A couple of weeks ago I did my Weight, Weight, Don’t Weigh Me neuroscience presentation at Bastyr University. Here in America obesity hit a Record High last year at 28% of the population. Add in people who are “merely” overweight, and the figure skyrockets up toward 70% of Americans according to the National Institute of Health. 70%! The many reasons for this – as well as some radical, scrutable solutions – were part of the variety of things we explored together in class at Bastyr.
A Struggling Statistic
While I have been busily focused on my brain and body’s personal struggle for skillfully dealing with my own weight in preparation for the class, obesity has managed to become a world-wide epidemic – there are more obese people on the planet now than there are people who are hungry. Many of them live in China, which is now Country No. 2 on the Global Obesity List. Because obesity adversely affects brain function, brain maven Daniel Amen considers it the greatest brain drain in human history. It’s particularly insidious because when my weight ballooned up to nearly 250 pounds, a flashing red light didn’t go off and a Siri-like voice announce: “Attention! Attention! Brain Function is Currently Below Normal!!” For these reasons and more, obesity has expanded to become a Wicked Problem.
Wicked Problems need Wicked Solutions
Wicked Problems are a special kind of problem. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about them:
A Wicked Problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. The phrase was originally used in social planning.
The use of the term “wicked” has come to denote resistance to resolution, rather than evil. Moreover, because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a Wicked Problem may reveal or create other problems.
Tell me about it. Sounds a lot like the obesity epidemic, doesn’t it? So, how might we transform Wicked Problems into Ecstatic Creative Opportunities? Here are ten specific characteristics of Wicked Problems which I’ve contextualized as they might pertain to managing weight:
- A Wicked Problem is not fully understood until after the formulation of a solution. This means that only after I’ve lost 30 more pounds and managed to keep it off for ten years will I be able to accurately see all the factors that both prevented and then went into making up my unique, personal solution. But people who’ve been successful themselves can provide experimental clues for me to use along the way.
- Wicked Problems have a no stopping rule; addressing them must be continuous. Diets don’t work. An ongoing eating lifestyle change that changes body and brain for the remainder of my lifetime is more likely to though.
- Solutions to Wicked Problems are not right or wrong. I’m not bad, stupid or to blame for personally struggling with this issue.
- Every Wicked Problem is essentially novel and unique – because each of our brains and bodies is essentially novel and unique.
- Every solution to a Wicked Problem is a “one shot operation.” Wouldn’t it be great if I could diet for a week and be “won and done!” Instead, I have to find the one complex combination of interventions that will produce the results I want that work for me.
- Wicked Problems have no given alternative solutions. The integrated, multi-pronged solution for me that ultimately works is what ultimately works best for me.
- The solution depends on how the problem is framed and vice versa (i.e., the problem definition depends on the solution). And the solution will have to be framed taking into account many variables like what makes me feel deprived; what makes me feel energized; what foods might adversely impact me currently; what might adversely impact me differently later on as my brain and body change?
- Stakeholders have radically different world views and different frames for understanding Wicked Problems. What works for me managing weight must work for me and might very likely not work for you. And it must take into account all the people, places and events that either deliberately or unwittingly don’t want me to manage my weight successfully.
- The constraints that a Wicked Problem is subject to and the resources needed to solve it change over time. Things like money available for nutritious food rather than fast, cheap food; knowledge about what foods are truly nourishing both to people in general and my brain and body in particular at a specific point in time.
- A Wicked Problem is never solved definitively. The work of skillfully managing my weight is something that I’m going to need to vigilantly – and ideally, joyously – attend to for the rest of my life.
Wake Up, Fat Man
One thing the Wicked Problem of successfully managing my own weight requires of me is the ability to pay increasing, ongoing attention to my mind, brain and body. It needs me to be more body-mindful and to develop mindsight. But how can I become more mindful, when obesity is compromising my brain’s ability to be willful and pay ongoing attention? I just don’t have the energy available to do it. And therein lies the dilemma; it’s part of what makes my struggle with obesity Wicked! Perhaps if I get something to eat, I’ll have more energy.
If you’d like to more fully understand your own or other people’s Wicked Problem with successfully managing weight, together with a whole host of things you can do about it for yourself or your clients that you’ve probably never considered, click HERE.