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Ingrid Martine and Rick Maurer - The Un-Game Book Interview

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Monthly Archives: September 2015

You Want to Be Effective? Expand Your ‘No Problem Area.’

Un-Game Principle: Thoughts are the engine that powers action. Every moment is an opportunity for a thought-engine ‘tune-up’.

No, I’m not advocating Pollyannaish thinking or putting a positive spin on a bad situation. And I’m not saying problems are bad. It’s in our self-interest to become or access exquisite problem-solvers for real problems—technical problems like fixing a broken air conditioner or a flat tire. I’m talking about that which we identify as a problem in our day-to-day interactions with ourselves, family, friends, the community, and the world. In an increasingly fast-spinning, fear-driven, fragmented, isolated-yet–connected-by- technology world, we are experiencing a vast sea of uncertainty which we are consciously or unconsciously grappling with and trying to control.

And we’re quick to experience what happens or doesn’t happen around us as a problem. Our teenage son is pushing us away with “Dad, you wouldn’t understand.” Our aging parents won’t listen to reason when it comes to giving up the license. Our spouse doesn’t want to spend the money to replace the 2005 Honda Civic.

Imagine a rectangle with the long side down and a line dividing it into two panes like a traditional window. The top pane represents your NO PROBLEM AREA. Whatever happens in it is ok with you. You accept what is. You probably extend energy here, but it isn’t problem-solving energy. Here you enjoy, even savor your relationships and simply go calmly about the business of living your life.

The bottom pane is your PROBLEM AREA. Everything here is a problem for you. The dog needs a walk and you don’t have time. Your family doesn’t share in the housework. Your son’s room is messy. Your daughter keeps secrets. Your employees spend too much time not working. You get the picture.

Everyone’s NO PROBLEM AREA is different from everyone else’s even though we’re largely convinced that “If you had my life, you’d feel and act exactly like me.” Some people’s NO PROBLEM AREA is very large. Others’ is very small. You can probably guess who is more satisfied with their life.

It would do most of us some good to expand our NO PROBLEM AREA and shrink our PROBLEM AREA. Would it be alright with you if life were easier?

There are more than two ways to expand your NO PROBLEM AREA, but I’ll focus on just two.

  1. Be guided by the definition for: Whose problem is this?
    • It is NOT your problem if the only thing that’s impacted is how you feel about it. Your feelings are your responsibility. They are not caused by someone else. What someone else does may trigger your feelings, but he or she isn’t doing it to you. Your feelings are your responsibility. He didn’t make you mad or cry. If you’re assigning responsibility outside of yourself, you are making yourself into a victim and someone else into an oppressor. You are definitely in your PROBLEM AREA. And you are unlikely to get out. Many of us just use a version of “kiss and make up,” but it’s an uneasy peace.
    • It IS your problem when there is an impact on you in physical reality. Your son’s messy room may embarrass you if company sticks their head in his room, but there is no physical impact on you. So it’s not your problem by the working definition. I know. I know. You don’t like it. But I promise I won’t make that my problem (smile). Your family not sharing in the housework, on the other hand, has an impact on you in physical reality. You spend more than your share of time keeping a home in order that belongs to every family member. So this is ripe for a “We have a problem” meeting.

You can see that taking ownership of you as the generator of your feelings would expand your NO PROBLEM AREA. Imagine the discord averted when each of us is the author of our feelings. It won’t stop us from talking to others about our hurt or angry feelings. On the contrary, we’ll be much more open and direct about them! And others may even be different around us when they simply learn how we feel without being made responsible for having caused the feelings. “I felt hurt when you said I wouldn’t understand. I wish you’d try me to find out whether I do or don’t.”

The other person said something. That’s a fact. But my hurt feelings belong to me. They are the result of what I told myself about what the other person said. I could have said “Hmm. He’s frustrated and doesn’t want to talk to me right now. Maybe I’ll come back later.” See what I mean? Two different thoughts. Two different feelings. There are any number of scenarios. How then could the listener possibly be responsible for another’s feelings?!

  1. The second way to expand your NO PROBLEM AREA is to ask yourself “Does this have to be a problem? How else could I look at this?” When we take both a breath and a step back, we see things differently than when we’re in the midst of an experience we don’t question. “As the parent I have a right to…..We’ve always done it this way. Joe is just not a very good employee. It’s the right way. We should have replaced that car a long time ago.”

Stepping back allows us to see our thinking. It allows us to be critical, not as in criticizing, but in thinking critically. We’re alert and using our rational brain, not just following feelings and unexamined thinking. In such an environment you could reveal your hopes and your worries about making a new car purchase. You can tell the truth about your feelings without having to defend. You can explore under what conditions it would be possible to get a new car. Or if you even both need a car! You can have a real conversation, not an automatic one. And your NO PROBLEM AREA is expanded.

Our thoughts drive what we feel and what we do. While most of us don’t care how a car works—we just want the car to get us where we want to go—we care deeply about expanding our effectiveness and our joy for living. Expanding our NO PROBLEM AREA may well be the tune-up our internal engine needs to get us where we long to go.

Photo Credit: Ines Zgonc

Ingrid Martine, MA, PCC, Coach and author of The Un-Game , Four-Play to Business as Unusual, a show, not tell tool for coaches, managers, and “will do” teams, works with organizations and individuals to empower them to move their lives from a 7 to 10 at work, home, and play.  For her FREE report, “Reap the Harvest of a Quiet Mind:  Empower Self, Empower Others”, or “Management Training for Business as Unusual”, visit:, or connect with Ingrid at: and