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What’s the hardest thing you need to do and are reluctant to start right now? There certainly is one, even if you think there isn’t. It may be something quite small that needs your attention quickly but you just don’t want to deal with it. It may be a big issue like support for you or someone else in old age which you are nervous to tackle for fear that you can’t. Failing to start taking difficult courses of action is what delays our lives and makes us unhappy.

You cannot deal with anything difficult until you define it. Can’t tie your shoelaces any more? You need a shoehorn to help you slip laceless shoes on and off. No, it’s not rocket science, but there are still plenty of people who won’t take the step of asking for a pair of laceless shoes. They rationalize their inaction unconvincingly by saying they don’t want to trouble others. Mostly they don’t want to admit the onset of old age or a bit of extra weight.

Minor medical issues demand a visit to the doctor which many people won’t make. Too much trouble, interferes with a relatives life, adds a cost they don’t want to bear? Yes, all these and many more reasons. Actually they, like all of us, are simply scared of being found to have more of a problem than they think. Problems left unattended always become bigger.

Life-changing decisions understandably demand serious thought and may have major consequences. I left a big decision about my career unattended for nearly four years. There were good reasons not to precipitate a change. I was comfortable, reasonably secure and going nowhere. I lost those four years of my career life as the price for delaying a decision. I was fortunate that I had someone to steer me through the ‘doldrums’, as I called them.

When the time came for a decision, it was a huge one with major life-changing results. If I had faced up to the problem earlier I might have managed changes on both career and domestic fronts at the same time. Good help and good fortune helped me survive. I try not to delay facing problems since I learnt that lesson.

So what did I learn from skating across the oh-so-thin ice?

Most important was that routine sometimes must be sidelined to deal with a big issue. We snuggle away at our daily processes because they are familiar, comfortable and predictable. Routine is a safety blanket that keeps us warm, secure and confident. Change is a monster we don’t want who is predicted to unseat us, embarrass us and maybe even destroy us. There’s an awful lot of change in today’s world. How to deal with it? Nothing you do will slow the pace of change, so get used to it. There is no other way.

Another great lesson from my upheaval was about courage. Mostly we think courage is about putting a brave face on disaster, and it is certainly courageous to do so. But the courage of internal calm through a change in your life is something else again. To work from the Ritz but dine at the Fish & Chip stall is a nerve-steadying experience – provided you keep your nerve.

Big problems are actually lots of little problems washed up on the beach at the same drainage point. When you break them down into those smaller problems and tackle them in a reasonably logical order you can cope with anything. I say ‘reasonably’ because for all the steadiness, determination and solid common sense you need to muster to handle your problem there must also be an occasional moment of ‘to hell with it’ and a bit of fun and feast. You aren’t becoming a monk or nun, you are a sailor in a rough sea and you are dealing with it.

What is the greatest solution to handling top problems? The then Chairman of ICI, in its heyday, taught me the answer. Paul Chambers redefined the problem of so much mail coming to him every day. If, at a glance, he thought there was a solution to the problem he was faced with he passed the letter on to someone else – anyone, in fact. After all, if he knew there was an answer, so did others. That left him with about eight letters a day to which there was absolutely no answer. “As Chairman, they were my job,” he said.

To solve a tough problem, redefine It.

Then face it.

Good morning

John Bittleston

If you’ve succeeded in doing just that and can tell us about it in confidence, please do so at [email protected].

24 January 2024