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The Two Bricks

The Two Bricks

How often do we focus on one small mistake, or the one small comment or piece of feedback that indicates an opportunity to improve?  And how often do we focus on the small thing and completely overlook the big picture?  It could be the amazing project that’s been completed; the big sale that’s been secured or the massive body of work that has been successfully concluded … and how often do you find yourself ‘dwelling’ on the bits that went wrong, rather than the huge chunks of it that went well?  

I put myself through this type of thinking from time to time and I know that it takes a deliberate and conscious effort to pull myself out of it.  I’m not sure that there’s a name for it, however I’m calling it the ‘two bricks’ syndrome.  Why?  Check out the story below that sums it up beautifully …

This year I happened across a wonderfully uplifting book called “Who ordered this Truckload of Dung?”  It’s a collection of inspiring stories beautifully interwoven by Ajahn Brahm who has been a Buddhist monk for over 40 years. 

In the opening story he talks about the ‘two bad bricks’ so I’ll summarise the story for you … in 1983 the monks purchased land for their monastery.  They were broke and in debt at the time.  They needed buildings and couldn’t afford a builder, so they learned to build.  They built foundations, erected the roof, installed plumbing,you name it,  they did the whole lot.  The writer became quite skilled, but in the beginning he was unskilled and he found many of the tasks to be quite difficult.  The writer talks about building his first brick wall and the challenges of getting the bricks to sit level in mortar before laying the next brick and then maintaining the level as the next brick was added.  As a monk he had patience and as much time as he needed, so he made sure every brick was perfect, no matter how long it took him.  Once he’d completed his first wall, he stood back and looked.  It was only then that he noticed – oh no!  He’d missed two bricks!  Most of the bricks were nicely in line but these two were inclined at an angle.  They spoiled the entire wall. 

He asked the abbot if he could knock it down and start again, or even better, blow it up as he’d made a mess of it and was very embarrassed.  The abbot said no – the wall had to stay. 

Every time the writer showed visitors around their fledgling monastery he avoided taking them past his brick wall as he hated anyone seeing it.  One day, three or four months after finishing the wall he walked with a visitor who saw the wall.  The visitor remarked about the nice wall, and the writer pointed out the two bad bricks in the centre which spoiled the whole wall.  What the visitor said next changed his whole view of the wall.  The visitor said … “Yes – I can see those two bad bricks.  But I can also see the 998 good bricks as well.”

The perfect bricks were many, many more than the two bad bricks.  Once he could see the good bricks, the wall didn’t look so bad after all. 

How many of us give up a relationship, a job, a project and got ourselves depressed and even contemplated radical action because of two bad bricks?  When we see mistakes we often think that they are all there is and we want to destroy it or make it go away, and sometimes, sadly, we may end up destroying a very nice wall. 

Over the last two weeks this story has come to mind on several occasions for me … a slip of the tongue; a piece of constructive feedback; a conversational comment … they all became ‘the wall’ instead of the two bricks that they really were. 

It can be very easy to get caught up in ‘looped thinking’ (that’s when your thoughts keep playing back the image, sound or experience of the two bad bricks all manner of different ways), rather than proactively and consciously focusing on the BIG picture and keeping the two bricks in their correct context.  Last week I mentioned my ‘two bricks’ to a supportive colleague who reminded me of the BIG picture which helped me stop the loop.  I’ve also found it useful to remind myself of an NLP presupposition:  ‘there is no failure, only feedback’.  That is, if I presume this statement to be true, how does this thought shift my thinking?  The two bricks have become a useful metaphor which I have chosen to heed for the future. 

How often do you focus on the two bad bricks and get stuck?  And what’s your strategy for getting ‘unstuck’?    

If you would like help with shifting your thinking, feel free to contact me for an obligation-free chat. 

Acknowledgement:  Brahm, A.  “Who Ordered this Truckload of Dung?”