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It won't improve until it's got worse

(A 'different' approach to solving problems)

Have you got a problem which won't go away?


I certainly have a couple, and perhaps you do too. Here's a way of looking at them that may help.


Generally troubles don't fix themselves, you have to do something to be free of them. But often, just thinking about the issue is depressing and it's far easier to find something which will take your mind off it instead of dealing with the cause of the trouble.


Problems exist in enormous variety, let's just use bad habits as simple examples; comfort-eating and drinking too much alcohol. Can we agree that both of these are activities may make you feel ok for a while but do nothing to tackle the source of a problem?


What does? Addressing the issue directly will, and although it may be unappealing to face up to whatever is upsetting you, it's the fastest route to being free of the worry.


Look at any common problem and you'll see that that the solution is obvious.

  • You eat too much - begin a sensible diet.

  • Not earning enough - get a better job.

  • Unhappy relationship - find someone else.

Knowing what is necessary is not difficult, but doing something about it is. 


Personal development guru Tony Robbins says the reason we put off what's necessary is that, in the short-term, it appears to bring us more pain than pleasure. Initially we appear to suffer less by inaction than by taking the necessary steps to deal with what's causing the problem.


I think he's right, so logically, if you really want to deal with nasty issues, it would help if you can create strong 'associations' to the actions needed to fix the problem.


For example, (believe me, it's not often I do this) if you want to lose weight, it would help to have a mental link so that when you get a hunger pang, you think to yourself, 'Great, I'm burning up some fat'.


Yes, that looks like masochism, I know. And the people who have the drive to keep on doing the hard part are summed up in the phrase, 'When the going gets tough, the tough get going'.


What about all us regular Joes, the majority?


The answer; nothing improves until it first gets bad enough.


Here's a personal example. I like salt on my food, but one part of my brain knows that it does bad things to my body. When my blood pressure was checked recently it was a bit too high. That worried me and I have definitely backed off on my sodium intake. I would not have done anything about my habit without the evidence that it was harming me.

  • What does it take for a gambler to quit - losing his home and family probably.

  • Why don't armies use nuclear weapons - because we know the consequences are too terrible.

  • When will we get serious about dealing with greenhouse gases - when there have been even more natural disasters.

There you have it, the default setting for the human brain is, ignore problem until catastrophic.

That is dumb, not smart, but it's the way we are, however being aware of it might help.

An idea I got from Stephen Covey relates to this; he teaches that it is good to think about the things you do under four headings, which are the permutations of the terms 'important', 'urgent' and 'non-', laid out in a 2 X 2 box matrix

Everybody spends a lot of time on 'unimportant and non-urgent' matters. Watching TV is an example and at work we usually have a load of 'important and urgent' ones.

It surprised me when I first learned it that the solution to many of our difficulties lies in getting on with 'important but NON-urgent' activities.

If you can somehow get your mind above the walls of the rut that it feels cosiest in, 'important but non-urgent' would be the right category for such things as acquiring the qualifications needed to get a better job, or getting regular, physical exercise.

It is very easy to put off these actions because they are not urgent. But how important are they? Do you want to a bigger pay cheque at the end of the month? Are you embarrassed by being out of shape?

I'm in no position to preach, but I've made a start on some of my problems this way, but only because I let them get really bad first. You don't have to.


If you enjoyed this article, take a look at my book.

The Selling for Engineers manual

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