The Myth of the Silver Bullet

In my own quest to address my anxiety and ill health I, like many wanted to find a simple solution. A single habit or medicine that would make it all better. The same goes with other problems I might have, whether it be work, relationships and so on.

It’s an example of how we latch onto the idea of single law, rule, or hack that will help everything else fall into place.

So we read posts, watch vids, try fads, go-to seminars thinking it will all be better afterwards.

An example of this quick fix attitude can be seen clearly in our health. When unwell we just want a rapid and effective means of getting rid of the symptoms.  Usually, this involves taking a pill.

If your suffering is so bad then that’s the right thing to do. But today’s most serious illnesses are more to do with how we live.

Heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and many others chronic illnesses are created by our poor diet and lifestyle. Such as smoking, stress, lack of sleep and so on.

But we are often unwilling to do the hard work. Taking the time to alter how we live to address these problems. It’s very much a short-term attitude.

Normal feelings like anxiety and feeling down have in some ways become excuses for companies to sell pills.

Instead of addressing the causes of our suffering, and accepting that life will inevitably have it’s ups and down. Society has medicalised normal behaviour and started doling out pills for everyone.

Prescriptions for depression and anxiety have increased over these past few years. If it’s not pills then it’s other forms of medication, passive entertainments, fatty, sugary foods, the Internets endless information.

Is that we are really more anxious, or because we are less willing to face such feelings and just want a quick fix?

Fad diets is another example. We adopt them because of some celebrity or fitness gurus promoting them, and somehow we think it’s suitable for us. Often they can involve some extreme changes to diet and many are not supported by science or are controversial.

This focus on the short-term fails to address the causes of the many chronic diseases we have.

Another example in medicine is the treatment of infections. For decades we have used antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. Only now we have a major problem. Resistant strains of bacteria have evolved and the drugs no longer protect us. Antibiotics are a simple intervention, something bacteria can and have adapted to.

Illness then is not something that can only ever be addressed through symptom-based medicine.

Worse still short-term treatments may not even work and in some cases could be making the problem worse over the long term, like antibiotics.

This limited attitude of short-term fixes means the chances of fixing the problems of this world and in our own lives are not good.

This is where we need a different attitude towards problems and their solutions.

Holistic and Complex

‘Solve the problem at the source and the rest will fix itself’

A holistic solution is one that involves looking beyond the symptomatic and seeing the problem in its broader context. It’s a recognition that everything is interconnected.  Problems occur in complex systems like our lives through multiple factors acting in the same place and the same time.

It’s not when one thing goes wrong but rather when many things go wrong that we typically find ourselves stuck or suffering.

Think of it as the ‘soil and the seed’. When something’s not working it often the context, the soil-seed matchup that needs to change.

We need to go deeper into problems and understands their roots. Go wider so see how they connect with the broader context.

This world is not simple and our mistake is in thinking it is.

Long-term change that sticks requires a more persistent, in-depth, and broader approach. In may mean changing how we live our lives.

People who have a serious illness can find their attitude towards life changes. It becomes a turning point. Their perspective on health and life changes. In so doing they become a different person.

Where they were once unconcerned, ignorant or self-hating, they now understand how important health, happiness are to them, and what it takes to keep it.

This is what it takes to fix problems. A sort of Paradigm Shift if you will.

Nibbling around the edges of your life may not beenough. A whole-scale reappraisal and reorientation is required. You can look back and see how foolish you were to live your life as you did and see why you suffered for it.

Here’s where people change, where they find happiness, health, and purpose.

The ‘Silver Bullet’ or simple fixes don’t always work, and even if they do they might not last. One thing is often not enough, it’s many things you have to change.

We look back and consider these moments as the important parts of our lives, yet that’s somewhat illusory. Our memory as psychologists have discovered is a contrivance. We then mistakenly thing this think such moments are cortical to success forgetting all the hard work it took to get there.

This is the problem with our memories and stories, change happens, but only the edited highlights we get to see.

Stories present us with pivotal moments but that’s somewhat illusory.

What’s needed is a change in your worldview first, a change in attitude towards change.

Kaizen

‘Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.’ – Bill Gates

Complex interventions take time so instead of a single, large all changing intervention that fixes a problem the alternative is small progressive changes that take place over time.

The Japanese word Kaizen sums up this idea. It means a gradual improvement or change to improve performance or efficiency.

Small problems are addressed as they arise, leading to greater change over time.

Kaizen can be seen in some ways as evolution, which also uses small changes over time as species change and adapt.

It’s not one moment that makes a difference but the persistence of every day turning up and doing the work. This is how great things are made, brick by brick.

Balance and Prevention

Another obstacle to is that in a complex systems like ourselves and our lives there are a lot of forces competing against each other. Problems occur when we find ourselves out of balance towards the extremes.

A solution then often involves finding that balance again. Work-life, activity-rest, personal-professional are the most well known balancing acts. Which leads us onto prevention as a way of life.

Better than fixing a problem is preventing it from happening in the first place.

We can go back to our health and medicine example. If an unhealthy lifestyle causes illness, health and lifestyle can treat it, but better still they can also help prevent it.

This removes the need for a solution, and also avoids our tendency to seek simple solutions.

How do we do this? By being, holistic and accepting that our lives are complex. Knowing that some of our time will have to be devoted to self-care. An aspect of our lives that often gets ignored as we pursue work and success.

Taking time away from work to cook a meal, gets some exercise, take yoga classes, or chill out with friends becomes a necessary part of our life. If we want to live longer and stay healthy.

It’s also the cheapest in the long run.


The myth of the silver bullet is persistent because we want things to be simple, easy. But it’s a desire that can lead to potential problems. Because it prevents real progress from being made and can backfire leading to further problems down the line.

Complex solutions are hard to follow so we can certainly follow simple rules, look at tips and tricks just as long as we never forget the problem is more complex than we understand.

Addressing a problem then becomes a life long exercise is learning, being aware, experimenting. Which is what makes life mysterious, troubling and exciting.

Instead of relying on desperate interventions that can be too little too late. We should try fixing problems by addressing their complex causes. Or better still take steps to prevent them by living our lives better. Replacing bad habits and ideas with better ones, seeking harmony and the gradual change of baby steps.

It’s and recognition that a different strategy is necessary to live our lives. That we all need to be good jugglers. Keeping the many aspects of lives in the air at the same time. Because life is complex, and there’s lots of work todo.

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