Last night was one of those unfortunate, frustrating nights in our house. At 3:10AM, the dog decided he needed to go out into the yard, which caused him to prance loudly around our bedroom until we woke up to let him out. Although he woke up both my wife & I, I was awake enough to get out of bed first (which rarely happens), so I let the dogs into the yard, brought them in, and went back to bed.
About 15 minutes later, before either of us could fully doze back to sleep, the 3-year-old started to cry in his bed. It was just a bad dream, and he went back to sleep quickly, but when I came into his room I moved his toy dog over on his bed to make room for myself. The button on the dog’s paw that causes it to sing and talk was now easily triggered every time my son rolled over onto it, which we discovered about 5 minutes after I went back to bed.
My wife, aggravated with the singing, got out of bed and went down the hall into my son’s room, and simply moved the dog over, expecting it to finish its song and then go silent. Too tired to take a look inside the dog and switch off the battery back, she stumbled back to bed hoping the problem would go away. Of course, by now, the 3-year-old was awake, and playing with the dog – hitting the buttons over and over to listen to the dog sing and talk. Then, it became my turn to go and try to calm him down, which was impossible, and by 5:15 he was ready to run and jump, so we got up and went downstairs to watch some cartoons while I tried not to bang my head against a wall until I fell into unconsciousness.
Most of us have been in situations like this, or at least similar to it. Tired, frustrated, stressed out – we seek a quick solution to an immediate problem, ignoring the potential long-term consequences. For me, I simply moved the dog over rather than putting it someplace where it couldn’t be triggered accidentally. My wife compounded the problem by just moving the dog and not taking a moment to find the off button. As a result of taking care of an immediate problem, we ended up with a much longer-term one: the toy dog kept on singing and the 3-year-old kept on playing, leaving us both tired, frustrated and grumpy as hell for the rest of the day – which will culminate with trying to get the kids to bed (and this time with the dog switched off, which he won’t understand, which means he won’t sleep well….).
Taking a few extra minutes to solve a problem for good seems like an onerous burden when you’re in the middle of the firefight. That exact same behavior, however, is what leads to the next firefight in the first place. Although we instantaneously reward ourselves (even with just a few more minutes sleep) for taking care of an immediate problem, we need to remember that solving the bigger problem usually means thinking about the longer term, and that alone will usually guide us to much more long-lasting solutions that allow us to avoid the next problem altogether.