Solving the Wrong Problem Really Well

One day I realized something I never really wanted to admit: People in human service roles/professions really don’t know human nature. They know what they want to do with it, what others should do with it, or what’s wrong with what others want to do with it, swapping out their “doing” as better.

And so the cycle of madness continues.

This to me says most of the dollars are coming from people who were promised prior solutions to a problem and are relatively quickly on to the next solution.

But I wish madness was clearly visible. It’s always cloaked in great words: transformation, change, happiness, peace, high performance, alignment, conflict resolution, profit, success, and, well, the list goes on. What’s fascinating? You can be giving the wrong advice underneath or entwined inside these words, but when the brain hears these words, it creates a sort of dissociative, transfixing, calming response. I believe a neurochemical response pattern akin to addiction circuitry is activated. I really do. What makes humanity fascinating is the way it can hang out with contradictory concepts and seek dissonance reduction more than truth but use WORDS as substitutes for “truth.” For would soberly grounded and engaged brains fork out 11 billion dollars in 2019 for self-help products that are done mostly by buyers who have bought similar “solutions” in the past 18 months? This to me says most of the dollars are coming from people who were promised prior solutions to a problem and are relatively quickly on to the next solution.

What is going on here?

I think it is said best by one of the great apologists of the 20th century, Frank Sheed, in the quote below. Given the time his brilliant book Society and Sanity was written (1953), and from where this quote is taken, the use of “man” for human nature was commonplace, and so I share the quote unadulterated for the effect underneath gender that he was trying to make a point of, outside of an inclusion issue. Please, readers, know he is referring, of course, to the essence of a human being here in this powerful quote:

“But in the whole of our social life, man is overlooked. Man is taken simply as a word, the label for a particular kind of being (the kind of which we belong ourselves), and nobody stops for any serious consideration of what the word means. We proceed immediately to consider how to make the creature happier without ever asking what the creature is. It should be just the other way around. When some new proposal is made which affects the way men live our immediate reaction is always to ask, Will it make men happier? But this should be the second question, not the first. The first question should be, Does it fit the nature of man?”

Because of an aversion of some sort to look at the “what is-ness” of a human being, perhaps at the risk of hitting a wire that makes those truths unpopular to say in this raw and tense world we live in, we are questing for things that may not be possible. And God forbid we say a heresy sentence like that in this everything-is-possible culture of autonomy. For instance, I keep hearing a phrase now that I find fascinating: “In these uncertain times, we are living in now…” Hmmm. Compared to the Age of Certain Times back in the day? We have this strange sense that we can control more than we did years ago, but technological breakthroughs are methodological changes and not changes to the reality of the human itself. THIS is where we persist in going after more and more of change wishes, at the cost of what is.

So, yes, this article begs the question—what are those quiet yet persisting “things” of human being-ness that seem immune to progress/change/increased happiness and weight loss and perfection at all costs? Or better said, the things we should be accepting first about our nature before seeking limitless change—for maybe when we do that, change would happen quietly and more authentically in us, in our hearts:

  1. Emotions before reason. Whether we like it or not, the fight/flight/freeze circuitry in our brain runs more of our show than we think—even when we believe we are engaging with others, listening attentively, seemingly motivated to “change,” and open to requests coming at us. Many times what seems like the above really is fence-hedging, divided-up parts of us trying to do change talk while at the same time afraid to lose something we want to try to hang on to WHILE using the words of change. This is our nature. To seek growth and not at the same time. Or try to rewrite reality over and over so we can make this true. And to me, this neural state of affairs makes me feel it is truer of our nature to not trust what we say is really what we want, for I believe most of us are way more internally conflicted than we want to admit. And a self-help product for the “internally conflicted about buying the product itself” likely won’t sell as well on QVC next to the product assuming a unified, singular motivation.
  2. We are sense-makers over truth-seekers. As illusionists/magicians, marketers, and Hollywood can all attest with great evidences of their success over human perception of “reality,” it’s clear that human beings love the packaging of a good story, at all costs. So much so, a human may cease going deeper once it is satisfied with a good-enough story. We are wired, in my opinion, to seek the reduction of that anxiety I allude to in the bullet above, no matter how it comes at us. We are in essence lazy discerners, verbally addicted to words of excellence but actually living out ways of the “good enough.” Why? Telling a good, dissonant-reducing story is simply easier and feels good—I believe as much as sugar or another chosen craving of ours does.
  3. Social transactions are our currency, be it counterfeit or otherwise. Ever notice the apparent pressure one feels to always return a call, text, or email? Or answer something when asked a question? It seems to me we are driven by some law of social exchanging in a back-and-forth rhythm that I think is greater than the content inside it or the boundaries that are supposed to contain it as meaningful in the first place. Silence, “I don’t know,” or some other culturally contrarian way of being appears out-forced by the norms of convey-something-at-all-cost. Even the notion of dialogue has an implicit bias that all types of dialogue, at all times, with all people should be preferred over not speaking or engaging.

With these powerful undercurrents at play in our lives and our perceived rightness on everything, one wonders if we really know what we think we know about why we do what we do, and if we can even be discerning enough to know issues of amount, context, timing, and other perceptually non-salient variables we flat out simply ignore or make “all the same.” I am reminded of a great lyric from a song called “Ignorance and Privilege” from the folk singer John Gorka, that points to this invisible force of influence:

“…if the wind is at your back and you never turn around, you may never know the wind is there. You may never hear the sound”

I believe the way we think is fueled, too, by a wind that if we don’t grow an awareness to/for it, we will continually solve the wrong problems of life really well, blinded by the pleasure creation in our brain that was glad to create something, anything. Let’s hope we don’t stay stuck looking at the water like Narcissus, loving the “creator” we deemed ourselves over the laws of Creation or Reality, and share the same fate.


Dr. Kevin Fleming
Dr. Kevin Fleming
Dr. Kevin Fleming is a three-time University of Notre Dame grad and Founder of a global neurotechnology-based firm, Grey Matters International, Inc., that concentrates on providing true sustainable behavior change solutions for distinctive clientele seeking to go beyond mere self-help, coaching, and therapy. His work has been featured in top media outlets including The New York Times, CNN, Forbes, Fortune, Christian Science Monitor and has been endorsed by faculty members in both Harvard Medical and Business Schools, given the crossover illusions of success and happiness that confuse high performing brains of our modern day. This innovative neuroleadership research and practice of his prompted an invite to speak for top Middle Eastern leaders in 2008, which had cabinet members for the King of Jordan in attendance. He received a feature chapter on his behavior change work in a book that hit the tops of both Wall Street and NY Times bestseller charts, ALL IN by Adrian Gostick. With the growth of Grey Matters International his offering of cutting edge neurotechnology options for creating breakthroughs in mental health, he was asked to be an expert aftercare resource for the CBS hit show "Face the Truth", created by the producers of The Doctors and Dr. Phil. In addition to being considered as one of the top personal & executive coaches globally (published in interviews and anthologies with the great Marshall Goldsmith, the late Stephen Covey, and Deepak Chopra), he is the U.S. Ambassador for the International Regulatory Body of Coaching and Mentoring. He is also on the Advisory Board for the DeNicola Center for Ethics & Culture at the University of Notre Dame. He resides in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Tulsa, OK and enjoys singing/songwriting and recording as a semi-professional recording artist and studio drummer, having recorded projects with the producer/bandmate affiliated with Carole King and Dan Fogelberg.

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  1. Especially if you face new challenges, it is human to have to follow a learning path almost certainly sown with errors and obstacles. It is also normal to have problems in life. But if we experience too many of them and feel overwhelmed quite often, then maybe we are making some mistakes. Perhaps, without realizing it, we are resigned to the idea that in life there must necessarily be problems after problems, so much so as to make them a constant and even look for them.
    I believe that in order to best overcome any problem, one must first “train” to know what your values ​​are, and then follow clear goals that are based on your talents. Making local mind about what may be some false preconceptions one have. Beeing aware that there will always be obstacles and problems, due to the many factors at play and the will of others (which often does not coincide with ours). Being aware that creating problems that do not exist, or making decisions that indirectly create them, does not lead to faster results, on the contrary. It complicates our life. Seeing the problems for what they are and not exaggerating them by always making a drama of them, trying to focus only on what matters, avoiding all those secondary activities or those people who very often create a lot of problems and a lot of waste of time for nothing. Trying to live in the present, so as to be alert and foresee those situations that are avoidable, before becoming a victim of them.
    And do many other things, that I would not be able to say now, but that certainly a sensible and balanced way of life could teach us.

  2. Very thought inducing and well written article Dr. Fleming
    For me, nothing is ever certain…
    Nature always wins
    Manipulation attempts to corrupt another’s mind. There is no normal nor perfection in the presence of change.
    Greed gets in the way.
    We learn awareness or we live in unhappiness
    The mind is the prize in the battle of good and evil.
    Power resides here. There are many tools.
    These are just a few if my thoughts.
    Thank you for this thinking here
    Have a great day