Finding Your Way Out of the Swamp When you Are Shoulder-Deep in Alligators
Bill Cottringer

“No problem can stand the assault of sustained thinking.” ~Voltaire.

Scene. Picture this: A Cold, foggy, and damp early morning when you find yourself under-dressed and shoulder-deep in a swamp full of hungry alligators. The alligators being the life-zapping threats by any of the typical troublesome problems of our day—pending lay off, unemployment and financial stress; kids not acting responsibly, dropping out of rehab or going to jail; too many conflicts, arguments and poor communication in a relationship; injury, illness or chronic pain that won’t leave you alone for a moment; the sudden and unexpected hospitalization and death of a loved one, or any of the angst, worry and fear about these things. In two words: Bleak and hopeless. We have all been here and its is no fun.

Actually, when you are shoulder-deep in a swamp full of alligators all you should be trying to do is avoid drowning or getting eaten alive. This is probably not the best time to be planning proactive strategies about getting out of the swamp or avoiding stepping into it in the first place. This is basic training survival time. And, although it may not seem like it at the time you are stuck in the swamp, there are always times when the swamp is drained; then you can work on proper problem-solving and preventative strategies when your mind isn’t overloaded with crazy thoughts and your heart heavy with overwhelming feelings.

To be able to do this successful thinking and acting, you have to find your “sweet spot”—that magnificently balanced place somewhere in between under-thinking and over-thinking your approach and between thinking and doing. Going past the point of no return in either of these two challenges is very easy and requires super sensitivity. Success at anything involves getting away from the lure of easy and quick solutions or dreaming of getting something for nothing. Lasting success always requires time and effort and more patience than most of us have.

I haven’t always responded to worry, frustration and burdensome problems in the healthiest of ways and have certainly miss-managed myself into staying in these dark places much longer than I would have preferred. But I can say with confidence, that whenever things were leveling out and I anticipated the roller coaster ride coming back, and thought ahead as to the best attitude and response I could have this next time around which would make me proud, things worked out much better when the inevitable problems came back for their vengeance, usually with more fury.

When you are stuck in the swamp of life, it seems like the harder you try to get out, the deeper in you get. The reality is, that no matter who filled the swamp with alligators or for what reason, it doesn’t do any good to play the blame game or throw a pity party, even when you are completely justified. Nobody is interested in hearing excuses, even if they are legitimate, and excuses, blame and self-pity do not get you out of the swamp. They don’t even make you feel better. About all you can do is hope that the water level will go down and the alligators won’t be hungry anymore. And of course mustering up this kind of patience is much easier said then done, but eventually you learn the truth of “you gotta do what you gotta do.”

If you are currently shoulder-deep in a swamp full of alligators closing in on you, all I can say is that there are usually friends and family who have enough compassion and human decency to at least send hope and positive thoughts your way, once they understand it isn’t advice you really want. Then you have to do your part. That is in not worrying about worrying about these alligators. Just worry about the alligators and leave it at that. The extra worry layer keeps your eyes from seeing and your legs from working to get to dry land.

And, most importantly, when you finally do arrive safely on dry land, enjoy the respite for a bit but then quickly start using this time to think ahead about what you can do to stop wandering into swamps and attracting alligators. I understand that this will take great courage and openness to accept responsibility for things you certainly don’t want, but by this time you will be up to it. If by chance you don’t have any solutions that do come to mind, then by all means ask a trusted friend who will be honest with you. But don’t dare ask for honesty if you aren’t ready to hear and deal with it.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA., along with being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living in the scenic mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including his latest book “Reality Repair” coming shortly from Global Vision Press. Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 454-5011 or