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Lesson Twenty-Four — Tackling Problems

Every successful person must, absolutely must, be able to deal effectively with problems.In the business world, this might be a complicated transaction, a manufacturing defect, a disgruntled employee, or a nasty boss.In our private lives, problems are more likely to be of a more personal nature.Health, weight, money, friends, family, housing, transportation, etc.If we do not deal effectively with our problems, they end up controlling us rather than the other way around.If this happens, we will surely fail.

The first rule in dealing with problems is do not avoid them.There are very few problems that will resolve themselves if they are not dealt with promptly and directly.People that avoid a problem, by putting their head in the sand like an ostrich, rather than deal with it, do not succeed.They fail, always.There are a few good reasons for this.By not dealing with the problem, it rarely goes away.If it does not go away, it remains an obstacle to your success.It may go away eventually, but it will surely linger and stand in our way for a long period of time.

One reason for this is that problems are a constant distraction.It is as though you have a fly buzzing around your head, in, out, and around your ears, while you are trying to read a book.The presence of the fly means that you have to keep stopping and starting, searching for your place in the book and collecting your thoughts.As a result, it takes much longer to read the book than it would if you did not have this annoying fly bothering you.Worse yet, you can’t concentrate and will probably absorb very little of what you read.

So, why don’t we just get up and smack the fly?The reason is simple; we are hoping it will go away on its own.If it goes away, then we will have saved the time it would have taken to get up, find a fly swatter, track down the fly, wait for it to land, sneak up on it, and kill it.Perhaps this would take two or three attempts.It seems like this takes a significant amount of time away from your reading, but in reality, the time taken to deal with the fly is well spent.Once the fly is gone you can resume reading in full concentration.It will take less time to read the book and you will get more out of it.

Napping fly

When a problem comes up, deal with it swiftly.All successful people are decisive.By this I mean that they gather information quickly, enough information to make a reasonable decision, consider the options, make a decision, and act on it. Let’s look at these elements.

Gather the information quickly.For 99.9% of all of the decisions you will ever have to make in all of your life, you will be best served if you make your decisions on very limited information.You might think that a successful person gathers as much information as is humanly possible before dealing with the problem and making a decision, but this is not true at all.A successful person does not need perfect information.Successful people only need enough information to make the best decision that can be made at that time.The fact is it is impossible to gather all of the information available.It could take a lifetime.People that think they need all the information never get around to making a decision because there is always something else to consider, someone else to ask, another study, more research, etc.It is just as big of a mistake to over analyze or research a problem than it is to simply ignore it!When it comes right down to it, there really is no practical difference between the two.Nothing gets done either way!Think about it.

Once you have the basic information, consider the options.Before considering the options, you must have some idea of what options are available.There is a technique that successful people use, often unconsciously, called “Brain Storming.”Brainstorming basically means to make a mental or written list of all of the possible courses of action that could possibly be taken.Unlike gathering information, this can be done in a matter of seconds.You do not need to put a great deal of thought into the options, just make note of them, even the absurd ones.Here’s an example.

If you are approaching a toll bridge in your car and had no money, this is a problem.What are the options?At this point, you should not put much thought into the various options or try to decide whether or not they are feasible under the circumstances, just consider them quickly.Run the toll, go back and get money, plead with the toll taker, make up an elaborate story, ask the guy behind you for a quarter, steal a quarter, sell your watch, wash windshields, pretend you are insane, do nothing.You can probably think of even more options.

Playing out multiple options, you need to weigh or rank the options.This means comparing the advantages and disadvantages of each option.Again, do it quickly.Especially if the tollbooth is coming up quickly.

Running the toll or stealing a quarter doesn’t make much sense either, unless you are on the way to the hospital and your passenger is bleeding to death.Going home to get the money may not be so bad depending on how far it is.Washing windshields may seem like a silly option, I’ll tell you a story from my own experience where I did something very similar.

In the days before automated cash machines at supermarkets and gas stations and banks, etc., I had drove an hour or so to an out-of-town auto parts store to pick up a special part for my car.When I got there, much to my surprise, they did not take credit cards and I did not have any cash.I considered the options, stealing the money, stealing the part, going home, etc., and acted on the only one that seemed viable at the time.I drove to a nearby gas station, told the gas station attendant that I needed money and suggested that I pay for his customers’ gasoline using my credit card, and then he could give me the customers’ cash.And that is exactly what we did.He pumped the gas.The customers gave him the cash.I put the gas purchase on my credit card, and he gave me the cash.We did this until I had enough money for my part.Everybody was happy and I did not have to drive home and back again.

After a very short time of brainstorming, and weighing the pros and cons of the various options, you will be left with only one or two, possibly three viable alternatives.Then, prioritize them.The most attractive would be first; the least attractive would be third or fourth.

Then make a decision and do something!Try the first one.If that doesn’t work, try the second one.If that doesn’t work try the third one, and so forth.

I would like to go back to one of the options that we dismissed earlier on in our tollbooth problem.Although it was not a very attractive option in that case, and is often not the right choice, it should always be considered.I am talking about the “do nothing” option.It should always be considered because it is always an option.What I like about this option is that it seems to put all of the other options in perspective.

You have to realize that the “do nothing option” is not really doing nothing.It is, in actuality, doing something.This sounds like a riddle, but let me try an example.

Suppose you’re a girl and there is this guy that you like, and he seems to like you.He calls a couple of times a week, and you talk.Things are pleasant enough.This has been going on for a few months and you would like to possibly get more serious with him, but he has never asked you out.You could do nothing, of course.However, you might as well just tell him that you only want to be friends and do not want to go out on a date with him, because that is the message you are sending by doing nothing.

Let’s look at another extreme.Suppose he calls you constantly.Stops by frequently, and you have no interest in him whatsoever, but he won’t take no for an answer.You don’t want to hurt his feelings or want to seem mean, so you do nothing.You might as well tell him that if he keeps this up long enough, you might go out with him, only because that is the message you are sending by doing nothing.

Suppose you have been dating for a while but he is mean to you and disrespectful.You don’t like it but you are afraid how he might react if you do or say something.You also may be afraid that you would be lonely without him.Well, you might as well tell him that you like the mean things that he does to you, because that is exactly the message you are sending by doing nothing.In each of these examples, doing nothing sends the message that you are perfectly happy with the way things are.Well, enough of that.

Too often, we panic when confronted with a problem.We cannot decide what to do, so we do nothing but fret and worry.By considering the “do nothing” option, we can usually quickly decide whether or not doing nothing is a good idea.Since fretting and worrying are the equivalent of doing nothing, we usually can see that we must stop fretting and worrying and do something, because doing something is better than fretting and worrying.As a result, we move forward.

Don’t ignore your problems.  You have to take care of your problems before they take care of you, otherwise things will probably only get worse and be harder to deal with later.  This brainstorming system is simple.  It is easy.  It is critical to your success.  Make a list of all possible options, both good and bad, prioritize them, make a decision, and then take action.