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Within a sequence of decisions, your most hesitant and vague decision will have the greatest effect on the overall consequences. Alexander Cortes
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« Maximise Your Learning Power | Main | Overcome Procrastination with Checklists »

Welcoming problems as friends

One of the most deeply entrenched habits of mind that virtually everyone has is to regard problems as adversaries to be overcome. This means that we often seem to spend most of our time battling problems. In fact the number of potential problems we have is virtually infinite, so we can always find some more to fight.

I would like to propose that we look at problems in a radically different way — as friends to be welcomed.

Why? Because problems and setbacks are usually the times that we learn the most valuable lessons and make the greatest growth. If we had a world in which everything was perfect we would never learn anything and have no impetus to grow — we would also be bored to tears!

I had a very powerful demonstration of this, which I would like to share with you. I was really struggling with my second book and finding it more and more difficult to write. I knew very well what the message was that I wanted to get over, but I was having a really hard time getting it down on paper. I was resisting writing and what I did succeed in writing seemed to be competely failing to get over the spirit and reality of what I wanted to convey.

I was battling and battling away at this problem, trying to find a way to overcome it. And then I finally realised that I was ignoring my own words in the book about treating problems as friends to be welcomed. What would happen if I treated this problem as a friend?

So I asked myself “If this resistance I am feeling to writing my book is in fact my mind giving me a strong message, what would that message be?”

The second I asked the question I realised that the reason I was resisting writing the book was because I was unhappy with the way I was writing it. I saw clearly that I wanted the book itself to be an example of everything that I was saying in the book. So it had to be written according to the principles I was teaching and had to show those principles at work in my own life at the same time.

So with two months and eleven days to go to the deadline for delivery of the book I decided to scrap everything I had written and start again!

This was a terrifying decision to make. But the effect of starting the book again from scratch and this time writing it the way I wanted to write it was like taking a cork out of a bottle. One week later I have written 26,814 words, just about half the total book! The effect of listening to what my resistance was saying instead of fighting it has been that I have written as much in seven days as I wrote in seven months before. A thirtyfold increase in productivity! And what’s more I was extremely happy with what I had written.


Choose a problem that you have been battling for some time without success. Instead of thinking of ways of overcoming it, ask yourself: “If this problem is a friend with a message for me, what would that message be?” Then listen to the answer and be prepared to act on it!

Reader Comments (4)

Hi Mark, I empathise with your discovery that you needed to throw away everything you had written and start again. I've just finished writing a self-help book (to be published on 1st May as "Like A Man") and I twice had to throw away what I had written. It was really a matter of getting the tone of voice right. The English novelist John Braine suggested a million years ago that getting the tone of voice right was the first thing to do when writing a novel - and he was right, not just about novels! Now I'll go and treat my problems as friends - at least I'll have lots of friends!
April 22, 2007 at 0:26 | Unregistered CommenterPadraig O'Morain
Hi Mark
This is a great post! It reminds me of your exercise of writing a list of the negatives and then rewriting them as positives to discover what we DO WANT from the all too familiar WHAT WE DON'T WANT. I have used that many, many times on your's also a great starting point for journaling "my truth" so I can see it for myself. You have many great tools for us.

A variation of this exercise problems based on my disabilities, especially pain, is at this point in medical science is incurable. I can hardly regard lousy pain as a friend. To make it more tolerable, I regard it as a beloved relative who is drunk and annoying but I must retain "my cool" to preserve the friendly relations! LOL! Putting that spin on it allows me some added grace in dealing with life through pain. But, alas, I can't find the mindset to call it my friend but I can maintain my inner peace if I use the annoying but loved relative analogy! LOL!

I love your wonderful tools! They are quite creative and insightful.
April 23, 2007 at 1:52 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
What turns a situation into a problem situation?

It is that we have not developed the attitude, belief or behaviour that could deal with it. In that way, problems can be useful, any maybe created unconsciously. In most cases, challenging conditions are caused by an attempt to grow, develop or expand in the face of difficulties that appear to be insurmountable.

Whatever your problem is, it is a good idea to ask yourself what you would do if you were free of it.
November 8, 2013 at 13:40 | Unregistered Commentermichael
In a very real sense, we do not cure diseases, they cure us, by restoring our [spiritual] participation in life. - Thomas Moore, The Care of the Soul
November 8, 2013 at 13:49 | Unregistered Commentermichael

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