Lessons from a bracelet

October 17, 2021 By

This is my daughter’s bracelet. It comes in two parts, and they have been tangled for months. She had been fidgeting with them and then at some stage hit that point of no return where you can’t see how you can get back to an untangled state. One of those things you’re looking at going: how did you even manage that?

Every now and then I’d pick them up and try to fix it. I knew it should be possible, the elastics hadn’t snapped or anything and technically it should be possible to undo what had been done. But it would often be late at night when I spotted them, I’d be tired after a long day and I’d stare at them for a bit, vaguely twist and turn the two parts, get frustrated, realise I couldn’t even tell was I making it better or worse, but with a strong feeling it was probably the latter. 

I’ll look at this another time, I would think, putting the bracelets back down.

This continued for some time.

Until one morning I picked them up and decided to give it a proper go. I wasn’t tired. The light was good. I had time. I wasn’t half-heartedly going at the detangling thinking that if I don’t have it done in five minutes I am just giving up.

It still seemed impossible, though. And I still couldn’t tell if I was going backwards or forwards.


Until I realised that I was making it more difficult than it  focusing on both the white and the back parts and that I would never get there that way. It was too much, they clouded each other. So I decided to stick with one. And lo and behold, as I carefully traced the black beads, followed their path around the white, I started to make progress. That focus was what had been needed all along.

Sometimes we are stuck because we are trying to fix too many things at the same time. And they just get in each other’s way. Our minds flit between one and the other, unable to properly make progress on either. We’re undoing our own progress.  Sometimes you need to pick one thing.

Then, just as I thought I had it all sorted, I got to a point where the tangles resisted all further efforts. Frustrated again, my initial instinct was just to keep going. I knew that focusing on the black beads worked, and surely, sooner or later my persistence would bear fruit. But not this time. I realised that the time had come to shift my focus. If I stuck with my black beads strategy at this point, believing that this was what was needed, that it was just a question of persisting, that I had found the right way of doing it, that this was it – it wouldn’t have worked. Because I had exhausted what I could do with my initial strategy, and in order to get to the finish line, I had to change tack. And as I concentrated on the white beads, carefully traced them, followed their path around the black, the two bracelets suddenly separated and fell gently into my hand.

Sometimes it’s the timing. Sometimes it’s the time we allocate. Sometimes it’s our energy levels and ability to concentrate. Sometimes it’s focusing on the one thing that will make a difference. Sometimes it’s knowing when to shift that focus. Sometimes it’s all of those.

But there’s always a way forward. There’s always a way to get unstuck.