"Employ your time in improving yourself by other men's writings so that you shall come easily by what others have labored hard for." - Socrates

The following statement may be a shock to you, but here goes:

There are NO new problems.

Sometimes it feels as if every problem or challenge that you encounter seems brand new and specifically tailor made for you. These problems, no matter how big or small, emerge into an expanding source of anxiety where you resist them, yet immediately claim them as your own. You know the feeling where you’re having problems at work or in your relationship and, although you are stressed, only you could possibly understand what you are going through and any outsider’s attempts to empathize are futile. Not so fast: Eradicate this misperception immediately!

It’s time to recognize that these problems of yours are not unique and past and current people much smarter than us have spent many years of their lives suffering, trying to figure out these problems. Luckily for us, a lot of them have written or spoken about life’s challenges and continue to do so today. Here are two steps to take to “stand on the shoulders of giants” and use this to your personal advantage:

Step 1. Recognize your distant-wise

Look around you – who are the people you share relationships with whom you’ve never even met? You know these sage-like people very well. They reside in places like your iPod, bookshelves, and movie collections. These are the poets and authors and singers whose wise words have pierced through you so sharply they feel like they were personally written just for you. This is no coincidence. That feeling is an understanding of shared experiences.

Remember those tailor made problems that only you can understand? Well, these shared experiences are the very same problems those poets and authors and singers are talking about. Whether they are problems of love, or loss, or self-discovery, or anything – understand that they’ve lived through it and their message is their advice to you. So when in those circumstances, question that advice:

Ask yourself: How would my distant-wise view this situation? How does that differ from how I view it? How have they gotten through this problem? What did they sacrifice? How can I do it better?

Alain de Botton (one of my distant-wise) elaborates on these questions and how to apply them in this 2-minute clip:

Now, do more than just recognize these commonalities – we do this passively. Take the next step and be active in your self-development. Your distant-wise companions are simply guides to new perspectives. You’re going to have to open your own eyes and seek a deeper connection to find answers… which brings us to step 2.

Step 2. Write

Writing is one of the most powerful tools you have to solve problems, provide new insight, and establish connections with yourself and others. So apply this tool to your distant-wise. Take 10-15 minutes to think about these questions, grab a journal, and write out your answers one by one. Your short term responses will quickly erupt into waterfalls of thoughts that may allow you to see solutions that were never visible to you before.

Even if you think you suck at writing (here is a fun tool to practice), you’d be surprised by how much more insightful information flows out of that big ole’ brain of yours when you combine your thought muscles with those magic fingers.

Don’t carry the burden by yourself.

You don’t have to labor so exhaustively to create new solutions. Look to others who have been there and shared their wisdom with the world. For any single problem or challenge you experience, there are countless people you can access within seconds who can help. Take bits and pieces from each one and apply them to your own life.

For me, there are literally dozens of writers and musicians who I have turned to for help (and wrote about extensively!). Here are a few: Bob Dylan, Simon Sinek, Albert Camus, Kurt Vonnegut, Viktor Frankl, Max Bemis, and many many others.

***Who are the ‘distant wise’ people who have helped you through tough times? How did they help? Please feel free to share your experiences below.