The Problem with Fighting Dragons

Several years ago I attended a training where one of my mentors likened the thoughts in our minds to the image of fighting dragons.

Here’s the analogy:

It’s like we’re walking around every day fighting dragons—except the big, bad creatures are all in our head.

Have you ever had a problem that just seemed so big and so real? This happened to me a few weeks ago…

I had sent a proposal out to a potential client, and she wasn’t getting back to me. I started making up a huge story in my head about what had happened. In my mind, she had taken it to one of the other decision makers and he had laughed at it, which in turn made her look bad, and now she was mad at me for putting her in an awkward position.

I spent the better part of a week battling this beast in my mind. I was beating myself up for handling it the way I had, and feeling stupid for even reaching out to her in the first place.

In the end, she got back to me a week later, saying, “I’m so sorry, I’ve been super busy and haven’t had a moment to get back to you!”

All of the angst I put myself through was the equivalent of fighting dragons. The mentor I heard speaking years ago had said, “You can keep fighting the dragons, and you can get better and better at it; stronger tactics, keener strategy, and wield a bigger, sharper sword…or you can just realize the truth: that they’re not real, and you don’t have to spend any energy dealing with them.”

Have you ever experienced a problem in your life or your business that seemed huge and impossible, and then hours, or even days later, realized that it was never a problem at all? Either the solution was right in front of you, or it somehow turned out better than you thought it would.

Your business life will always involve obstacles. If you’re good at what you do, as challenges get bigger, the business and your career will grow. This means that as it does, bigger “problems” will have to be addressed. The key is figuring out which problems are real, and which are dragons.

Here are the 5 keys to making that distinction:

First: Define the problem. If you don’t identify the problem correctly, you won’t know the right questions to ask in order to solve it.

Then: Ask yourself the following questions related to the problem:

What are the facts about the situation?

This helps us become firmly grounded in what we know is actually true. In my situation, all I knew was that my client hadn’t gotten back to me. Beyond that, I was making up a lot of (untrue and unnecessary) stories about why.

What are other possibilities of what could be happening?

This question is an exercise that allows you to see that the story you’re making up is just that—a story. Imagining other scenarios can allow you to see that the possibilities and rabbit holes in your mind are infinite; once you are able to realize this, the stories you have been believing will seem less threatening.

What if the opposite were true?

In my situation, I was convinced that they were either laughing at my proposal or tearing it to shreds.   What if the opposite were true? Maybe they were with the planning committee right now trying to get my proposal budgeted. Could that be possible? This question creates space between you and your story, adds a positive element to your point of view, and helps the chatter inside your head subside.

What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Again, going back to my experience, the worst thing that could have happened was getting a “no,” and that I might not be able to go back in and pitch for their company again. Was this SO bad? Admittedly, it would be an unfavorable outcome; but it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. Coming to terms with the worst-case scenario is often very empowering and can be an access point to letting your mind entertain new possibilities.

These questions are just a few useful tactics for making sure that you begin to see the dragons for what they are—figments of your imagination. It’s time to put down that sword and use your mind for other more pleasurable and creative endeavors.

I’d love to hear what dragons you’ve been fighting lately. Leave me a comment below, and we’ll start a dialogue.

Jim Donovan is the Owner and Strategy Leader of BURST Forward, a coaching and consulting company geared to help business leaders reach their true potential in the marketplace. You can find out more about Jim and his work at

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