I was listening to a great speaker, Steve, very recently talking about how to turn discouragement into encouragement. He told a story about himself, which really resonated with me and inspired this week’s blog. He described himself as clean-freak, especially when it came to his car. He kept it in immaculate condition, at all times. It was cleaned, polished, shined and vacuumed to keep it looking pristine. One day he took his two young sons to play a soccer game. After he got home and the boys ran inside, he noticed mud from their boots and uniform all over his beautifully manicured car. He was immediately discouraged. He was stressed, worried and angry because he let his beautiful car fall into such a filthy state. This discouragement affected him, his mood, his relationships, and, pretty much everything. Then it all changed, when he decided to look at the mud again.

After some time of discouragement, anger, tantrums and negativity, Steve realised the bad place he was in and so decided to look again at the mud, this time from a different perspective. He now looked at it from the perspective of being a great father. He saw the mud, no longer as a mess, but as a reminder of what he is prepared to do for his boys. He saw the mud as a reflection of the relationship he had, and was creating, with his children. Do you think he stayed discouraged? No way. All of the sudden the mud was not so bad. All of a sudden, he didn’t see the mess, he saw love. All of a sudden, the mud made him smile and he felt encouraged. All this happened because he decided to look at the mud again. Hmmm, interesting.

When my beautiful little dog Joia came in from the back yard with a ball in her mouth and mud all over her face, it was easy to get upset with her, tell her off and worry about getting mud on the furniture. But looking again, the mud wasn’t really a problem at all. In fact, it represented joy for that little dog. She’d had a wonderful time digging in the garden and retrieving her ball, and, that made me happy. It always pays to look at the mud again, before jumping to the wrong conclusion.

What Steve is saying is that the problem may not be the problem you initially think it is, after you look at it with a fresh perspective. I’ve heard a great tongue-twisting saying that states; the problem is only a problem if you see the problem as a problem! We seem to be wired to look for the bad in circumstances, rather than the good, the blessing, the lesson or the opportunity. When you look at the mud again, you will often see the wonder that lies just beneath. When you look at conflict again, there is always the opportunity to strengthen a relationship. When you do something badly, look at it again, you will often see a way to do it better next time. When you lose a job or lose money, upon reflection, you will see great lessons and new opportunities arise to get a better job and make more money. When you lose someone close to you, and your heart is broken, over time and with perspective, you will find intense gratitude for what that person added to your life. We are often too quick to create the problem in our own mind, when it really isn’t as bad as it seems.

Don’t kick the dung!

Steve went on to talk about an experience he had with a cattle farmer when he was a child. This farmer was a friend of his father and was teaching Steve about cattle farming. He mentioned one statement the farmer had made to him that had stayed with him for many years. They were about to walk through a paddock that was littered with cow dung, when Steve commented on how bad it must smell. The farmer stopped, looked at him and said, ‘It only stinks if you kick it!’ Now, I am not a farmer, I do not have an intimate relationship with cow dung, nor can I tell you how bad it smell. What I have learned, however, is that dung, once deposited, very quickly develops a hard, outer cover, with the moist, pungent and meaty stuff hidden underneath. Leave it alone and it will bother nobody. But, kick it, break the outer cover and the stench will be released to the outside world for all to be repulsed by. Aren’t you glad you decided to read this week’s blog about mud and dung?!

The point is this, it’s not the event, the circumstance or the situation that’s the problem, it’s how you react and interact with it that can set off the stench. I don’t know about you, but for much of my life I have been very quick to jump to the worst conclusion about a situation, react and then just make it worse. Do you know what I’m talking about? The muddy car wasn’t really the problem for Steve, but if he’d really reacted, got angry with his boys for bringing muddy boots in the car, created some resentment, who knows what stench the kicked dung may have released.

When you take comments or statements from another person personally, and react, you have kicked the dung. When you are trying to lose weight and the scales go in the opposite direction overnight, and, you react by feeling like a failure then eating a donut, you have kicked the dung. When you lose a sale, or a client and react resentfully towards them, you have kicked the dung, and the stench could ripple out and affect many other areas of your life. When you blame someone else, you have kicked the dung. When you take your anger or frustration out on someone else, you have kicked the dung. When you believe a failure or rejection is a reflection on your ability, you have kicked the dung. All you have to do is, take some time to look at the mud again and you will realise that it’s not that bad, in fact it may be great.

A realtor was driving to an appointment, wearing a beautiful cream suit and drinking coffee, when a car pulled out in front of her. After slamming on the brakes, avoiding a collision and spilling coffee all over her suit, she went into blame, anger and road rage. She yelled at the other driver as she drove off to find somewhere to clean herself up. In her case, it wasn’t mud, or dung, it was coffee! She pulled into a convenience store, still fuming, and went to the bathroom to clean herself up. On her way out she got herself another coffee and went to the checkout to pay for it.

The girl at checkout, just trying to be friendly asked, ‘Did you spill something?’ With that, the realtor just got angrier and launched into a sarcastic and very insulting response to the young girl, who was left shell-shocked as the lady stormed out, got in her car and drove off. The little girl looked at the car, with the lady’s name and picture on it, and immediately rang her grandfather. He was about to use this same realtor to sell his $2 million farm, but, after the call from his granddaughter, he cancelled the deal with her and told many other people about this unpleasant agent. That one short interaction, because she kicked the dung, cost her $200,000, and, not to mention all the other lost sales that came as a result of grapevine gossip.

Had the realtor looked at the mud again, and realised it was not that bad, treated the girl with respect, who knows what may have happened. Instead, she kicked the dung and set off an almighty stench in her life. This week as things get messy, remember, before reacting, to look at the mud again.