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Conflation is a common challenge in problem-solving.

Conflation happens when we mix multiple issues into the problem we are trying to solve. These issues can feel like they are related, especially when we are caught up in a spate of worrying. The more we worry, the more issues we can conflate.

Conflation obscures the reality of what is going on. We can become overwhelmed. And that makes it so much harder to take constructive action.

De-conflation requires we step outside of the worry and above the tangled mess of issues. Unpacking with a third party can be very helpful. Even if this is a short, focused conversation to hear ourselves talk through the situation.

Broad steps to de-conflation:

  1. Acknowledge and set aside the worry and other strong emotions associated with the problem. (Yes, this is easier said than done; and yes, it is doable with practice.)
  2. List all the issues – without judgement, analysis, or attempts to resolve them. This is best done written down.
  3. Sort through the list, separating out the unrelated issues. This can be a repetitive exercise in asking “how is this related to that?” The intention is to arrive at clear-cut issues we can actually act upon.