Conversations at the Crossroads.

Symptom or Condition?

When it comes to matters of health, most of us understand the difference between a symptom and an underlying condition. For example, a stuffy nose might be a symptom of a cold, and a headache a symptom of dehydration. We get how, as the dictionary defines it, the “symptom” is “something that indicates the existence of something else.” And in matters of health, this understanding may lead us to take different steps with regard to treatment—perhaps an aspirin for the acute pain of the headache, plus increased water consumption to combat the dehydration. If we would mistakenly identify the headache as the condition rather than a symptom, and only treat the headache, we would miss the opportunity to address the larger issue and to perhaps eliminate future headaches.

In a similar fashion, it can be helpful to apply this distinction between “symptom” and “condition” when looking at aspects of our lives where we feel we are struggling.  We can ask:

Is this a condition, or is this a symptom of something else?

Let me illustrate the point:

Procrastination is a common topic with my clients. Many speak of goals and plans that aren’t progressing as they would hope. When the struggle persists over time, I have seen a tendency for many to refer to themselves as “procrastinators.” In other words, they come to view procrastination as an ongoing condition from which they suffer, and they come into our conversation seeking a “cure.”

How do I stop procrastinating?

Yet, with deeper exploration, most clients acknowledge that they don’t always procrastinate, and that they don’t procrastinate everything, but rather they struggle to move forward on certain projects or in certain circumstances (meanwhile, some goals move forward without a hitch). Furthermore, we discover that an identifiable mental block—for example, fear of failure, or lack of a plan—is triggering the resistance they experience in those specific situations. This discovery causes a shift in our conversation, to begin to address the fear of failure, or to design a plan. We come to see the client’s procrastination as evidence—or a “symptom”—of a larger and more important issue, and in focusing on that root issue we can eliminate or at least reduce the symptom of procrastination. A focus on “curing” the procrastination would have missed the target.

In the weeks ahead, I encourage you to look critically at an area where you are experiencing an ongoing struggle. Procrastination, low motivation, frustration… whatever the struggle, ask yourself:

Is this a condition, or is this a symptom of something else?

In the examples I named, these often prove to be symptoms rather than underlying conditions, and identifying the root cause of the symptoms may help you to empower a positive shift.

If this proves helpful, I would love to hear about it!

With support and encouragement for your journey,

Founder, The Crossroads Coach

Published February 15, 2017