Motivation Articles

A Solution-Focused Approach to Weight Loss

Ask the Right Questions, Find the Right Answers

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What do you do when you don’t achieve the weight loss results you’re looking for?

Do you resolve to cut calories even more, try harder to resist temptations, or log extra treadmill time? These ideas could work—if you’ve been doing less than what you know you need to do to lose weight in the first place.

But chances are that these ideas don't fix the real problem. If you already have a hard time sticking to your eating and exercise goals, then making these goals even more strict (and difficult to manage) will only make things worse. Like Einstein said, "doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results," is insanity—and doing even more of the same old thing is even crazier. If you want different results, you need to think outside of the box and do things differently.

But what should you do differently, exactly? Is it just a guessing game, or is there some way to quickly find and focus in on solutions that will actually work for you?

There is a way to find the right solutions, and it starts with asking yourself the right questions. Here are four simple techniques you can use to stop guessing and start asking questions that focus on solutions instead of problems.

1. Look for the exception that proves the rule.
No problem happens all the time. No matter how often you don’t do as well as you’d like, there are always times when you do better than others, and it’s usually not an accident—there’s something about these positive times that makes your work much easier. The trick is to figure out what that something is, and how you can make it happen more often.

A good way to do this is to remember a recent time when things went well, and simply ask yourself what you did differently that time, or what was different about that situation. For example, was it easier to make the right choice because you were in a better mood? If so, what got you in that mood, and how can you get that to happen more often? What were you thinking about or doing the last time you made the choice you’d like to make most of the time? Can you find a way to spend more time thinking or doing that (or something similar) now?

2. Activate your imagination with the Miracle Question.
The Miracle Question is a great way to help yourself focus on solutions. Imagine that tonight while you’re sleeping, a miracle is going to happen that will completely solve the problem you are struggling with, once and for all. How will you know, when you wake up, that the miracle has happened and the problem is solved? What will be different for you—how will you think, act, or feel differently once the problem has been solved? What will be different about the day ahead of you? Are these questions already helping you think or feel differently now, at least a little bit? How can you make this happen more often?

3. Find the good intention behind the “bad” behavior.
Almost every persistent behavior happens for a good reason—no matter how many problems it may cause. You rarely do the “wrong” thing because that’s what you want to do, or because you literally can’t stop yourself—you do it because there is some payoff. And if you don’t like the negative side-effects (like weight gain) that come with a particular behavior (like overeating), your best bet will probably involve finding a way to get the payoff without those undesirable side-effects.

So if you’re having trouble resisting that sweet tooth of yours, for example, don’t waste time blaming yourself or trying to figure out what’s wrong with your willpower. Ask yourself what the payoff really is. Is it simple pleasure, emotional comfort, or relief from boredom or other unwanted feelings? Then ask yourself what you can do that would give you that same payoff, without the extra calories.

4. Predict your way to success.
Bad habits are often the product of self-fulfilling prophecies. You expect yourself to experience a problem, and then you do—again and again. You can interrupt this cycle by trying to predict your own behavior in advance. Before you get out of bed in the morning, take a minute to predict how you’re going to handle the potential problems you may encounter that day. What are the chances that you’ll have the problem again today? Pick an actual number—is it 100, 60, or 34 percent likely? What specific events, thoughts or feelings might make it more likely that you’ll face (or avoid) the problem? When and where are these events likely to happen? Who else is going to be involved? What can you do to influence this course of events and increase the odds in favor of not having the problem today?

Keep in mind that you’re not trying to convince yourself you can handle or avoid the problem you want to work on. This is not an exercise in positive thinking, but rather an effort to look at things differently and approach your problems in new ways. Instead of asking yourself why you have a particular problem, or what you do to “cause” this behavior, do the exact opposite. Focus on why you do things "right" and try to increase the odds of that happening more often.

Because the tendency to slip back into problem-focused mode is so strong, it will be important for you to check out your own assumptions and the focus of your questions on a regular basis.

You’ll know you’re on the right track when:
  • You focus on things that go well more often than things that don't.
  • You focus on concrete ways that things can be different and how to make those changes right now. (You’re not thinking about how bleak things may look.)
  • You believe there are good reasons why you do things that cause problems, and that you can find alternative solutions that don’t have the undesirable side effects. Having problems doesn't mean something is wrong with you—just that you’ve outgrown a particular solution and are ready to find a new one.
  • You take action so that your odds of beating your problem today are pretty good.
Asking yourself these questions may feel a little strange, awkward, or even uncomfortable at first. You may experience anxiety, or come up with a big blank when you start to think about how things will be different for you. That’s normal, and OK—it takes time to change from being problem-focused to being solution-focused. Just keep trying. You will find the solutions you’re looking for.

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Member Comments

  • Hm, after reading through the comments, most people felt the way I do about the ideas in the article.
    Very Helpful. The few negative comments...well..
    the writers seem to have missed the point entirely. In my understanding, this article wasn't about 'fanciful positive thinking'. It was about CORRECTING the things that have failed us in the past by EXAMINING what helped us in our successes; take THOSE actions and apply them more often.
    It might seem vague, but it's not. It's like open-ended toys...those you can do more than just one thing with...like Legos...every time you play with it you can do something different.
    In the case of this article...each PERSON is different, therefore the actions that failed them or helped them are different out of the very nature of not being like others, so NON-SPECIFIC advice was necessary.
    I still say it is an excellent article.
  • I enjoyed this article. Thanks!
  • Excellent! Focus on the positive, change what you can right now, find the GOOD behind the bad behavior and ask "The Miracle Question." Perfect time to read this. After a year of steadily losing weight and working up to half marathon level again, I let the stress of nursing school derail me. I stopped eating veggies, drinking water, exercising and have gained 6 pounds. Worst of all, I was feeling this was inevitable. This article gave me hope and tools to turn this ride around. Yay!
  • True true. I sometimes tell myself that I'll just change dietary habits without touching my physical activity because of whatever excuse I have, but once I admit to myself that I really have no reason not to add in different exercise I end up doing it and getting myself out of mental ruts that keep my weight from moving.
  • Oh, for the love...
    spare me the great cult of positivity.
    Your attitude is meaningless if you lack the tenacity to do the work required to achieve the result.
    If you're not calling yourself out on your shortcomings, who else is going to do it?
  • Such a helpful article! I'm writing these questions down in my journal to ponder frequently. Thank you.
  • Oh AMEN, Dean. You nailed it...reading through the comments just stresses what you set out to teach. What you can't/didn't do is tell people specific things for them to do, for we each have our own bucket of oh boy to deal with. Yes, this is an individual journey in a very public place...which makes life interesting. Instead, you tried to get us to flip the switch in our brain so our focus is on SOLUTIONS instead of our problems. Laser focus on the problem usually succeeds in getting us nowhere, in a hurry. Loved this, thank you!
  • I love this. I read another's comment about how the points in this article are EXACTLY why this is working this time. I agree. I have been working on this, applying myself fully to this growth experience, shedding blame and doubt along the way, and really embracing my ability to succeed. By no means is it always easy...but I am staying grounded in what is real and what I have the ability to affect. I have learned so much about who I really am and what I am really capable of through this process. As my goal board says...I am living my BEST life, now (not waiting to reach my goal before I believe that).
  • COOKEDBOOK
    This is the vaguest article I have ever read on here. :-/
  • One of the best articles I have ever read on SP! Thank you so much--I'm bookmarking this and will definitely come back to it. What a way to take a look at perspective.
  • AMAYABLUE
    Great article, thank you!
  • ELLY2017
    Excellent article. So useful to get one's thinking out of the same old groove. Thank you Spark People!
  • I have made my mind up that I am going all the way this time. I really want to be healthy.
  • MICHELEB04
    This article is EXACTLY why I've been successful this time. I didn't know why it was working but now I do. At the start of this year, I set 3 very small, very specific actions I was going to take to meet my weight loss. I haven't really set a number-related goal, I've tried but backed away each time. Instead, I kept focusing on my actions (i.e. solutions) and today the scale proved that this is the way to get it done!
  • I have read and re-read this article many times. I have also shared it with many who are struggling on their journey, on whatever "program" they are using. As long as you have goals set to use as a guideline, you will be successful; however, there are going to be times when you "fall off" or make a mistake. But you can't beat yourself up over it. Just realize what you did, use it as a lesson learned and move on! This article helps one to understand that! AWESOME article that I will surely go back to again and again!

About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

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