Find the source, fix the problem

  • By Brian Keane

“Take away the cause, and the effect ceases” – Miguel De Cervantes

I love the old chinese proverb ‘when drinking the water, dont forget the source’ and that same adage can be applied to any problem in your life. ‘Find the source, fix the problem’. I remember hearing a story at Tony Robbins seminar about a fellow standing on the banks of a river when suddenly he sees someone caught in a raging current, bounced about on jagged rocks, and hears him calling for help.

The man leaps in, pulls the drowning man to safety, gives his mouth to mouth resuscitations, attends to the mans wounds, and calls for medical help. As he he’s catching his breath, he hears two more screams coming from the river. Again, like before, he jumps in to make the rescue. He saves the two women and before he’s hand a chance to think, he hears four more people calling for help.

Pretty soon the man is exhausted, having rescued victim after victim, and yet the screams continue. If only he had taken the time to travel a short distance up river he could have discovered that there was someone throwing all the people into the water in the first place. He could have saved all his efforts by addressing the problem at its cause rather than its effect.

Too often it is easy to fall off track in life; be it our fitness aspirations, relationship hopes or business ventures because we get tired of not getting closer to our goals even though we are working so hard.


I always think of the analogy of a ladder against the wall. To climb a ladder against a wall, it can be pretty difficult, you need to stay focused, put one foot in front of the other all the way to the top, but what happens when you get to the top of the ladder and realise it was up against the wrong wall? You get discouraged. Now, not only are you tired from climbing the ladder but also you’re still no closer to where you want to be. Making sure the ladder is against the right wall before you start the climb is the key to success.

When I was working full time as a primary school teacher in West London, I was slowly starting to climb that ladder. On top of my mainstream class, I had recently been appointed PE co-ordinater (which is a pretty big job in a top ranked London sports school)- this meant a significant pay increase and it was firmly setting me up to become a future head of year, head of key stage, a vice principal and then ultimately principal. I was lucky enough to realise that even on the first step of the ladder that I was up against the wrong wall.

“You’re better to be at the bottom of the ladder against the right wall, than at the top of the ladder against the wrong one” – Brian Keane

I loved teaching but it was still a job. I have now what I call a ‘nonjob’ where my life and job are one in the same. Funnily enough, part of the reason I love my job so much right now is that I still get to ‘teach’ – I’ve just switched sentence clauses and numerical strategies for fitness, nutrition and mind-set.

“You cant be paralysed by fear or you will never grow!” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

“What is meant for you, wont pass you” is a quote my mother has said to me since I was 10 years old (and continues to say to me to this day). I would add to it and say ‘what’s meant for you wont pass you, but you have to be willing to go for it”. Sometimes the fear of the unknown or the fear off making the jump for something you know is right for you, can paralyse you.

I remember hearing a story about a prisoner of war once, I don’t know how true the story is but it’s supported me throughout my life, so Ill share it in the hopes it may resonate with at least one other person.

This prisoner of war was pulled in front of the army general, his entire firing squad and given two choices; either death by firing squad or go through a rusted steel door on the far side of the room and deal with whatever horrors were on the other side.

The prisoner thought, pondered and weighed up his options. He thought about all the horrible things that could be on the other side of the door; thoughts of his family being tied up and tortured entered his head, then thoughts of ravenous dogs that would tear him limb from limb crossed through his conscience mind. He weighed it up and realised he couldn’t deal with the emotional trauma of seeing his loved ones brutally murdered or the physical pain he would endure with ravenous dogs eating though his flesh. He inevitably choose death by firing squad. Later, a soldier approached the general and asked him ‘what was on the other side of the door anyways’, the general replied ‘his freedom, that door is the way out of here’.

This story always comes to the forefront of my mind when I know I’m making decisions based on fear. This story is of fear in its most extreme cases; to think that we would choose death over the unknown but we subconsciously do this every day of our lives.

Sometimes we let our minds run wild with the worst imaginary scenarios and it paralyses us to take actions. I remember when I first left my teaching job to start my own business, I weighed up every single scenario but the same constant thoughts would flood my mind: ‘what happens if I fail? ‘What happens if I don’t make it work?’ – ‘what if I have no money?’, ‘what if people laugh at me because I failed?’ – I had everyone from father to family members and friends telling me I couldn’t do it and it was a bad decision.

Had it not been for my mother who said those life changing words ‘So what if it fails, you can always go back teaching- what’s meant for you wont pass you’ – that the figurative penny dropped, the fear was gone.

Sometimes we just need those words to propel us to take action. When you actually think of the worst-case scenario, it’s never actually as bad as what your mind thinks. If you’re afraid to go up to that guy or girl you like because they might reject you, what’s the very worst thing that can happen? They laugh at you and tell you to go away. More than likely, they’ll appreciate the courage it took to talk to them and even if they’re not interested, you could potentially have a new friend who changes your life in some way or another. If nothing else, you wont spend the rest of the day thinking about ‘why didn’t I just go say hello?’

That’s one small thing you can do in your life right now; who have you been putting off talking to? Go say hello. That’s one small action that can empower you to do that in other aspects of your life. That’s what happened to me.

That cold wet December night, sitting in the kitchen of my mum and dad’s west country home, the compound effect started for me. That one decision to leave my job and try and pursue my passion was the first time I didn’t let fear paralyse me.

Does fear still affect me? Of course, it affects everyone; the only difference between the person I am now and the person I was then, is now it I don’t let the fear stop me. I still feel the fear, I just f****g do it anyways. I never want to be the prisoner at war who was afraid to see what was behind the door.

Tomorrow’s post: continuation of The Compound Effect and The Magic Penny
Written by Brian Keane 16.9.2016

Brian Keane Fitness Podcast

Brian is a qualified personal trainer, sports nutritionist and strength and conditioning coach.

He is the best selling author of the book The Fitness Mindset and currently travels the world as a professional speaker. He also hosts the #1 podcast The Brian Keane Podcast.

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