See more of the story

In one of my favorite Peanuts comic strips, Linus says to Charlie Brown, "There's no problem so big or so complicated that it can't be run away from." I chuckle every time I think about it because it sounds like such a simple solution to a problem.

We all have problems. It's how we deal with them that matters most. Problems move through three phases:

1. The proactive stage, when problems can be solved fairly simply.

2. The reactive stage, when remedial steps are necessary to turn the situation around.

3. The crisis stage, when immediate action is required to avoid permanent damage.

Unfortunately, some people live their entire lives in the crisis stage, while others can go through life avoiding rough times. How can this be?

My good friend Nido Qubein, president of High Point University in North Carolina, told me that if you address problems while they're still in the proactive stage, it will prevent unimportant things from turning into urgent situations that divert your time and attention away from important things.

Whenever I feel overwhelmed by one of life's little problems, I reflect on a confession by Pope John XXIII: "It often happens that I wake at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the Pope about it. Then I wake up completely and remember I am the Pope."

Certainly, few of us face that level of responsibility. But worry is universal. And we all have problems from time to time.

Problem solving is not easy, so don't make it harder than it is. Ignoring a problem rarely makes it go away.

And try not to borrow other people's problems.

I must confess that I have broken this rule because I wanted to help someone, or I thought I was more equipped to handle a situation. But as difficult as it may be, wait to offer advice until you are asked, and don't be offended if that request never comes or if your advice is not heeded.

The best place to solve a problem is at the point of complaint.

Years ago, American Airlines realized that a large percentage of its passengers who made complaints had them around the ticket counter and boarding gate. So, American created a special service position to deal with the problems as they arose.

Here's another example: A woman hired a carpenter for repairs on her farmhouse. One day, a flat tire made him lose an hour of work, his electric saw quit and then his ancient truck refused to start, so the woman drove him home. He invited her in to meet his family. As they walked toward the front door, he paused briefly at a small tree, touching the tips of the branches with both hands.

Inside, he smiled and hugged his two small children and gave his wife a kiss. As he walked the client out to her car, she asked him about the tree.

"Oh, that's my trouble tree," he replied. "I can't help having troubles on the job, but troubles don't belong at home. So I just hang them up on the tree every night when I come home. Then in the morning I pick them up again."

"Funny thing," he said smiling, "when I come out in the morning to pick them up, there aren't nearly as many as I remember hanging up the night before."

Find your trouble tree.

Mackay's Moral: Get control of your problems before they get control of you.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or email