We can’t help it. When we face a problem, our natural instinct as human beings is to look for the fastest, easiest, most accessible solution. Let’s call this our “quick-fix” tendency.
There is nothing inherently negative about this tendency. Most of our problems are simple enough that a quick-fix is sufficient. There are only so many hours in a day – the choice between a faster and slower solution seems like no choice at all.
Where the tendency becomes negative, however, is when we butt up against a problem that can’t be solved quickly, easily, or with our most accessible resources. In our hunger for a quick-fix, we sometimes don’t actually solve the thing we set out to solve – we often make it even worse than it already was.
Now, a lot of well-meaning people will try to tell you that there is no such thing as a quick-fix, and even if there is, that you should stay away from them. Well-meaning as these people might be, they are dead wrong on both counts.
Quick-fixes not only exist, but are far preferable to their alternative. But – as you probably saw coming a mile away – there’s a little more to it than that.
First, let’s look at something that tries to pass itself off as a quick-fix, but is in fact, not one.
The False Quick-Fix
Some solutions get you out of a jam – for the time being, at least.
At school, I would often only remember I had homework to do the night before it was due in – if I remembered at all, that is. Over time, I developed a kind of sixth-sense for which teachers you could and couldn’t bullshit into letting you hand it in the next day, or after the weekend.
My approach depended entirely on the teacher – if they were the type that took no shit from the likes of me, I wouldn’t bother, and I’d just do the homework and hand it in. But if I thought I could get away with it, I’d make up some excuse the next morning, and agree to bring in the homework the next day, or after the weekend.
I’m sure I thought I was very clever, but looking back, I have to ask myself what was I actually achieving? I didn’t need the extra time I bought myself, nor did I actually end up with any extra time in the long-run – I still had to do the work, and it was just as annoying and unpleasant two or three days after the original hand-in date than it would have been before it.
If you reach for a quick-fix solution, but your problem comes back a few days, weeks, or months later – perhaps with a vengeance – then you didn’t really fix it, did you? All you really did was give your future self something to deal with, and that is the difference between the false and the genuine quick-fix.
Are you making things harder or easier for your future self?
The Genuine Quick-Fix
To qualify as the genuine article, a quick-fix has to tick just two boxes.
Firstly, it has to solve the problem for the foreseeable future. Whatever the solution is, it must free your future self from having to play catch-up.
Secondly, it has to solve the problem with minimal waste of time. Note that I didn’t say “minimum expenditure of time”. To do a thing right takes whatever time it takes – possibly a very long time – but it needn’t take a second longer than that.
The foreseeable future
You are a human being – your foresight is limited. You cannot – with confidence – ever know what is going to happen as a result of the things you do or do not do. But neither can anyone else. So the playing field is level, in that respect.
Simply making an attempt to predict whether or not this or that solution will be better for your future self is all you need to do, and the more you make these kinds of predictions, the more accurate they will start to become.
You will never reach 100% accuracy – and to be honest, life would be pretty boring if you knew exactly what was going to happen – but there is no reason you can’t keep getting better and better at it until the day you die.
With minimal waste of time
There is a kind of “golden mean” when it comes to the speed at which you attempt to fix your problems – an ideal pace where you are calm, yet intense; relaxed, yet productive.
If you try to go faster than your ideal pace, your solution will not be as stable. You are in a hurry, and it shows. You will be tempted to cut corners and skip steps to get, and you will probably feel stressed and harangued as you go…
If you try to go slower than your ideal pace, then the solution might be fine, but it will most likely be lacking. A spark, a bit of vitality… This is because the journey did not stimulate you – you were bored. What’s more – the extra time you spent solving this problem was time you ultimately spent not solving your next problem, or on some much-needed rest and recuperation.
It is just as limiting to go too slowly as it is to go too quickly. Discovering your ideal pace is important – it enables you to get closer and closer to your potential.
The truth about solving problems
The truth is that for every problem you have that is actually solvable – and if it isn’t, you may as well stop worrying about it – there is a solution.
There is a solution that can solve the problem for your future self, and that will benefit from being done as quickly as possible, but no quicker.
There’s your quick-fix.