"As soon as you become aware that a wave of change is coming your way, the first thing to do is get down to the bottom of the ladder. It's more stable there. That means getting all the facts you can about the situation and resisting the impulse to jump to assumptions or conclusions. Take a tip from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: 'It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.' Often the facts aren't as bad as our stories about them. And even if they are, once we know the truth of the situation, we can more effectively respond to it.

"Tim Gallwey, author of The Inner Game of Work, has developed a great set of questions for gathering the facts of current reality which I've adapted here. I suggest that you sit quietly and write down your answers (or ask someone to quiz you), acting as if you were a newspaper reporter — just the facts without any conclusions.

"You don't necessarily have to answer all the questions. Depending on your situation, some will be more relevant and helpful than others. The point is to gather as much factual information as you can.

"• What's happening? (I'm spending more than I'm making. I've been using my home equity line of credit to make up shortfalls between my income and expenses.)

• What do you and don't you understand about the situation? (I haven't looked at what the gap number is and where my money is actually going.)

• Do you need more information before taking action? (I need the facts before I make a plan.)

• What have you been trying to control here? (I've been trying to control the situation by not eating out, but that's not making a big enough difference.)

• What is beyond your control? (The fact that I can't tap my equity line of credit anymore.)

• What could you control right now that would make a difference in how you're feeling and/or your situation? (I can get the numbers and brainstorm ways to tighten my belt. I can work out so I feel at my best.)

"For added help in getting clear about where you are, also consider these bonus questions from author Mark Nepo:

"• What keeps coming up, though you keep putting it down? (I keep thinking I should sell the motor home, even though I don't want to.)

• What are you needing to attend [to] but don't know how? (I need to talk to my children about what's going on in a way that doesn't scare them. I saw a good article on that.)

"Now that you've done your investigation, you should have a clearer understanding of the facts of your situation and perhaps an idea of how to begin to move forward.

"Acknowledging the plain truth is the first step in acceptance. It doesn't mean you have to like what's happening, simply that you acknowledge reality. And, as spiritual teacher Byron Katie likes to say, it's no use arguing with reality because it wins every time."