Understanding and Remedying the Subtle Art of COMPOUNDING PROBLEMS Understanding and Remedying the Subtle Art of COMPOUNDING PROBLEMS
Nelson Ebong

Nelson Ebong

01 Nov 2021

share 25

'Even the Giant Baobab Tree Begun As A Tiny Spinach'

(Hata Ubuyu Ulianza Kama Mchicha)

Many of our problems as humans both at individual, family, clan, and group, national, regional and international levels usually begin as small, likely manageable concerns. When left to mature, they usually need more energy and resources to handle. Beyond certain limits, yes at full maturity, reversing them to ‘no problem’ levels become a battle requiring quite a big army of our time, resources and sometimes external help to tackle.

Just like the proverbial Spinach-like plant that matures into a gigantic Baobab tree if not uprooted at infancy, so too do our problems become mountainous if not resolved promptly. Delaying until undesirable things in our lives reach beyond certain limits compounds them dramatically. Since this should be common knowledge leading to appropriate problem preventive practices and behaviors, the following questions arise:

· Why do people let issues compound to problem levels?

· How can one avoid this subtle common habit?

· What remedies are available to it?

Fasten your seat belt as we embark on an interesting tour of this new series devoted to understanding and tackling this subtle art using practical approaches.

Reasons behind letting problems get worse.

No human being in his normal senses embraces problems by choice. In all our everyday endeavors, the goal is to make our lives happier, more enjoyable, and more fulfilling both for ourselves and for those around us. It therefore comes as a paradox to assume that we sometimes give small issues that could otherwise be resolved at infant stages the opportunity to grow bigger and impact negatively on our happiness and other aspects of our lives. Why does this happen? Among the common reasons are

a) Too busy for self reflection: with the helter-skelter lifestyles we live in the modern world, not many people give themselves quality time for self reflection, time to critically analyze the things going on in their lives. The eight to five work schedules, others have to take on extra part time jobs to make ends meet, family responsibilities for the married, parents, single ones with dependents, add to it social connections that need to be given attention and time, traffic jams in busy cities and towns; all these among other reasons specific to individuals leave many too preoccupied to find time to take stock of their individual lives so as to analyze if there are any potential or actual seeds that could germinate into problems.

The result of this lack of regular reflection and evaluation is that otherwise tiny spinaches (minute problems) are left to freely germinate, sprout and mature gradually into shrub sizes before they are even recognized. Quite often, it’s when they become magnanimous that we start confronting problems.

Remedy: It is wise to schedule some time at the end of the day or first thing every morning to reflect on your day and life. Meditative reflections of this kind help you identify any seeds of trouble ahead and deal with them when still easily manageable. Leaving them to grow in the background means you will need costly mechanisms to uproot them from your life, proverbially, you will need bull dozers and heavy equipment to uproot and chop the giant baobab you failed to pick when it was just a spinach in your life’s backyard.

You cannot resolve what you have not recognized, self reflection through meditation and related practices allow you to dig through your sub conscious mind to find these seeds and dirt before they become problematically infectious.

Take an example, you will not realize a change of attitude in a workmate, family member, friend or associate if you do not reflect on their behavior and responses to little but important things like your greeting them. Sitting back and reviewing your day(s) may reveal any discrepancies and help you pre-empt a deeper understanding and find solutions. It happened to me with an administrative colleague who seemed uneasy when dealing with me even in informal settings, something I took lightly, rationalizing that it might be just the age difference between us. It was in one of my regular early morning reflections that the abnormality of this behavioral discrepancy become clear, prompting a head on confrontation of it from my side. The revelation was shocking! All along this good soul took me for someone from a nationality that had treated their team very unfairly in one of this individual’s junior roles years earlier; it was a misdirected silent hatred so to say which ended immediately on my identifying with a different nationality all together. We had a healthy big-brother conversation and highly cooperative working relationship from then on. Even after parting company, we still consult here and there.

Where would the relationship have headed had the self-reflection strategy of discovering and uprooting problems at 'spinach' levels not been adhered to and acted upon? It might have ended maybe in malicious conduct towards each other, it could have resulted in the loss of a good friend mistaken for an enemy both sides, I would not have had the successful opportunity of mentoring my colleague into developing the habit of making sure of the facts before prejudging anyone and to avoid generalization of individuals based on origins.

Do you have any experiences and contributions/ suggestions or feedbacks to this effect that can empower individuals to avoid compounding problems of this nature? Kindly share on info@itspossible.co.tz

b) Caught in the rut mentality: You most likely have believed at one point or the other that there is nothing you can do about a situation. There are common rhetorical statements which are indications of a person being a victim of this phenomenon, they include;

i. there is nothing I can do about it

ii. it is just my fate

iii. it is God’s will

Remedy: Much as it is true sometimes there are situations we cannot do anything about, it is important to avoid this defeatist thinking pattern. Instead, we should develop the habit of thinking out of the box for solutions. If you stick to the script of the procedures and rule books to resolve your problems, sometimes you miss the available unrecorded or unconventional solutions.

A good example is the covid19 pandemic during its initial stages; first, we do empathize with those who suffered covid19 infections, lost love ones or who are currently suffering. The concept that some traditional approaches help during recovery and in treatment eluded many who were stuck to only instructions being given by specific sources who also were professionally and wisely stating clearly that it is a new thing that they we analyzing but giving scientifically thought to be appropriate preliminary remedies. Practices like steaming and using natural immune boosters like garlic, high level vitamin c fruits and foods, rest positions among others that help in recovery were undermined by these “stuck in the rut” oriented individuals until quite late. Those who ventured to think out of the box and apply  out-of-the-box approaches (since covid19 was already identified as a virus) had some relief in breathing, others even survived as the world waited on the health experts to come with scientific solutions: thank God the scientific researches are steadily yielding positive results by God’s grace and their blessed efforts.

The other remedy especially when it is true that the situation is not within our individual jurisdiction to avoid it’s getting worse, for example a market downtown, is to avoid panicky responses. Panicking often leads us into making decisions that we might regret when the situation calms down. It pays to consider Tony Robbins’ wise observation found in his New York times bestselling book entitled ‘Unshakeable..’ in which he says:

“... when everything seems terrible, the pendulum eventually swings in the other direction”

His observation however should be differentiated from having a passive attitude or outright negligence, no, this applies to situations that are out of your control even when you were to apply out of the box approaches.

Your comments on how to avoid or remedy the ‘stuck in the rut' trap will be most welcome if shared on info@itspossible.co.tz , it is possible for us to share helpful concepts that empower individuals to live better lives every day of their breathing lives.

c) Ignorance of the subtle schemes of our predators; Tony Robbins whom we earlier quoted says in the same book that ‘...ignorance is pain and poverty. Ignorance is disaster for you and your family – and bliss for the financial firms that are exploiting your inattention’. Although his subject matter is on financial literacy, the principle applies to other areas of life in which we can get exploited by others with whom we have to interact.

If you have watched a cat in hunt, you will agree that they thrive on the inattention of their prey. The animal who is alert usually sees the predatory danger early then turns on its various survival instincts be it entering the inside of the herd, speeding off, facing the cat, camouflaging in one way or the other, or distracting the predator away from its young ones-for the mothers, etc. The same applies in real life for us human beings when it comes to problem compounding or minimizing. How?

Eamonn Butler inthat book Introduction to entrepreneurship which is now translated into Kiswahili by Elias Mutani of Tanzania (Msingi Wa Ujasiriamali), identifies a strange kind of entrepreneurs whom he argues will usually skillfully wait to pounce on the rewards of the sweat of others. These are kind of conmen or cheats who apply very subtle means to steal from you, a few use overt means for example the corrupt and robbers. In many cases you will only realize your loss after you have been long cheated and they are gone. In some instances, even when you come to the realization while you can find them, they may have covered their tracks so neatly that the judicial and law enforcement bodies cannot hold them accountable nor help you in a straightforward manner to recover what you have lost; the evidence based and other obsolete or inappropriate systems and procedures are such a pain in situations like this which calls for your own personal alertness to these schemes in order to safeguard yourself. Gaining this knowledge helps you in avoiding entering into their traps, it also helps in protecting yourself and getting out of those snares just in case you have already gotten in unsuspectingly.

Remedy: There is an entire article forthcoming regarding this subject, we recommend you keep following the IT'S POSSIBLE series to keep up to date with these schemes and self help approaches derived from real life experiences and good research.

In the meantime, just remember that once you notice a person who needs something from you, could be a service or product, in case such a person is in so much hurry for you to make a commitment that is not easily reversible, keep your antennae on high alert, and delay the transaction as much as you can before letting go of your coffers/ finances or whatever treasures that you are required to provide to them. By doing so, at least you will have saved what you have even if it happens that you might have lost an opportunity with them; just remember that opportunities are never exhausted provided one is alive, otherwise there would be no opportunity left in our time considering the myriad generations of humans who have existed on the surface of this earth prior to you.

d) Hesitance to say no; there are times that either out of respect for a person or just outright lack of confidence, we hesitate to say no to situations or ideas that we deep inside our souls believe are not right either generally or for ourselves. Only after the problem we silently foresaw would happen happening do we come out with statements such as

· ‘I knew it’

· ‘I told you but you did not listen’

· ‘you should not have forced me’

All these belated statements do not help anymore when the damage has already been done.

Remedy: it is important to always have our facts right about what is good for us and be ready to defend the same. It does not matter what another thinks provided what we hold as the right path works in our circumstance. Heed what General Stanley McChrystal remembers from his combat training days as a young man;

“if it’s stupid but it works, it isn’t stupid”

as stated in his highly recommended read entitled ‘LEADERS, Myth and Reality’. once you adopt this mentality, you will have the courage to say no to whoever brings alternative ideas that can create or compound your problems. The more you understand yourself and what works for you, the better your position to stand your ground without sheepishly being led into a problem compounding mode. This will also help you be able to identify and safeguard yourself from inappropriate advice; without a proper understanding of yourself and your situation, you cannot convincingly know what is appropriate or not appropriate when served you.

e) Failure to adjust to the demands of the negative situation we find ourselves in can also result in the situation compounding itself. You can only change what you can change, as the experienced residents along rivers will tell you, there are times you must adopt to the tide when you get swept by the fast flowing floods till you determine a get out point; forcing yourself to swim against the tide can only hurt if not kill you outright.

What do you do for example when a whole truck full of police officers come to arrest you based on false accusations they have received and believed? Will you fight them off or follow them and call your lawyers? Will you run away and get shot at with live bullets or follow the law of not obstructing their operations in order to give to yourself the opportunity to be alive and defend yourself at the next opportune chance? (The right to defend oneself before the law is a provision all countries ideally should have with some exceptions where laws do not really get applied)

Remedy: Too many people hurt themselves unnecessarily and become unprofitable martyrs by fighting battles they cannot win at any cost at the given time. It is therefore important to count your costs, to estimate your chances comprehensively then act accordingly. Like Robert Greene expounds in his book The 33 Strategies of War, your grand strategy when faced with a situation immediately out of your control to manage is to adopt the grand strategy that calls for losing the battle now but focusing on winning the war as your final desired outcome.

f) Procrastination; Roderick Nabe, a Tanzanian writer very aptly makes the point for how procrastination is a good way to make our problems bigger when he states in his 2020 first edition book entitled Who Stole My Success?  that

‘Postponing a problem for just one minute can push away your dreams to years of struggle and regret’

During the build up to this subject, I spoke to a couple of people to find out if there are any things that had they done within good time would have changed their lives for the better. Every single one of the persons asked had several items on their finger tips ranging from missed marriage opportunities to jobs, delayed academic achievements to destroyed businesses, etc. Among such was a man who formerly worked in the security department of the Ugandan army (asked to remain anonymous); he says if Dr. Apollo Milton Obote had acted on security reports that there was an impending plan to overthrow his government and not travelled to Singapore for the commonwealth meeting at the time, his government would not have been overthrown by Nduli Iddi Amin Dada whose regime saw the butcher of so many Ugandans. Later, over a thousand Tanzanians are reported to have died in the process of liberating the Kagera region that had been overrun by Amin’s forces besides aiding the Ugandan forces to recapture their country. Had Dr Apollo Milton Obote, Uganda’s first really functional prime minister and one who received our independence instruments of power from the British colonialists, had he acted decisively and timely, probably the events that led to years of struggle and regret, borrowing Robert Nabe’s words, would have been averted.

You might argue that this is a political scenario which does not relate to your personal life. We admonish you to take an analysis of your own life, if you do not find any evidence of procrastination in your entire life to date, then you are one in over a billion and I will definitely want to hear from you via  info@itspossible.co.tz to learn more about your extremely rare situation and the angelic strategies you are endowed with.


g) Lack of advance defense mechanisms: In many countries, the defense spending and budgets are not open to much open scrutiny like that for other government departments. The reason for this boils to the deifying power of secrecy. We hold the Almighty God in his rightful supremacy and remain worshipful of Him throughout our lives without developing over familiarity which takes away respectful reverence because the sacredness of His being is a secret beyond our comprehension except for what we are allowed to know through Holy writings. The holy bible says that when one sees God, he or she could die. How can you defend yourself from such a person? It’s an impossibility; He can do whatever He wants with any of His creations at any time in any situation in any manner.

The secrecies around the world’s armies and businesses partly imitate this aspect of the divinity of God, you cannot defeat or just attack what you really do not know, you cannot determine the outcome of a war against a force you do not know well and you cannot establish a convincingly dependable defense mechanism against an enemy whom you do not know well. When such a force attacks you, the chances of you winning or losing the battle are never easily predictable because of the reason stated already.

In real life settings, our problems are compounded when we fail to build meaningful defense mechanisms and systems against the threats in various angles of our lives. This failure makes the problems to keep compounding when they get into our lives because our systems cannot curtail their effects before taking root. It is like an army that is attacked by a mightier force that they do not know well; where do you protect in your body of army? Where do you hit them from? What do you use against them that can cause effective weakening? As you ask these questions, the enemy is making advances and taking your ground, yes compounding your problems as it were. Why? Because you were not meaningfully prepared to counter the attack, if you were prepared, you would have blocked them off thus minimizing your costs, yes prevention is better than cure as the saying goes!


Tony Robbins quotes Tudor James who said;

‘...defense is 10 times more important than offence...you have to be very focused on protecting the downside at all times ‘

An army that has an ever ready, able  and willing defense will avert any attack at its 'spinach' stage, yes, when its still easy to defeat. The attacking army will be repulsed before they can cause any meaningful damage, in other words, the enemy is blocked before he can make your life worse that at the time of the attack.

Take the example of a businessman with adequate savings before an economic downtown in his market. He can withdraw from his savings to salvage his business while those who did not save in good times may find even daily survival a challenge; the adequate saving was an advance defense arsenal for the business which helped in stopping the compounding of the problems caused by a market down turn due to whatever reason.

Another advance defense system is relationships. When you build meaningful relationships, someone somewhere will bail you out of a situation at a time you least expect thus counteracting the increasing of your problem or absolutely repulsing it.

One of the two teachers to whom my Yes Dear It’s Possible book is dedicated to was such a god sent antidote to the compounding of my problems and proof of how relationship can help to uncomplicate a problem. During the tumultuous periods in Uganda, it was hard for parents to make ends meet leave alone pay school fees. So one day we were sent out of class and asked to return home till our school fees were completed. Mrs Sylvia Latigo Olal who was my English teacher saw me leaving class and inquired why. Because I had remained an exemplary student throughout the time I was in her class from senior one, there was a mother-child relationship between myself and her, same relationship she had with her good students as she struggled with the ones who needed assistance in certain character improvement areas. My teacher asked me to follow her to the head teacher’s office, an Indian gentleman named Mr M. Chandy and requested him to authorize my going back to class promising that in case my school fees was not completed by the time her salary is paid, let the school administration claim the balance from her salary. A good relationship with my teacher became an unexpected but advance defense system that, in this case, I believe was crafted behind the scenes by the Almighty through this most exemplary and exceptionally talented self-sacrificing now retired teacher.

Do you have any situation in which a good relationship in your life turned out to be a defense system that stopped the compounding of your problems? Please share at info@itspossible.co.tz 

(Part of the Yes Dear It's Possible self empowerment, self improvement project)

share 25

Nelson Ebong
Written by

Nelson Ebong

Being Of Effective Service by sharing knowledge and skills both experiential, which is most impacting, and learned, which can be hypothetical but all the same essential in the journey towards the mastery of living that is fulfilling and positively contributory to improving our world

Join #TheMovement Now

Empower helps millions of job seekers and employers find the right fit every day. Start hiring now on Africa’s #1 job site.*

Become a Mover

What People Say About Us