Are You a Problem Perpetuator or a Solution Finder?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
When it comes to healthy eating, exercise, and developing other good habits, the biggest problem most of us have is...ourselves. Let’s face it: this stuff isn’t rocket science. You don’t need a Ph.D in nutrition or exercise physiology to know what you need to do. And if you’re not sure about something, there are plenty of ways to get the information you need.

The real challenge is actually getting yourself to do what has to be done.

One reason this can be so difficult is that we often start off on the wrong foot. Whenever we have a problem doing what we need to do, our natural inclination is to start asking ourselves why. And that almost always puts us into problem-focused mode: we start trying to identify the problem, figure out why we have it, and think about what we have to do to solve it.

That may be OK when the problem is out there in the world. If your car won't run, you need to identify the problem and fix it. But when it's your own behavior or attitude that needs changing, being in problem-focused mode often doesn’t work very well. It just makes you sink even further into the problem, like a quicksand pit.

Read on to find out why, and learn 4 tricks you can use to shift yourself into solution-focused mode.

In a nutshell, here’s the situation: Your energy follows your thoughts. It takes quite a bit of energy to change habits, and the amount of energy available for this is determined mainly by where your thoughts are focused. If you’re thinking about the behavior you want to change and why you do it, you're investing most of your energy in the status quo, which usually will just make your behavior seem more powerful and more difficult to change than it actually is. And even if you do figure out why you do (or don't do) something, that doesn't necessarily help you figure out what to do differently.

The best and quickest way to solve many behavior problems isn't to analyze them to death, it's simply to do an end run around them and let the problem behavior wither away by itself. You won't be able to see opportunities to do that if you're in problem-solving mode.

But if you’re thinking is focused on how you'd like things to be, you’re energy will flow in that direction, and you're much more likely to come up with some pretty creative and useful ideas. And if you try out some of these new ideas, your energy will be freed to go into actually changing your behavior. That, ultimately, is what makes it a lot easier to change your habits and your attitudes.

Here are four simple mental exercises you can do to get your thoughts and energy flowing away from your problems and towards effective solutions:

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 task much easier. The trick is to figure out what that something is, and how you can make it happen more often.

Try 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 have a problem, and so 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 situations you may encounter that day. What are the chances that each of those situations might trigger the behavior you're trying to change? 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 be able to do what you want to do instead? Can you identify people or activities that would be helpful to you? What can you do to make this desirable chain of events more likely to actually happen, and increase the odds that you won't fall into your bad habit today?

Keep in mind that you’re not trying to convince yourself in the abstract that 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 concretely look at your options differently and prevent problems before they happen. Instead of asking yourself why you have a particular problem, or what “causes” this behavior, do the exact opposite. Focus on why you do things "right" and what you can do to increase the odds of that happening more often. Be very concrete and specific.

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Wow! That's like sabotaging your own efforts. How sick is that! Report
I'm working on it! I've enjoyed this article. It is definitely a problem I have to overcome. Report
Thanks for this blog. It helped me look at my problems in a different light, and I'll use these techniques! Report
Thanks, I needed this! I will save this to read and re-read over and over. Report
Very interesting. Report
great blog i saved it so that i can read it again thanks Report
What a great article! This goes on my favorites. I am aware of this; unfortunately I make this mistake too often. Re-reading this once in a while is a great reminder to us all. Thank you! Report
A great article for me - I tend to over-analyze my problems nearly to the point of insanity! Thanks! Report
This hits the spot for me. I am a perfectionist and I am always looking for and analyzing what I am doing "wrong". Report
Great article targeting the issue of ridding ourselves of bad habits through a no-nonsense, sensible approach! Thanks, Coach! Report
this is a great way to start thinking and it will help me with my marathon training. i can run the miles for this week. i did it monday. Report
Printing this one out for the workout room - Thank You coach! Report
Thank you! Report
This was a very informative article. Thanks so much for sharing the information with us. It is a real keeper to look back on. Report
Thanks Coach,
A lot of common sense in that article, that gets to be a grey area when we are dealing with ourselves. I have a better understanding now of how we focus on our failures and we are setting ourselves up to repeat it.
I believe it was Einstein that stated "The best definition of insanity is to repeat the same actions over and over again, and expect different results." I also feel better about myself and the lifestyle choices I am making when I focus on what I am doing right. No doubt this is one of the habits of successful people in all areas of life. Report
This is a sure keeper!great article and reiterates what we all need to know.Our conscious mind is so busy focussing on whats wrong while the answers I believe really do lie within,that if only we were to shut off that contant never ending barrage of questions and answers,and keep it simple one would probably see light at then end of the tunnel so much faster.
I find that using visualization and meditation are a big help. Visualizing positive outcomes and using visual props does amazing stuff. Report
Good stuff... Report
Just like training a dog. Heh. Report
The best blog I've read in a while! Report
Just when I needed a reminder! Thanks so much Coach! Report
Oh, I just love to grip and complain and throw my hands up in the air and say "The SKY is FALLING!!!!" and run around like a CHICKEN WITH MY HEAD CUT OFF!!! LOL, LOL Report
Good article, I will keep these steps on hand to refer to Thanks Report
thank you very interesting article Report
I know you included a link to the Wikipedia article on Solution Focused Brief Therapy, yet I think it would have been more ethical to mention the founders and the name of the model in the article. This would have also assisted those who might feel attracted to this method to reach out and find a therapist who has a Solution Focus as part of their therapeutic orientation. I agree, SFBT is a great tool. Let's give credit where credit is due! Report
It's so much more productive to work on a solution than to spin my wheels figuring out the problem! I like the step by step approach here and intend to use it in my life....Thanks! Report
Loved the article. It had so many wonderful points to think about. Report
The most challenging tasks we face are often those that require that we "Keep It Simple". This article is a keeper. Every time I find myself making excuses for the things I did wrong, I will read this and remind myself that I am in control. No one else can take that responsibility; overcomplicating my problems with excuses does not get to the heart of the matter. While Mr Anderson shows a way to reduce problems to their lowest common denominator, bringing problems into focus is not an easy task. The exercise itself compells us to look inward and draw strength from the cause of our challenges. Very thought provoking!! Report
I found this a thought provoking article. I sent it to myself so I could print it and take it home for my husband and son. Report
This article really gave me food for thought. Typically in other areas of my life, I pride myself in recognizing problems and developing solutions. This piece is making me think of my quest for a healthy lifestyle in an entirely different light. Report
Thanks for giving us a new way to look at our problems! Report
This is interesting, i am just coming from a three day study leave on Brief Focused Solution Therapy Course and it does cover these issues quite a lot though from a different angle! Report
Fabulous article......this one is a keeper......thanks, JO Report
Wow...some really heavy stuff, but interesting. And true...Thanks, Coach, just what I needed today! Report
I find that if I slip up, I go through the negativity cycle and it snowballs. These offers some solid ways to change my mindset that I'm going to try out. Report
"The real challenge is actually getting yourself to do what has to be done."AWeome Report
I had not heard about the Miracle Question before. Very interesting article. We need more like this one. Solution oriented. Report
Very interesting.. Report
Very interesting, I will have to make a copy to refer to in the future. Report
I love the "Miracle Question" and use it all the time in my practice. Great use of the solution-focused approach!

Don Report
Another really good article, Dean. I, too, have copied the four steps for future use. I really like the idea of getting off the analysis and onto the process for change. It's a different 'why' than I usually have in mind. Report
The blog had some great food for good, positive thought. I often find myself problem driven instead of solution driven. This is one I will need to refer to in the future to steer myself. Report
Very interesting. I actually copied and pasted the 4 steps to a word document to share and to refer to.
very realistic approach and you know, interestingly enough sometimes the simple solutions are the hardest to come by. I really enjoyed this article. Focusing on the behavior..focusing on the options...forward thinking..makes perfect sense to me!
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