How To Stop Having Problems or “The Eighty-Fourth Problem”

The following is a Buddhist story that can help with your problems. If you’re not interested in learning from the Buddha, you have 2 choices:

1) Stop reading. No hard feelings.

2) Hear (read?) me out.

(Adapted from Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen.)

There is a story about a man who went to see the Buddha because he had heard that the Buddha was a great problem solver. Much like you and me, this man had some problems in his life and he hoped the Buddha would solve them.

This man was a farmer.

“I like farming, ” he said, “but sometimes it doesn’t rain enough, my crops fail, and my family lives on the constant brink of starvation. On the other hand, sometimes it rains too much, my crops die, and my family lives on the brink of starvation.

The Buddha listened patiently as the man went on.

“I’m married too,” said the man. “She’s a good wife whom I love, but sometimes she nags me too much and I get tired of her. I also have kids. Good kids mostly, but sometimes they don’t show me enough respect. I feel like my family doesn’t respect me or the land, and just sits around being lazy and uncaring, eating my food and spending my money.”

The man went on telling the Buddha his problems. Finally, he stopped on the brink of tears, and waited for the words that would take care of everything.

The Buddha simply said, “I’m sorry, my friend, but I can’t help you.”

“I don’t understand. Why? What do you mean?” said the man.

“Everybody’s got problems,” said the Buddha. “We’ve all got eighty-three problems, in fact. Eighty-three problems, and there’s nothing you or I can do to change that. If you work really hard on one problem another one will pop up in its place. For example, you’re going to die some day. That’s a big problem, and there’s nothing you, or I, or anyone else can do about it.”

The man was at wit’s end. He’d poured his heart and soul out to the Buddha, expecting to find relief in his wisdom.

“I thought you were a great teacher!” he shouted. “I thought you could help me! What good is your teaching if you can’t help me with my problems?!”

The Buddha said, “To make it up to you I will help you with the eighty-fourth problem.”

Curious and frustrated, the man asked, “What’s the eighty-fourth problem?”

Buddha replied, without an ounce of sarcasm or condescension, “You want to not have any problems.”

—–

I read this story every time I have a problem that starts affecting me emotionally.

Without fail, the anxiety and worry about my problem goes away.

Taking Action

The problem, of course, doesn’t go away on its own. Not until I take a very simple, but important step. The problem doesn’t go away until I take action.

What’s the point in taking action on solving a problem if, as the story says, another problem will take its place?

If you frame it so you enjoy being a problem solver, no problem will truly affect you.

Trying Until You Succeed

Problem solving is the essence of life. You’ve been a problem solver since birth. When you were hungry or needed a clean diaper, you’d cry. Problem solved.

As you got older and you were learning to ride a bike, you most likely fell off. What did you do? You solved that problem by getting back on and trying again.

You tried until you succeeded.

In the paraphrased words of Tony Robbins “trying until you succeed is the magic step.”

What would happen right now if you took your biggest problem and “tried until” you solved it?

How would you feel?

At first it might seem overwhelming and difficult, but don’t you agree that just by moving forward with the problem solving process your problem will grow smaller?

If there’s a solution, you’re going to find it because “trying until” means nothing less. There are no failures, only setbacks.

Reframe Your Problem

If you lose your job, for example, that’s a problem. Give yourself a little bit of time to wallow, and then reframe it. You’ve just been given the freedom to find a new job, start a new business, travel the world, or pursue a lifelong passion.

Do you agree gaining your freedom makes you feel a lot better than losing your job?

Simply reframing alone won’t solve the problem, of course. You probably have bills that need paying and food that needs buying. But reframing your job loss is that first action step that will give you the motivation to follow through until you succeed.

Where To Go From Here

The next time you have a problem that affects you in any way take a minute to think about the Buddha’s Eighty-Fourth Problem. (Better yet, bookmark or print this page and reread the story.)

Can you reframe your problem in a positive action-producing manner?

Would you rather be like the farmer and put the blame on somebody else or would you rather take control, take action, and obliterate your problems?

I’m gonna keep being a problem solver.

Photo Credit

{ 30 comments }

Ken

Great story and post.
You know what they say “you can’t fix a problem by worrying about it”

You are so right about the reframing. Reframe the problem so you can look at the problem from a more resourceful perspective.

Thanks for the story.

Karol

Hey Ken,

Thanks for your thoughts!

Karol

Dennis

Great story Karol. Most of us know that we waste time and that action is the key, but still we often are slow to set priorities and take action. Dan Kennedy says, “Change is action! Things don’t change, until we change things.” Albert Einstein said, “Nothing happens until something moves.” Apostle Paul says, “This one thing I do…” Elizabeth Elliot said, “Put your feet on the floor and just do it.” And my Mother said, “Just jump in there and get it done.” The problem is not that I’m not committed to better time management and defeating procrastination, my “Problem is my commitment to my commitment.”

Karol

Hey Dennis,

Glad to see you here! Thanks for posting!

Everybody wastes time and everybody has problems. What separates the “rock stars” from the “starving artists” is realizing this and taking action anyway. It’s not necessarily about defeating procrastination as much as it is just plowing through procrastination.

As far as your problem being your commitment to your commitment: what do you think is the solution? How can you reframe that problem?

alex - unleash reality

Hey Karol!

” If you’re not interested in learning from the Buddha”
- haha. way to go. lay a subtle guilt trip about buddha :)

the ending really made me smile. burst out laughing in fact. one of those warm tingly yum moments of mental glory :)

i don’t believe in problems though. only situations. not to correct his holiness :P

problems are memories, to quote hale dwoskin, author of sedona method :)

inspiring read all round. cool site too.

keep well and in touch
alex – unleash reality

Karol

Hey Alex!

Thanks for posting! I promise the subtle guilt trip was not intentional. :)

“i don’t believe in problems. only situations.” <– I love that!

Paul Norwine

Hey Karol -

I liked this post, especially the section “Reframe Your Problem.” I actually practice something similar to this when I’m faced with problems or issues that need to be resolved. I frame any issue I have in the most negative “glass is half empty” mindset. Then, I take the exact opposite and flip side “glass is half full” approach to that same problem and immediately feel as though I have taken constructive action to resolve the issue. This takes no real effort on my part but allows me to move forward in a positive direction and away from the problem. Don’t know if that makes sense but your post resonated with me for this reason. Thanks!

Paul

Karol

Hey Paul,

Thanks for commenting! I like your approach and yes, it does make sense. The most important thing is to tackle your problems any way that works because we’re all different. I’m glad the article resonated with you. :)

Thanks again!
Karol

Mario

Hi Karol,
well, I have a slightly different approach: I start with a full glass of red wine and by the end, problem is solved ;-)

Hey, and I found several interesting posts on your site that just apply to my own
problems and thoughts. I like your nice, simple, fast, writing style.
Keep posting. Thank you.

Karol

Hi Mario,

Thanks for the compliments! :) I guess a glass of red wine could work, but it’s only temporary.

Karol

Krishna

hey Karol it was good to come across blog through Zenhabits. anyways, i wanted to say that this is really inspiring post and i loved reading it.
you know, whenever i am in some trouble or problem, i follow the magic mantra that my school teacher told us, “so what! what next?” it really helps me to figure out the way to solve my probs.
aside from this i am also reminded of a chinese saying that i read somewhere, which said if you can solve the problem then there is nothing to worry, but if you can’t solve the problem then there is no point in worrying! :) thanks for the post sweetie!

Karol

Hi Krishna,

I love “so what what next?”! Thanks for sharing.

Karol

bestlinh

thanks for sharing :)
”Problem, problem, problem more …” usually we use this mindset with upset :); just because we forgot (to add) the Buddha’s thinking for life-realisation, and happiness realisation

Best Linh

Rotem Cohen

This is good advice, thanks a lot.

I think many people fail to implement that kind of stuff. When they run into problems they forget all the ‘wisdom’ and mental preperations and become too emotional, anxious etc.

One thing I got myself used to doing is that whenever I’m run into problems or having a really bad day, I ask myself: “would I remember this day or these events like 10 years from now?” It helps see things in perspective. Of course, sometimes the answer may be yes… ;-)

Karol

Hi Rotem,

That’s a great way of looking at it. Most things are so trivial we won’t remember them 10 years from now. :)

Thanks!
Karol

Jessie

Thanks Karol! This is one of my favorite Buddha teachings and when I did a search for it, you’re page came up.
Thanks!

Karol

Awesome! Thanks for finding me Jessie. It is one of my favorite teachings as well. But I guess that’s obvious. :)

Pat

Right on!
Once again it’s a question of whether the cup is half full or half empty.
Do you have a problem or an opportunity? A situation or a challenge?
There are no failures, only solutions not yet found.
Your ‘re-framing’ suggestion really helps us get in touch with the up side of any problem.
Thanks — Pat

Eugene

Most problems don’t really exist in the present. They are a result of a fear of something happening in the future. The only thing you have to solve for is the here and now. What action can you take right now? Answer that question and bigger problems start to break into smaller, more manageable chunks. Just another way of re-framing but it helps.

Karol

Thanks Eugene. Asking yourself what action you can take right now is a good way to not only solve problems, but to just get stuff done in general.

Thanks!
Karol

Jhet aka Juliet

Aha Karol, I believe I’m being trained well here. I love your opinion and the story.

My two cents for this is “the only person who does not have a problem is the one 6ft below the ground” – Not sure if anybody has commented in the same context.

You insight inspired me to take the following actions so far:

) May I ask if I can borrow your story for my site?

2) Also I just thought since I am taking the path you highly recommended, I re-started by blog most recently, I am also going to educate visitors to say even just a plain thank you.

3) Also to commit to read their post regularly and reply any comment that stirs my soul.

4) Blame no one (In the past I’m big on this)

5) Be a problem solver for those who are open

6) If they are not open tell them I LOVE THEM JUST THE SAME.

7) Continue to share the gifts that God -(sorry you mentioned you don’t believe in God) I love you anyway, (what about the universe? the higher source?) has given me

8) that’s enough for now – save the rest in my own blog post :)

9) Ooops I can feel my resistance for packing light. that means I have to really work on this one.

10) Enjoy life as it comes! Hold nothing back, pay forward

Whew, gosh that was good feeling when I can type anything spontaneously as it comes staight from my heart. Sorry – each time I type I got carried away – I thought this one is going to be short and sweet entry.

Namaste

Karol

Hi Jhet,

1) Yes, feel free!
2) Awesome!
3) Very good. They will appreciate that.
4) Good idea. :)
5) Perfect!
6) hehe, great mind set
7) No, none of that.
8) :)
9) haha
10) I always do! :)

Cheers,
Karol

Steve

Thanks I enjoyed this piece.

Karol

Awesome! :)

Maria

I recently heard someone saying: “Don’t say you cannot do something. Start by saying you can do it and just ask yourself how”!

We can all keep solving our problems. We just need to move from “this is too much for me to handle” to “how can I take care of this?”…

Beautiful post!

Karol

That’s exactly it. We can accomplish a lot more than we sometimes give ourselves credit for. Thank you Maria! :)

James Schipper

Thanks for bumping this post with that link. I think I missed it the first time for some reason.

Karol

Yeah, this was one of the first ever articles I wrote on this blog, so it gets passed up a lot. :)

Per

I really like the reframing part! I wrote a post about this on my blog. The post is called Window change and it looks at all the problems one can have as wrongly formulated problems. There is a psychological model in the field of pain research that’s called the “Misdirected problem solving-model” and actually applies to most psychological (and other) problems.
Great post!

Karol

Thanks Per. “Misdirected problem solving model” sounds quite interesting. :)

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