may not still exist. If it’s still there, you can have fun addressing it.
It may be only an inner problem
Other times the problem may occur as an outer problem, but it’s only an inner problem.
You’re scared that it might be a mistake to quit your job and look for a new one. But you’ve already checked out the costs, benefits, and risks of the different directions open to you. Once you’ve gone through the undoing fear process, you notice that the path ahead is clear to you. Addressing the inner problem disappeared the outer problem.
For every problem, check first to see if there is an inner problem to handle.