The Trouble with Trouble Is that It Is Troubling

Do you ever find yourself in a tight spot, stressed out, or overwhelmed? Are you a victim of office politics, being bullied, or stuck in a rut? Are you struggling with an illness, addiction, or lack of money? Are you finding your job too difficult, an in-law unbearable, or your living quarters depressing? These are examples of the trouble some people are experiencing. I’ve heard it said that trouble and life go hand in hand, that turmoil, misfortune, hassles—whatever we choose to call it—are inevitable. What do you think? Is trouble unavoidable? And if so, how should we handle it? Should we fight it, defeat it, accept it, welcome it?

Before answering, we need to distinguish between two kinds of trouble: 1) Accidents and ‘acts of God’ (results of natural forces, unexpected and not preventable by foresight), 2) The consequences of our actions or inaction. The first type of trouble is unavoidable because of human nature and the fickleness of fate. Let’s look at an example.

Less than three weeks ago, a careless driver, making a left-hand turn, slammed into my car, smashing into the driver’s door. My wife was driving and I was the passenger. Understandably, my wife was rattled by the accident. Quickly assessing the situation, I found my wife was safe, so I calmly stepped out of the car and was pleased to learn the man who hit us was an East Indian Sikh, wearing a red turban. I was pleased because I expect religious people to be honest.

My conjecture was correct for he immediately apologized and assumed full responsibility. True, I suffered lost time and a lot of inconvenience, but accidents do happen and any inconvenience is a small price to pay for the gift of life. By accepting the trouble, I was able to go on living without any loss of happiness.

Most of our problems, however, are not caused by accidents or ‘acts of God.’ No, there is no one to blame other than the person who greets us in the mirror. As the 26th President of the United States said, “If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” (Theodore Roosevelt, 1858~1919) It’s bad enough that we create our own problems, but then some go on to acquiesce, shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, I guess that’s the way it’s meant to be.” But be careful of what you settle for, for that is what you’ll get. Why settle for less when you can settle for more? Why settle for trouble when you can settle for solutions?

What is the solution to eliminating self-sabotage? It begins by understanding why we do it. Here’s a synopsis of our problem and solution:

1. We are driven by desire. We do, get, and become what we WANT.

2. The glitch is we usually have two conflicting wants at the same time, one rational and one emotional. For example, Tom WANTS to do well in school, which is rational and involves some effort. But he also WANTS to party with his friends every night, which is emotional and pleasurable. If he parties every night, he won’t have time to study and won’t do well at school, so there is a conflict.

3. The primitive part of our brain seeks pleasure and avoids pain, and it interprets effort as painful.

4. We spend most of our time on auto pilot, acting automatically, not consciously making choices. For instance, Tom’s friend asks him if he would like to join him tonight at a wild party. Even though it is the night before an important exam, Tom automatically replies, “Sure, let’s go!”

5. To overcome our problems, we need to remain conscious, decide to act in our best interest, and have the self-discipline to follow through on our decisions. But because we act on auto pilot most of the time, by default we do what is easy and pleasurable rather than what is best for us.

6. To change our path, we first have to admit we have a problem.

7. Once we have done that, we need to train ourselves to act consciously. Learn to become aware of your emotions. They are what drive us to act. Whenever you feel like doing something, let that serve as a red light, a signal to stop and ask yourself, “Is what I am feeling a rational or emotional desire? Will it serve my best interest or will it work against me?”

8. After recognizing the two conflicting wants, and deciding to do what is best for you, you will feel resistance. That is normal; don’t give in to it!

9. As you perform these steps over and over, they become habitual and much easier to carry out. The reward will be an exuberant, trouble-free life.

10. Become proactive. Rather than waiting for a desire to act and then questioning it, pause, become still, and listen to your inner voice or intuition. Ask, “What should I do now? What is in my best interest?” Let your inner voice or Higher Self become your best friend. Turn to it for advice; trust its wisdom, and follow its suggestions.


1. Hang out with people who will help you solve your problems, not add to them.

2. Beware of ‘solving’ your problems by denying them or blaming them on others.

3. To avoid creating more trouble, don’t think with your fantasies and fears, but with your rational mind.

4. If you are out of trouble, you are in trouble because you are not taking enough risks. The idea isn’t to completely eliminate problems from your life, but to always recognize them as they occur, render them harmless, and learn from them. After all, the purpose of trouble is to develop and apply your inner resources so you can tackle even bigger problems in the future.

5. When faced with trouble, don’t look for sympathy, but look for solutions and opportunities. Remember, one of opportunity’s favorite disguises is trouble and hard work.

6. Don’t compound your troubles. “Some people bear three kinds of trouble – the ones they’ve had, the ones they have, and the ones they expect to have.” (H. G. Wells, 1866~1946)

7. A large percentage of the problems we experience deal with relationships. So, we can eliminate quite a bit of needless worry by opening our heart. For when we harbor compassion instead of animosity and cooperation instead of vindictiveness, we can get along with others and get rid of the friction that others complain about. Be kind to yourself by being kind to others.

8. Instead of counting your troubles, count your blessings. As a Roman philosopher wrote, “Pleasant it is, when over a great sea the winds trouble the waters, to gaze from shore upon another’s great tribulation; not because any man’s troubles are a delectable joy, but because to perceive you are free of them yourself is pleasant.” (Lucretius, 96~55 BC) How small your problems are compared to the Japanese who are still coping with the aftermath of the tsunami and nuclear radiation problems!

9. There may be many solutions to your problem. Don’t spend too much time searching for the ‘right’ one. Any solution that works is a good one. As you gain problem solving experience, you will intuitively know which solution to adopt.

10. A great deal of grief can be prevented by not falling into the trap of delaying present pain until the future. The use of credit cards is an example. To avoid the pain of not being able to afford what one wants, a credit card is used. Seeking immediate gratification while ignoring the long term consequences can be a recipe for disaster.

11. It is easier to avoid seeking immediate gratification if we focus on what we already have instead of focusing on what we lack.

12. The way out of trouble is never as easy as the way in, so don’t deliberately court it.

13. Persistence, patience, and practice are valuable tools for problem solving.

14. Sometimes, all you have to do to avoid or end trouble is get back to work, for as the saying goes, “The Devil finds mischief for idle hands to do.”

15. Most people can overcome their problems with a little bit of encouragement. So every time you encourage another, you are playing an important role. And the more you encourage others, the more they will encourage you.

16. Get involved with life. Get excited by it. Passion will help you overcome any problem. The passionate have big dreams and big dreams come with big problems. But who cares? Those with passion are focused on their goals, not themselves. They are wrapped up in their dreams, not their worries. They don’t have the time or inclination for self-pity. When things go wrong, they learn from their mistakes and quickly continue on their way.

Final Words

If you think you are beaten, you are.
If you think you dare not, you don’t.
If you’d like to win but think you can’t,
It’s almost certain you won’t.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man,
But sooner or later, the man who wins
Is the man who thinks he can.
—Walter D. Wintle (Little known American poet who died in the early 20th century)