The First Problem to Solve

A few brown and white shirts on a clothing rack.
To be able to work through a problem you're facing, you need to start questioning what the issue is in a new way.

A better question to ask

Lots of people come to me with something they’re struggling with and want me to tell them the one-size-fits-all solution to “why can’t I do this.” I wish I could oblige, but that doesn’t work, largely because it’s the wrong question to ask. Here’s how I reframe the question so you can get at a usable (for you) answer.

When you want to do something but can’t, ask: What is it about this that’s bothering me? or What is it about this that I don’t like? or What is it about this that’s holding me back? or Some variation of “What is it about this that…[is getting the result you don’t want]”

An example

For example, do you avoid changing clothes? If so, what is it about changing clothes that’s difficult for you?

Is it the sensory stimulation of taking off clothes and putting them on, and the new feels and potential cold moment between warmed up clothes and new clothes that are cold? Or is it the cognitive load of choosing just the right clothes for the occasion or the weather? Or because people saw you in something similar recently?

Or is it a matter of coordinating the timing of changing clothes with showers because that’s a natural transition point? And if you change just before you intend to shower, say the day before, does it seem like wasting those clothes to wear them only for a day?

If all you can come up with is, “I avoid changing clothes,” you might try to solve that by working harder to force yourself to change clothes.

Why this works

If, on the other hand, you can identify what about it is challenging (sensory, cognitive load, timing, etc.) then you have a specific question for which you can search for an answer.

Either find ways to improve the sensory experience so your nervous system is calmer. Or to reduce the cognitive load, maybe you can schedule your clothes to reduce the amount of thinking you need to put into choosing the next one.

Or if it’s a timing thing, maybe schedule showers for routine days but have a few changes of clothes that you can mentally accept wearing outside of the normal routine, in case you have a reason to change clothes early but don’t yet want to shower.

Or whatever. You can figure out something if you know what’s going on, and just knowing what’s going on itself can be a relief.

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Picture of Heather Cook

Heather Cook

Hi, I’m Heather. I’m an Autistic writer, advocate, and life coach, and I'm building a life I love. I help other Autistics to build their own autism-positive life. I love reading, jigsaw puzzles, just about every -ology, and Star Trek!

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