Here is a thinking skill that can help you to think more clearly about complex issues, where seeing the true problems is difficult.

Everthing (almost!) in life can be considered to occur in a tree. Roughly speaking, a tree has a root, then some main branches, then some smaller branches, then twigs and then leaves. Some trees are only small, and have just a root and some leaves, but some are much bigger and have lots of branchings before reaching a leaf.

Many of lifes issues can be considered as a tree- there is often a single problem which has some major effects which in turn have smaller effects which in turn... all the way out to the leaves which are particular occurrences.

Here are some examples:

a) I didn’t feel loved as a child (a root) means:

  • I seek attention whenever I can get it
  • I seek after success at the expense of everthing else
  • I have difficulties forming loving relationships.

Each of these breaks down further, eg the success seeking:

  • I try very hard at work
  • I win regardless of the cost
  • I will cheat a colleague to succeed.

Eventually, you get to a leaf, eg “I didn’t make it home to be with the kids because I was too busy working”.

b) I want to serve God with all of my life (a root) means:

  • Pursuit of integrity,
  • Holiness,
  • interaction with God.

Each of these breaks down further, eg the Pursuit of integrity:

  • Putting aside Stealing
  • Telling the truth
  • Obedience to the rules

Eventually you get to a leaf, eg “I admitted that I’d got it wrong even though I could have concealed my mistake”.

c) I want to be a concert pianist (a root) means:

  • Learning to read music
  • Piano practice
  • Listening to great piano players

Each of these breaks down further, eg Learning to read music:

  • Allocating time to study of musical script
  • Learning to follow orchestral scores
  • Learning the relationship between the notes and the keys

Eventually you get to a leaf, eg “I didn’t go out with my friends that night because I wanted to listen to Vladimir Ashkenazy playing Mozart’s piano concerto’s”.

The examples I have given all come from my perspective. Your trees will be different- a branching could split 2, 3, 4 or even more ways and you might not share my view on it. The critical thing is that you learn to put together the tree of problems to properly “map” your issue.

You might even find it better to describe your problem as a set of trees, but you should be aware that it is likely in this case that you only need to work on one or perhaps two trees at a time because the other trees will probably be much less important.

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