Are Anchor or Gravity Problems Keeping You Stuck in Your Career?

by Lydia Johnson, M.S. (Certified Holistic Career Coach)

Charles Kettering, former head of research at General Motors, famously said: “A problem well-defined is a problem half-solved.”

Unfortunately, most of us struggle with clearly defining our problems, and we’re especially terrible at applying good problem-solving skills to our big, hairy career problems—like figuring out what you want to be when you grow up or whether or not you should quit your super stressful job.

Today’s Quick Tip Tuesday is dedicated to helping you avoid making two major problem-solving mistakes. This sage advice is inspired by my Designing Your Life certification, which I received from the wise folks at the Stanford Life Design lab.

Big Mistake #1: Anchor Problems

Anchor problems are when you’re stuck on one unavailable solution you’ve mistakenly identified as “the problem,” leaving you unable to move forward.

Anchor problems are like an angry toddler trying to fit a square block through a round hole. They think the problem is the block… As adults, we see he’s stuck on a solution that isn’t viable.

This thinking also prevents us from tapping into our creativity and resourcefulness. If we give up that one “ideal but impossible” solution, we can often come up with many great solutions.

  • Example of an Anchor Problem: My boss is a stickler who won’t ever approve my ideas (Unviable solution= Changing your boss’s personality)
  • Let’s fix it: I need to find ways to pitch my ideas in a way that better address my boss’s concerns.

Big Mistake #2: Gravity Problems

Gravity problems are when we stay hung up on something that can’t be changed or are unwilling to do what it takes to change. If it’s not actionable, it’s not a problem. It’s a circumstance.

Gravity problems are like bicyclists saying, “I need gravity to decrease so I can get up hills more easily.” I’m sorry… but that isn’t going to happen! As silly as it sounds, we do this in real life, which leaves us stuck and unable to move forward.

  • Example of a Gravity Problem: I want to become a doctor, but I don’t want to go through medical school.
  • Let’s fix it: I want to find a new, well-paying career within the healthcare industry without returning to school.

Your Quick Tip Tuesday Homework

  1. Identify three problems you’re struggling with at work or home. Write your default/sub-conscious problem statement for each.
  2. Now, ask yourself: Is this actually an anchor or gravity problem?
  3. If so, rewrite the problem statement, removing any baked-in solutions and reframing it to be open-ended and actionable.
  4. Start brainstorming real solutions!
Hi, I'm Lydia Johnson, MS

Hi, I'm Lydia Johnson, MS

Holistic Career Coach & Founder of ThriveCulture Coaching

I’m a dual-certified career coach and Industrial-Organizational Psychology consultant on a mission to banish Sunday Scaries and help you reclaim your life from work stress. I specialize in helping ultra-busy people design a fulfilling and burnout-free career that leaves more space for the rest of your life. Whether you need to overhaul everything, find a new job, or make your current role work better for you, I’m here to help.

You can learn more about my holistic and evidence-based approach on my website or jump on the phone for a FREE 20-minute consult call to learn more about how career coaching can help you finally enjoy a fulfilling, burnout-free career.


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