One Enemy

This is my favorite saying: “He who has a thousand friends has not a friend to spare.

And he that has one enemy will meet him everywhere.”  (Ali Bin Ali Thalib)   I never realized that I could use it to learn a new language.


I’ve always had a real problem with language acquisition.  It fires all my stressers:  lots of memorization, time-intense pressure to recall, the risk of looking foolish.  But I’m traveling to Italy this summer, and I’ve spent a year intensely studying the language and attempting to get over my hurdles.


For me the worst part is having that moment where I freeze.  Either I want to say something and I can’t, or I hear people talking and I lose the train of the conversation.  Yesterday, after years with this problem, I had a tremendous insight.


I told myself, “Whenever I get stuck, I should notice where it happens, what word.  Keep noticing where I get in a bunch of different sentences, and see if I can spot a pattern.  If they are all the same kind of word, or the same issue, I may be able to address it with a strategy of some kind.”

Sounds good, no?  And it works.  The funny thing is I should have come up with that strategy years ago.


Why?  Because it’s the strategy I have used to solve every problem in my life.  And it’s always worked.


When I have difficulty with math, I notice where my eyes get stuck, and little by little I improve my understanding.  When I am practicing a piece of music, I notice where I get stuck on the piece, and little by little I improve my ability to play it.  When I do my Feldenkrais work on myself, I notice where my body gets stuck, and little by little…


You get the picture?  It’s the same solution every time.  One enemy and I met him everywhere.


But for some reason, I didn’t recognize that this situation was the same problem.  Something about the stress of language acquisition may have made it hard for me to think about a solution.  And I’m finding there are other problems I haven’t solved that very well might be addressed with the exact same solution.


I’m not saying every problem I have can be addressed the same way.  But knowing that I can apply the same strategy to so many challenges greatly empowers me.  And going forward, I can check to see if any new problem resembles the previous ones.


Perhaps for you too, the many problems you face are all really the same enemy, and you are meeting him everywhere.  That enemy may be dressed differently, or use a different name.  Yet it may really be a surface variation of a single deep issue.


Examining how you have successfully addressed previous problems may be a wonderful insight into what works for you.  The trick is seeing the deeper commonality between what appear to be very different situations.  It may be worth it to get some help in that regard, from a therapist, a teacher, or a friend.


I’d be curious to know if anyone has had this insight themselves.  Are there problems you’d like to solve that you’ve never been able to crack?  Have you met the enemy?



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Adam Cole is an author, educator and performer who blogs weekly on the subject of listening, creativity and artistry.  He is the director of Innovative Approaches to Music, a comprehensive look at the benefits of music learning.  To take a quiz on what kind of music warrior you are, please visit


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