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Musician's moving 'broken window' analogy about task paralysis resonates deeply with people

Nathan Howe shared the life lesson he learned from a broken window and some insight into working on the 'broken windows' in our lives.

Musician's moving 'broken window' analogy about task paralysis resonates deeply with people
Cover Image Source: Pexels | Sindre Fs, Twitter | @natehowe

When it comes to completing any task, it’s all about getting down to it and chipping away at it bit by bit. However, sometimes we find ourselves in the slums of procrastination and eventually giving up because it feels like too much work. This kind of "task paralysis" was addressed with refreshing insight and perspective by X (previously Twitter) user Nathan Howe (@natehowe), using a "broken window" in his basement as an example to talk about getting things done.

Howe—who is a musician and educator—narrated the origin of his broken window in his X post as such: “Several years ago, a neighbor kid kicked a football and shattered a small basement window. We were a family of six living on a teacher’s salary at the time, so I boarded it up, thinking I’d get to it someday. The frame was rusted shut. I couldn’t fix it.”

Representative Image Source: Pexels |  Lisa Fotios
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Lisa Fotios

He then explained that he did make an effort to get some estimates from window companies to repair the window a few times over the years. "Of course, the plan was to upgrade to energy-efficient windows for the whole house. $15,000. It was simply out of reach. In the meantime, the boarded window let in bugs but not light," he wrote. Since the broken window was within a frame that was “embedded in the foundation,” repairing it would mean chiseling it all out by hand, which was “a labor-intensive and expensive process” for a total of “six windows” in his house.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Lukas
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Lukas

The idea of having a broken window “ate” at Howe for years and each time he crossed the window or even a hardware store, it nagged him. He said that he was well aware of the fact that he “needed to address it,” but thinking about the “process” and the “price” made him “paralyzed.” After some time had passed, Howe’s wife got a new job and the couple had to move, but not before selling their house, which meant that any future buyer would need an FHA loan for the house, which would not be possible with a broken window. So, he pulled up his socks and finally “faced this thing head-on” after five years.


He wrote, “I thought, ‘What the heck. I’m gonna have to pay for it anyway.’ I grabbed some WD-40, sprayed it all around the rusted frame, and gave it a tug. To my astonishment, it moved for the first time in decades. I pulled the window out and took it downtown. It was a $12 fix.”

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Ksenia Chernaya
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Ksenia Chernaya

"I could have fixed the problem for $12 the same day it happened. But I let it haunt me for years, shutting out light and letting in bugs. And I finally fixed it for somebody else when the house was empty. It didn't need to be the most efficient. It just needed to be a window," he wrote. Explaining what he learned from this experience, he added: "OK, this isn't really about my window. I mean, the story is true. But it's also a decent parable. Many of us, especially those with ADHD, anxiety, or depression, tend to live with broken windows of one type or another for years."


He drew a parallel to things in life that we must do but are unable to. “Everybody’s broken windows are different. They are things that seriously affect our quality of life, and we know they need work, but the actions to address them seem too daunting,” he said. Howe then listed out things one must keep in mind if they have a couple of ‘broken windows’ in their lives.

Howe’s "broken window" analogy was found to be relatable by X users who added their two cents to his thread. @jenostrum said, “Thanks to this story, I finally filed for divorce last month. We had been intending to do this for a couple of years, but inertia and anxiety kept me from completing the paperwork. Thanks for the inspiration.” @Javier90019 commented, “Great on you for many reasons, especially not to pass the buck and blame others for mistakes. Good on you.” 




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