Sometimes we succeed by simply trying harder to achieve our objective. Getting the lid off a jar or a garage cleaned out -- calls for trying harder. All it took was a little determination and focus on the goal. Too often, these successes get over-generalized. We jump to the conclusion that we can always succeed by trying harder. Most of the time, trying harder backfires after stringing us along with false hope that our determination will win out in the end.
Trying harder to succeed can make the original problem worse. It depends whether the problem has a life of its own. Living problems can retaliate when we mess with them. They can feed off our problem-solving attention. They can escalate the dynamics into a crisis or a "can of worms". They make us appear naive, gullible, simple minded or mistaken. Living problems say things like 'there's a lot more to this than meets the eye" or "it's not a simple as it first appears".
One way to recognize the warning signs of a living pattern is to consider if there are any cycles involved. Inert problems are straightforward. Living problems come back around to haunt us, go in in circles or flip flop back and forth between extremes. They indicate there's a deeper level to the problem that we're ignoring. There make it obvious there is no solution at the level of the presenting problem. They redirect our efforts from what evident to what's inferred, implied or implicit.
We may have heard of the distinction between "trying harder and trying smarter". That does not mean we know how to try smarter. Usually our only options are to try harder or to quit. If we knew how to try smarter, we would not be trying harder in the first place. We'd already know how to try differently and not rely on determination to overcome the obstacles.
We try smarter when we get below the surface evidence to understand the underlying issues. Below bravado may be panic and desperate urges. Under bullying there are usually lurking insecurities and patterns of self contempt. Deeper than sales pitches we may find hidden agendas and long established successes with deceiving others.
When we encounter what keeps the problem so alive, we see ways to transform the complex dynamics. The problem we're inclined to fuss at may be the solution to a deeper problem. The issues that seem to be contested may be invitations to become more respected, understood and trusted. Chronic problems with making changes happen may show the way for the changes to fall into place once stability is valued equally. In each case, we've made the switch from "trying harder to trying smarter".