Look for the pony


There’s an old joke about a boy who fell into a big stinky pile of dung. Instead of trying to escape, he dives headfirst into it and stays there, splashing around. When he finally extricates himself, he’s asked why he did that.

“With all that horse poop, I figured there had to be a pony.”

Dumb joke, but it illustrates an important point about maintaining a positive attitude in the face of a mess. 

When you have a problem or crisis, you might want to ignore it, curl up in a ball, or run away, but no matter how bad the problem is, there’s always something you can do.  

At least that’s how you should think about it. 

You can’t control what happened. You can control your response. 

Stay calm. You can’t panic yourself out of a crisis. Take 5 minutes for a pity party if you must and then take a deep breath and focus on what you can do.

Problems have solutions. Ask yourself “What happened?” “Why?” and “What can I do about it?” You might not enjoy revisiting the problem, but asking questions like these, and answering them, allows you to get clear about your situation and find a solution.

No matter what the solution, it will require action. You have to do something and it will almost always be something you haven’t been doing. That might mean getting out of your comfort zone and if that’s something you resist, consider that the discomfort it causes might be a lot less than what you will feel if you don’t fix the problem.

Take action, continue to do that, and fully expect that you “can fix this”. Because you are unlikely to fix it if you don’t believe you can.

While you’re at it, look for something good about what happened. Maybe you learned an important lesson. Maybe you explored some new ideas you can use in good times and bad. Maybe you lost something but gained something even better. 

When you fall into a pile of dung, look for the pony.


What to do when you don’t know what to do


You’ve got a situation. A problem, something you need or want and you can’t figure out how to get it. You’re confused and frustrated and don’t know what to do.

We have a situation like this in our family right now. A close relative is ill and we’re trying to sort out the medical, legal, and financial options. It’s all been a bit overwhelming.

When you have a problem and you don’t know what to do, your feelings aren’t going to help you, you have to focus on action.

Here’s how:

1) State the goal

Where do you want this to end up? What would be a good outcome? How would you define success?

You need to know the destination before you you know what to do to reach it.

2) Write down the facts

What do you know about the current situation, and what do you need to find out?

What are the options? What can you do? What are the problems, issues, and obstacles stopping you from reaching the goal?

3) Choose the “next action”

Once you know the facts, it’s time to take action. Not just any action, however, the logical “next action,” in Getting Things Done terms, meaning something you can do to move the situation forward.

If you’re having trouble getting started, choose something small and easy to do:

Write down a list of questions. Make a call. Do some research.

Once you’ve done that, ask again: “What’d the next action?”

And do that.

If the next action is too big, break it down into smaller steps and find one you can do.

If you have several next action candidates and don’t know which one to choose, your next action might be to talk to someone or to weigh the pros and cons of each option so you can decide which one to choose.

We did this with our family situation and while it’s been a bumpy ride, we’ve moved forward from a place of not knowing what to do to knowing what to do (next).

And we know that if we continue asking, “What’s the next action?” and doing it, we’ll get through this difficult situation and eventually reach our goal.


It’s easier to find the solution when you know there is one


Let’s say you have a problem with your marketing. You’re running an ad, for example, but not getting any response. You’ve studied the ad and thought about how you could “fix” it, but you don’t have a clue. You’re not sure if fixing it is even possible.

You come to me for advice. I look at the ad and immediately spot the problem. I tell you the solution is simple, but instead of telling you what it is, I say, “keep looking at the ad and you’ll find it.

You go back to studying the ad, and guess what? You find the problem and fix it. “It was obvious,” you say. “I don’t know how I missed it!”

What just happened? What happened is that when you first looked at the ad, you didn’t know there was a solution. Sure enough, you didn’t find one. When I told you I saw the problem and it was an easy fix, you were able to find the solution. . . because you knew there was one.

There’s probably a psychological principle at play here, but we don’t need to know what it is to know that this kind of thing happens all the time.

The other day I was playing “Words with Friends” against the computer (“Solo Play”). I almost always beat the computer and I realized that it’s probably programmed that way because if it beat you all the time, you would probably stop playing. So the computer gives you the tiles you need and/or plays words that open up spots for you to enable you to make high-score plays.

The other day I had an opening to make a triple-word score. I looked at my tiles but couldn’t find any words to fill the spot. Against a human opponent, I might have given up and tried something else. But knowing that the computer had probably given me the tiles I needed to find a word for that spot, I kept looking.

And I found it. I don’t know how I missed it.

When you know there’s a solution to a problem, you keep looking for it. You expect to find it and you often do. Even though the problem may seem insurmountable at first, when you know there is a solution, you keep at it.

How can we use this in our everyday problem solving? Should we always assume there is a solution, even if there is no evidence that one exists?

Perhaps not. Life is complicated and not every problem has an accessible solution. An ad that’s not working may not have a simple fix, no matter how much we assume that it does.

What we can do, however, is ask ourselves, “What if?” “What if there were an easy fix? What might it be?” In other words, while you shouldn’t always assume that there is any easy solution, you shouldn’t always assume that there isn’t.

Put the problem aside for awhile and come back to it with fresh eyes. Assume that there is an solution and see if you can find it.

You might not find an easy solution, but you’ve got a better chance of finding one than if you assume one doesn’t exist.

Fix your referral marketing problems with this


Solve problems by asking “why?”


Toddlers are experts at asking “why?” Why do I have to go to bed? Why can’t I have ice cream? Why are you and daddy wrestling with your clothes off?

They ask why so they can better understand the world around them. When they get an answer they don’t like or don’t understand, they ask why again.

Adults also ask why. But unlike our little tykes, we often accept the first answer and fail to dig deeper.

If you realize that you’re not going to have enough money to pay all of your bills this month, for example, and you ask yourself why, you might look at your accounts receivable and solve your problem by sending out “late” notices to clients who owe you money.

That might be a good idea, and it might solve the immediate problem, but it doesn’t help you to get to the root problem.

So next month, you might again have a shortage of cash.

Asking “why” you have a problem helps you find the solution, but asking once may not be enough, as this post explains.

In Japanese, Kaizen roughly translates to “continuous improvement”. One of the discipline’s techniques for problem solving is to ask “why” 5 times. This helps you find the root problem.

Here’s how you might apply this to your money problem:

  1. Why don’t you have enough money to cover this month’s bills? Because I don’t have enough clients.
  2. Why don’t you have enough clients? Because I don’t do enough marketing.
  3. Why don’t you do enough marketing? Because I’m not good at it.
  4. Why aren’t you good at marketing? Because I haven’t found enough strategies that I am comfortable using.
  5. Why haven’t you found enough strategies? Because I haven’t spent enough time learning about the available options or how to use them.

The root of your money problem, and the solution thereto, is thus revealed.

If you stop asking “why” after your first answer (not enough clients), you may not discover a solution other than sending out late notices. If you stop after your answer to the third “why,” (you’re not good at marketing) you might conclude that things are hopeless for you in this department and give up.

Ask why 5 times and see where it takes you.

Why? Because I said so. Now go play with your toys. Mommy and Daddy are busy.

Avoid having to send out late notices with this


Sometimes, the best way to handle a problem is to ignore it


You’ve got a problem and you’re searching for a solution. Or you know what to do but don’t have time to do it.

Fear not. Sometimes, the best way to handle a problem is to ignore it.

The problem may go away by itself. Or turn out to cause damages that are relatively minor. Or manageable. Or covered by insurance.

It’s all relative, isn’t it?

Some problems are big and hairy. Others, not so much.

Before you start looking for solutions to a problem, make sure the problem is something that truly needs fixing.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Why is this a problem?
  • What are the benefits of fixing the problem?
  • What’s the worst that can happen if I don’t fix it?
  • If the worst case scenario occurs, can I afford the consequences?
  • What are the costs of fixing the problem?
  • Can I ignore the problem for now and fix it later?
  • Can I fix part of the problem now and fix the rest later (or ignore the rest)?
  • Can I delegate some or all of work needed to fix the problem?

You may find that the problem isn’t as bad as you thought. You may conclude that your time is better spent fixing a different problem, or tackling an opportunity that promises bigger benefits.

You don’t have to fix every problem. Sometimes, the best way to handle a problem is to ignore it.


Removing the obstacles to success


Instant manifestation. You think it and it appears. You write it down and it becomes reality. Sound good? Actually, it would be a nightmare. Your life would be a jumble of confusing and conflicting thoughts and you would be continually fixing mistakes and apologizing for transgressions.

Thankfully, there is a buffer of time between first thought and manifestation that protects us and keeps us sane. We want something, we think about how to get it, and then we do the work. It takes time and reason and effort to get from first thought to fruition.

And it’s a messy process. There are lots of failed attempts, unsolved problems, and abandoned ideas along the way. That’s part of the buffer, too. These obstacles help us clarify our objectives and ultimately, get better results.

But sometimes these obstacles get the better of us and stop us from getting what we want. How do you overcome obstacles that keep you from achieving your goals?

You could power through the problem. Drink another cup of coffee, burn the midnight oil and do what needs to be done.

When we do this, we acknowledge the obstacle and then defeat it by refusing to give up. When we do, we’re often the better for it. Tired, but victorious!

But there’s another way and it’s a lot less taxing. Instead of fighting the problem, eliminate it.

Make a list of obstacles that are keeping you from achieving your goals. Your list might look something like this:

  • I don’t know what to do/don’t know how
  • I’m not good at [whatever]
  • I don’t have enough time
  • I don’t have enough money
  • I don’t like doing what I have to do
  • I lack confidence
  • I procrastinate (actually, this is a symptom; the obstacle is one of the other things on this list)

Then, make a list of ways you could remove those obstacles:

  • Get help doing the things you’re not good at or don’t like doing
  • Money: Sell something, save, use credit, find vendors who will barter
  • Eliminate or postpone other tasks and projects to free up time (prioritize/learn to say no)
  • Talk to someone who has done it and get their advice
  • Read, take a class, and learn how to do it or how to do it better
  • Hire an expert to advise you
  • Outsource all or part of it
  • Change the rules. Modify the goal or objective to suit your present situation
  • Ignore the problem and let your subconscious mind solve it while you’re doing something else

You can either work harder (power through the problem) or work smarter (eliminate or dilute the problem).

And if neither of these works, you can confess your sins to your wife, mom, partner, or client and have them make you do it.

Hey, whatever works.