Tip 4: Become solution-oriented (Part One)

September 15th, 2015


Albert Einstein said it best:  “Problems cannot be solved at the level of thinking that created them.”  When it comes to problems, we go into default mode, which keeps us problem-focused rather than solution-oriented.  What are common default modes?  Blaming the problem for your negative feelings.  Wishing the other person would change.  Feeling trapped and disempowered.  Staying angry and resentful.  You get the idea!  And it’s easy to understand why you go into default mode.  Because there is some truth in the notion that if the problem weren’t there, you would feel better.  Thus, you focus your attention on the problem.  But as you saw in Tip 2, this pulls you out of your control zone, thereby shutting off your positive energy to actually find a viable solution, and keeping you stuck.

Consider the following example. You have a neighbor with a very loud voice. He loves to sit on his porch and talk on the phone, and you can hear the entire side of his conversation perfectly. His outdoor conversations really bug you. The neighbor is aware that you are unhappy about the situation but has made no indication that he will curtail or change his phone routine.

Whenever your neighbor is on his porch and you hear his voice, your internal dialogue starts: “Why does this always happen when the weather is nice? Why does he have to talk so loud? When is he going to go inside? Who does he think he is? He’s such a pain…I wish he would move.”

It’s easy to see that if your neighbor were to move, the problem would disappear. And it’s understandable that you’re annoyed and upset by the disruption he causes you. But how does this justification help you? It doesn’t. It makes you a victim to your neighbor’s behavior. In fact, the more you think these kinds of thoughts, the more annoyed and upset you become. This is because you are focusing 100 percent of your attention on the problem. Can you see where this line of thinking is getting you? It’s putting you directly on a downward spiral of negative energy.

Consider another example. Your department has a new manager, who is very demanding, rarely says anything positive and seldom expresses appreciation. Everyone is upset by the replacement and is complaining to each other. The result is heightened negativity. You dread coming into the office.  In this example, mutual venting is fomenting the problem. Negative produces more negative. Everyone is sucked into focusing on the negative attributes of the new manager. The mutual griping only serves to magnify the problem, which now looms larger and larger, creating an atmosphere of despair, cutting off hope for a positive transition of leadership.

As you can see from these two examples, a problem-focus produces tunnel vision.  All you can see is what isn’t working, and as a result you create a negative experience for yourself. Under these conditions your mind shuts down to possibilities and alternatives, and things stay stuck. In contrast, a solution-oriented approach turns your attention away from the problem towards an answer. It pulls you out of the downward spiral of tunnel-vision negativity because you are now focusing on finding a way out. Your brain is firing up to find a solution rather than hunkering down in the problem.

There are several components to becoming solution-oriented.  The first is adopting an “abundance attitude.”  Let me explain.  When you have an abundance attitude you believe that possibilities are available to you. An abundance attitude assumes that the world is dynamic and expansive, that there are enough resources and opportunities to go around and that problems can be successfully solved. The opposite view, called a “scarcity mentality,” is characterized by a belief that the world is static and therefore only a limited amount of resources and opportunities exist. The scarcity mentality leads to feelings of fear and anxiety over potential losses and a sense that one person’s good fortune is another person’s bad luck.

Let’s take a look at the abundance attitude in action.  Take someone who is looking for a job when the economy is slow. We’ll call her Claire. Claire has a static worldview and fears that there aren’t as many openings as there would be if the economy were stronger. She is afraid that she’ll never get hired and feels dejected about the entire process. When she sees other people getting new jobs, Claire panics, believing that every time someone else gets a job, her own search will be harder since there’s one less job opening out there. Other people’s success makes her feel even worse, and she believes there is something wrong with her and that she’s bound to fail in her attempt to find a new job. When Claire thinks along these lines she gets pulled into a downward spiral, where all her negative thoughts and fears reinforce one another. Her energy level goes down and she feels depressed. The net effect is that it is hard for her to get motivated and keep looking for that next job. Her fears, in essence, become her reality.

In contrast, Barbara chooses a different interpretation of the job search process.  She has a dynamic worldview based on an abundance attitude.  She knows that she only needs one job. Barbara believes that, regardless of the state of the economy, that one job is out there. Her task is to find the most appropriate employer to hire her. She’s not looking to turn the economic forecasts for the whole country around; she just needs one little job. Barbara can think of lots of things she’d be good at and is interested in exploring them. When she sees other people getting new jobs, Barbara recognizes this fact as a sign that people get hired every day, which means that jobs are being filled. She could be next. Having an abundance attitude moves Barbara along an upward spiral; she is energized and engaged by her job hunt. Because the process takes her on an upward spiral, the good feelings reinforce her behavior, and it is easier for Barbara to keep looking for a new job than it is for Claire. 

Here’s another example.  Suppose you need more money but your company isn’t giving out raises this year. You say to yourself, “The problem is my company didn’t make enough profit to give me a pay increase.” Now, this statement is making the assumption that there is a limited supply of money, so you can’t get any extra. This perspective can easily stop your brain from firing up and thinking creatively and may even send you into a downward spiral. Instead, you might say to yourself, “My company isn’t giving out raises this year, so in what ways can I get more money?” This shift in perspective assumes that more money is available and you simply need to find a way to tap into the money stream. Neither perspective can guarantee you’ll get more money, but an abundance attitude will fire up your creative juices and open the doors of possibility.

For the second component to becoming solution-oriented – look for Part Two coming next month!

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Tip 3: Focus on the Positive Aspects (Part 2)

August 27th, 2015

"Balance Positive and Negative Emotions"

The key here is to recognize that by choosing to focus on the positive, you are in essence choosing to feel good. Let me illustrate. Pretend there is someone in your experience who has nine horrible characteristics and one wonderful one. Naturally it’s easier to focus on the 90 percent of this person that is negative. This is the path of least resistance: responding to what you are observing. If you want to feel good, to create a sense of wellbeing for yourself, then you want to choose your focus intentionally. You need to shift your attention to the one positive trait. Allow this one positive aspect to become 100 percent of who this person is. You are now feeling positive about this person. When she enters your space, you are opening the door for a positive experience.

The same process works for difficult circumstances you encounter in your life, such as setbacks, illnesses, rejection, or loss.  When you experience a difficulty, your first thought is usually that you want the situation to change so that you will feel better. In reality you are powerless when you take this approach because you do not have any control over external circumstances. (Remember from tip 2 that you may be able to influence circumstances, but you really have no control.)  On the other hand, you can make the decision that no external event has the power to create a negative experience for you. One of the best ways to achieve this outcome is to deliberately shift your focus to the positive aspects.  

One of the best ways to achieve this shift in focus is called reframing. Think about a picture you have hanging in your home. Now, imagine that same picture in a different frame. The picture looks different because the new frame changes your perspective. Now, think about a difficult experience from your past. With the passage of time, we often reframe that event by realizing it was really a good thing. For example, say you got fired from a job. As you reflect on the experience, you might say, “If I hadn’t gotten fired from that job, I would never have gone back to school and learned that new skill and gotten this great new job.” Reframing is the ability to find the gains that are hidden in the difficulty. By practicing reframing when you are in the midst of a trying situation, you identify the possible gains that might come from the event. You can then focus on these positives and balance out the crisis and the negative feelings, and stop the logjam of your positive energy. You basically say: “Yes, this is hard. Yes, this is frustrating, but I am going to get something out of the experience that will help me in the future.” What I’m suggesting is that when you’re having difficulty in the present, concentrate on the gains rather than the current problem. Think about what is happening in the present day as if you were looking back at it and appreciating how you benefited from the experience. By reframing the event, you’re finding a perspective that motivates you to move on when bad things occur. Reframing works best with day-to-day stressors and frustrations.

Let me share a story from my life.  At age 35, I was engaged to be married, and had given up my job and belongings to move to England to be with him.  The relationship did not “make it,” and when I returned to the U.S. after breaking off our engagement, I was devastated. It was a very painful period and took a while to get over. Now, looking back, I can see that I learned a lot about what I needed in relationships from that experience. I was forced to work through my negative feelings about my body and realize that I had to make myself happy rather than expecting a relationship to do it for me. Also, when I came back, I began to work in addiction counseling and established a career in that area. All of these things might have happened eventually, but the negative experience with Nick forced them to happen. The benefits were not obvious at the time of Nick and my breakup but became clear in hindsight.

I share this experience to reinforce that difficult situations are really a catalyst for examining your life and an opportunity to make choices and decisions that will enhance my future.  By looking for the positive aspects, you are empowering yourself to view obstacles from a new angle and gain new perspectives.  In this way, you unleash your positive energy and reinforce your freedom to choose the way you want to experience any situation – good or bad – thereby putting you in the driver’s seat of your life.

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Tip 3: Focus on the Positive Aspects (Part One)

July 16th, 2015

"Create a good mood"

"Create a good mood"DSC02292Information is only useful when it helps you reach productive conclusions and take effective action. Information that is limited or irrelevant will hamper your ability to create positive outcomes and keep your positive energy flowing. How do you know what information to pay attention to and what information to disregard?

The answer, interestingly, comes from research on marriage and divorce. Initially studies focused on unhappy marriages with the objective to learn how to avoid divorce. Not surprisingly, these studies revealed that in unhappy marriages neither partner understood the other well. From this perspective, the advice to strengthen a marriage was for each spouse to make a clear-eyed assessment of the other in terms of strengths, weaknesses and values.

While it seems sensible that an accurate understanding of who your partner really is would prevent divorce, it turns out that this is not the best practice. In the past two decades, investigation has shifted away from unhappy marriages and towards identifying the distinct characteristics of great marriages. The idea is to discover what lies at the core of these great marriages in order to help people build more lasting, rewarding relationships.

In his book The One thing You Need to Know, Marcus Buckingham summed up the research this way: Find the most generous explanation for each other’s behaviors and believe it. Thus, the happiest spouses aren’t the most objective. On the contrary, happy spouses choose to focus on positive aspects, creating an upward spiral of love.

How can you apply this finding to unleashing your positive energy? Think back to the Cherokee chief’s story of the positive and negative wolves.  At the heart of this parable is the notion of choice, in this case, choosing your perception. Gathering data in an objective, unbiased fashion is only the first step. Your positive energy lies in how you choose to perceive that data. If you want to feel happy and put yourself on an upward spiral to experience a positive outcome, then you want to deliberately focus on a “generous explanation.”

This seems easy in theory, but harder in practice.  For example, if you live with someone long enough, they will drive you crazy. Work with someone for a long time and they will get on your nerves. Even if this person is the love of your life, or the best friend you ever had, at some point they will become problematic. You will be staring at your negative wolf!  Guaranteed. Why?

Because one day those quirks, idiosyncrasies, and eccentricities that you once found adorable, or at least tolerable, will become unbearable. This is likely to happen when you are under stress, when tasks are piling up or when someone else is also driving you crazy. Under these circumstances, your best friend becomes a pain, your spouse becomes insufferable and your boss becomes inhuman.

Notice that the person in question is now a pain in your neck not because of a change in their personality, but because of a change in your perspective. When you are stressed out, tired, worried, or frustrated, for example, your brain misinterprets incoming data, which results in negativity, distorted perceptions, invalidation and criticism. All you can see in another person is the negative aspects. It’s as if your brain is shining a spotlight only on the negative, so that is the only information you are paying attention to. No wonder your positive energy is shut off!

What can you do to get yourself into a positive flow?  Try this experiment the next time you are on a downward spiral, angry or annoyed at an individual or situation in your life.  Initially, you may not be able to find any positive aspects in these circumstances because your brain will not let you focus on those particular details. The first step to finding the positive aspects of a difficult situation may be to get yourself in a more neutral position. You can do this by focusing on the positive aspects in other areas of your life. These might include your children and home, nature, an upcoming trip, a successful project. Once your positive pump is primed, your brain will begin to see things in a more constructive and generous way. You are now ready to find the positive aspects and get your positive energy flowing again.

(Look for Part 2 to discover the powerful tool of reframing.)

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Tip 2: Get In Your Control Zone (Part Three)

June 4th, 2015


Here’s another way to show the relationship between your response and your situation.  It’s the equation: Situation + Response = Outcome

Oftentimes, we must deal with negative situations that are beyond our control to change. In these circumstances, to affect the outcome, you must concentrate on what can be changed by you—namely, your response to the situation. It is your response that places you on an upward spiral. Interestingly, we usually think about this in reverse. We assume that the situation itself produces the outcome when in reality it is our responses to that situation that lead to either negative or positive results.

Once I went to conduct a workshop and found that the room wasn’t ready and there were twice the number of people I’d been told to expect. That was the situation, and my response was up to me. I was annoyed, of course, but the situation was what it was and I couldn’t control it. I knew that if I remained irritated and angry, the workshop would suffer and I wouldn’t enjoy the day. Moreover, the people who had come to hear me wouldn’t enjoy the day and wouldn’t get any benefit from being there for four hours. The outcome was bound to be negative and not helpful for anyone. So, I changed my response from irritation and decided to just let things unfold. I decided my response would be one of spontaneity and that I would enjoy myself no matter what. The workshop was not just successful; it was one of the best I’ve ever done! By shifting my response, the outcome became positive, and everyone benefited.

To sum up, getting into your Control requires you to actively choose your responses to situations and events in your life.  When you are in the No Control Zone, you will be wasting your energy and depleting your inner resources. For example, you may be spending time worrying about how much money you’ll have for retirement, yet it won’t do you any good to worry. When you stop worrying and start taking necessary actions to prepare for the future, such as going to a financial advisor or reading books on investing, you have moved into the Influence Zone. If there are no actions to take, you can still choose to stop worrying, recognizing that worrying is fruitless. If you are continuously thinking about the past, you can enter the Control Zone by intentionally choosing to let go of past events. Remember, you are in the No Control Zone when you look to others to bring you happiness and success. If your spouse is in a bad mood, for example, that doesn’t mean you have to take it personally. Your wellbeing depends not on changing others, but on your own interpretations and reactions to what is happening in the present moment. When you put yourself in the Control Zone, you are creating your own empowerment and letting your positive energy flow.


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Tip 2: Get In Your Control Zone (Part Two)

May 7th, 2015



The only thing you always have control over is your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. This is the Control Zone. You have control over your responses, your interpretations and how you will handle a situation. You have control over what you will do. To build conditions for success by unleashing your positive energy, center your actions on yourself and keep your energy focused in the Control Zone. By intentionally choosing your response to a given situation so that you remain in the Control Zone, you can have the most positive impact for yourself. For every specific event, there will be elements that you can control and elements that you cannot. If you’re thinking, “This is what I can do,” that’s good.  You are feeding the positive wolf.  You’re in the Control Zone, and you actually can have an impact and respond in a way that will be successful for you.

Let me give you an example about from my professional life to illustrate the benefit of getting into your Control Zone.  When I first went into private practice, I spent a lot of time in the No Control Zone. I worried about what would happen if I didn’t get any clients, if no one wanted to hire me as a consultant and if I would make enough money. Lots of terrible images and scenarios played out in my mind: I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills; I’d lose my house; I’d be a total failure. Of course, I felt terrible. I then realized that I was completely stuck in the No Control Zone because all I was doing was worrying. My worry was not leading to any productive results, only sleepless nights.

Then I shifted my focus. I thought about what I could influence. In terms of my success with clients, I had responsibility for getting the best training possible and being as good a therapist as possible. I would continue to attend workshops and get supervision. In terms of my success as a businessperson, I could influence building my practice so it would be prosperous. I joined the local Chambers of Commerce and other groups so that I could effectively get the word out about my practice. I taught workshops and classes and advertised my services at those events. I designed and produced materials to help people find me, such as business cards, brochures and posters. None of these things guaranteed that someone would come to me as a client or that a company would hire me as a consultant, even if they saw my materials and heard me speak, but these things helped people learn that I was available and influenced their decision to hire me. I saw each of these activities as a positive step towards building a successful practice and as an investment in my future.

By taking charge of my own thoughts, feelings and actions, I moved into the Control Zone. I stopped worrying about the things that were outside of my control, such as the number of clients I had each week. Instead, I began to work on changing my negative that were clouding my vision. I appreciated my efforts to build my business and to invest energy and time in letting people know about what I do. I was grateful that my bills were getting paid, and I truly celebrated every success, no matter how big or small.

In Part Three, we will examine another way to show the relationship between your response and situation, and then we will sum up the three parts.


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