Okay, what does that mean? Ol' Freud said denial is the basic defense, and I'd agree. We spend a lot of our psychological energy on NOT seeing the truth--on avoiding seeing anything that says "Uh oh, I'm causing part of the problem" and sometimes just anything that's too emotionally intense. In other words, we dumb ourselves down. A lot.
Here are some examples what it might look like to get to the essence of things:
* Relationships. In an argument with your sweetheart, instead of piling on new topics and new criticisms, you actually listen and consider your partner's complaint seriously. You ask yourself, "Do I do that? Would it help for me to do something different?" Then you can actually make positive changes in your relationship. Or, even if you're the one presenting the original complaint, don't be tempted to jump topics. Try to articulate one thing clearly, and ask your partner to hang with you to see if the two of you can make some progress about it. Ask yourself, either way, "What's the core issue here?" This also helps in conversations that aren't fights. When a friend shares a problem with you, listen for the essence, and don't be distracted by the little side issues or by the topics that happen to be titillating to you. Listen for what's most important to the other person in their story. The point of the story often isn't clear until they've talked for a while, so be patient. I know it's hard!
* Fear/anxiety. When you're scared/anxious/tense, instead of avoiding it psychologically or, uh, chemically, you sit down with your journal or a good friend or therapist and ask, "Okay, so what am I really afraid of? Under the surface level of anxiety, what am I really scared of?" Once you're clear on the fear, your chances of dealing with it well are astronomically higher.
* Problem-solving. Though these articles aren't generally about productivity at work, I'll say that people who're constantly asking, "What's the core issue here?" do much better in their careers. When you encounter a problem, when an issue's being discussed at a meeting, when a supervisee seems stuck, etc., consider asking, "What's the core of this problem? What's the essence, the main thing here?"
* Ask yourself for the hidden truth. Yeah, I'm tongue-in-cheek here. There's a therapist technique that's way cheesy...but it works sometimes. You can use it by yourself. When you think, "I just don't know what's going on," respond to yourself, "Okay, I heard you, but now tell me what's really going on." And sometimes you can. Sometimes all we need to break through that denial I mentioned is a conscious choice to do it. And questions are golden. They focus our attention beautifully, and they call for some kind of active response. So next time you "don't know" what the core of an issue is, just ask yourself what the core of the issue is. Tongue-in-cheek, yet sincerely, Lee
Licensed psychologist, Austin