STRONGER TOGETHER: Weathering Life's Storms—Insights from Muddy Puddles and Leaky Roofs

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Last updated: 15/04/2024

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the analogy of "muddy puddles and leaky ceilings," drawing inspiration from James Clear's concept and adding her own perspective. She illustrates how childhood experiences of jumping in muddy puddles can offer insights into problem-solving. While muddy puddles may clear up on their own if left alone, a leaky roof—symbolic of unresolved issues—will inevitably lead to escalating consequences if ignored.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

As the wife and mother of plumbers, I understand the issues that can be created when you ignore a leaky roof. So, when I recently came across the concept of ‘muddy puddles and leaky ceilings’ shared by James Clear, the renowned speaker and author of Atomic Habits, I couldn’t help but put my own twist on the idea.

During their childhood, my kids loved nothing more than jumping in puddles, embracing the playful splash of water and mud as it covered them from head to toe. Those puddles muddied up quickly, and the more that the kids jumped in and out of them, the muddier those puddles got – and the harder it was for me to get the mud out of their little threads! Yet, once the puddle was left alone, it would clear. Sometimes it took longer, but the reality with muddy puddles is that once you leave them alone, the mud will settle. And eventually, if it stops raining, the puddles dry out and green shoots of grass start to emerge.

In contrast, a leaky roof will always have consequences if left unchecked. The leak may go undetected for a while, until we see the water start to drip through the ceiling, we notice a puddle of water on the floor, or the paint starts to peel off the walls. Ignoring the leak will increase the impact, and potentially create a ripple effect that will damage other areas of the home.

When we think about the problems that we face, it can be helpful to consider them in terms of muddy puddles and a leaky roof.

Sometimes, I create problems in my mind. I worry about what might happen and lie awake working my way through the ‘what ifs’, ‘how could’ and ‘why nots’ to consider all the ways that I could mess with the problem to make it even ‘muddier’. The reality is that in most cases, these problems will settle once you stop overthinking, ruminating, or procrastinating about them.

So, before you jump into it, pause. Do something different – perhaps go for a walk, grab a coffee with a friend, read a book, or maybe even take a nap.  Do anything other than focusing on the problem to give it some time to clear. What you will usually find is that it will resolve on its own, which will provide space for new ideas or solutions to emerge. Remember, you can always jump into the puddle again if you think that you need to.

Conversely, leaving the leaky roof unchecked will bring heartache and usually has a cost associated with it. The longer you leave it, the more the damage and the bigger the cost. It could be widening the cracks in a relationship, repeating a pattern of unhelpful habits that are harmful to our physical or mental health, or it could be repeatedly spending more money than what we earn. Dealing with the leak early reduces the ripple effect and provides the best possible chance of a positive outcome.

So, the next time you're grappling with life’s challenges, ask yourself: is it just a muddy puddle that will clear up on its own, or is it a leaky roof demanding urgent attention? Understanding the difference may just save you a little time, a lot of stress, and prevent potential long-term or costly consequences.

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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