Issue #88 - Twelve favorite problems

Focus on intriguing problems. Let go of the outcomes. Surrender to the unknown.

Richard Feynman was fond of giving the following advice:

You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems present in your mind, although by and large, they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you learn a new trick, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in awhile there will be a hit, and people will say, “How did he do it? He must be a genius!”

As you see the world through the lens of your favorite problems, you will organize your thinking and start to pick up cues in life. This new awareness will help you build confidence and trust that you are already on the way.

Before we talk about these twelve powerful problems, I want to make sure you know what you value in life. If you still don’t know what you value, check out the Powerful Coaching Exercise first.

Define big, ambitious problems that can be acted upon.

The following are specific tips for defining your twelve favorite problems:

  1. Brain Dump: Write down questions that have been floating around your mind.

    Prompt: What are the burning problems that…

    • will interest you over the coming years?

    • will serve as open-ended guides for learning and research?

  2. Be Specific: What do you want your life to look like? We cannot be something until we see something. Make sure your problems are specific and thorough.

    Capture what your problem looks and feels like so that you can fully visualize it. Your problem should inspire you, excite you, and even scare you a little. It should be a stretch for you, but not a pipe dream.

    Don’t be overly prescriptive either. You want to focus on “what” you want and let the “how” take care of itself. Over time, you’ll realize that there are many paths to get to where you want.

  3. Be kind: Focus on what you want, instead of what you don’t want. Take out negative digs.

    Instead of asking, “How do I fix my sleep so I’m not always tired?”

    Try a kinder version, “How do I sleep well and become full of energy?”

  4. Be honest: Because none of us want to acknowledge the gap between our desires and our actions, we wisely and cowardly avoid admitting our problems altogether.

    If you don’t articulate the problems you want to solve, how can you solve it?

    If you can’t admit what isn’t really working, how can you fix it?

  5. Breathe. Writing down your problems is not meant to depress you. It is, however, a reality check of where you are now in comparison to where you want to be. It also reveals what areas in your life are actually working and what areas are not.

    No matter where you are at this moment, this is the beginning of change and discovering your own favorite story of life.

Sample Problems

  • How can I build trust with myself?

  • What does it mean to not be afraid?

  • How might I fully leverage my strengths?

  • How can I connect with great people and live a meaningful life?

  • What does it feel like to keep myself excited and fire lit?

  • How can I adapt my career and scale my impact effortlessly?

  • How can I add the most value to my family and community?

  • What would it look like to heal dynamics and relationships in life?

  • What does it mean to live a good life?

Action Item: Share Your twelve favorite problems

  1. Write down your twelve favorite problems. It’s okay to have fewer problems, too. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of your progress.

  2. Email me a draft to get feedback.

  3. Document how you advance on each of the problems in your weekly review.