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!