Introduction

Have you ever thought about what you could do in your life if you had more confidence? Could you imagine what it would be like to feel confident, motivated, secure, and empowered whenever you needed to?

For more than a decade, I have had the pleasure of working with some great people.  I have a rule for myself and that is that I do not ask my client’s to try any new approach or use any new tools unless I have used them personally myself.  I started applying this strategy in my life many years ago and just like my client’s, I learned just how much control we have over our lives and how quickly that remarkable changes can happen in our lives.

This article will provide practical adjustments you can make in order to shift out of a problem-focused mindset and learn to fully implement a solution-focused mentality.

How to know if I have a problem-focused mindset or solution-focused mindset?

Many people are aware of which mindset dominates in their lives; however, there are also those who have implemented the problem-focused mentality for so long that they are not mindful that they are even engaging in that style of thinking or how detrimental it is to their quality of life.

You can identify whether you approach life in a problem-oriented way by paying attention to the questions that arise or statements you make/think when you have to face a task that you do not like, which may be indicators for problem-focused thinking.  Your approach can also be manifested by your physical reactions to challenges. If you are someone who is really good at identifying the reasons why you can’t do something or why other people can’t do something, you are employing a problem-focused mindset.  If you are someone who consistently finds themselves feeling indecisive which almost always leads to you talking yourself out of doing things, you are operating with a problem-focused mindset.

How To Shift To Using A Solution-Focused Approach

Absolute Accountability

When I say “absolute accountability” that does not mean that you have to revisit and ruminate on past mistakes and failures. In my practice, I promote absolute accountability because people are coming to find solutions and to become a better version of themselves. Absolute accountability means taking inventory of what areas of your life you want to improve and focusing all of your attention and energy on shifting out of the problem-focused mindset and into a solution-focused mindset.  Accountability is one of the most empowering feelings you will ever feel because you are finally taking control of things that you never thought you had any control over.

Shift from “Trying” Your Best to “Doing” Your Best

Sometimes people think that they are doing their best; however, many times what you perceive as your best is relative to your ideal comfort level. There is a big difference between “doing” your best and “trying” your best.

“Trying” your best means that you tried really hard until you hit some resistance.  Unfortunately, many people will only try doing it their way (which often times is based on trying to get the highest reward with the least effort) but when their way doesn’t produce the reward they desired, they quit.  They will then justify quitting by talking about how much hard work they put in and it not working out.  Unfortunately, many people end up focusing on something that takes hard work and effort but it is not the thing that will help them feel more valued and confident.  Someone can work their tail off but if they aren’t doing the right job, all of the work ends up not producing any changes.

This would be like you paying someone to mow your lawn but instead of mowing, they reorganize your bookshelves and still want the money because they worked hard organizing the books. Or it would be like you going into surgery to get your shoulder repaired and when you wake up, you realize they did surgery on your knee and the surgeon wants appreciation and validation for how hard he worked on your knee.

“Doing” your best means that you recognized what you wanted to accomplish, you assessed what would be the most effective route to take (embracing the idea that your way might not be the best way), you tried really hard, and when obstacles presented themselves along the way, you used them as opportunities to tweak your approach in order to give yourself the best chance of success.

It is very disheartening to feel like you are trying so hard but don’t feel as if you are getting anywhere.  It doesn’t mean you are aren’t working hard.  It means you are not focused on what really needs addressed.  That is why seeing a counselor/therapist can be so beneficial.  There are so many times that someone comes in ready to work on what they think is causing them so many issues.  I would say 9 times out of 10, it is something else.  Since we discovered where the focus really needed to be, we were able to make long-term changes in a short amount of time.

Why does problem-focused thinking decrease motivation and confidence?

Many people who operate through a problem-focused mindset do not understand how much unnecessary time and energy that is wasted. They may not believe in themselves to make the changes they want to make so they justify their inaction by ruminating excessively about the problems and the obstacles. I often use the following analogy when describing a life using a problem-focused mindset:

It’s like a car that is on a giant treadmill which is in neutral.  The engine is running the entire time and the car is burning gasoline.  When you eventually run out of gas, you realize that the car was running and the wheels were turning but you were not going anywhere.  Now you are stranded and you cannot fill the tank back up until the next morning when you wake up and then the whole process starts over.

Reframe the Obstacles

In order to implement a solution-focused approach, we must start treating obstacles as opportunities instead of catastrophes.  We must turn our pain into purpose. Fortunately, with simple preparation, the majority of the obstacles can be identified and dealt with early on; which means you will know exactly what to do if those obstacles present themselves (solution-focused).

Simple Examples of Shifting Problem-Focused to Solution-Focused

Example 1: We noticed that our 3 year old daughter was throwing fits in the mornings a lot because she wanted to pick out her clothes instead of just wearing what we picked out; therefore, we had us trying to get ready to leave while our daughter would go through the indecisive dance that is picking out something to wear.    It was getting frustrating and my wife and I started looking at options where she could still make the choice but not delay us leaving on time in the mornings.  Instead of dreading the mornings or having to get up a lot earlier and strong arming her, we decided to let her pick her clothes out herself the night before.  It was the most simple of solutions that remedied a lot of unnecessary frustration.

Example 2: I know I would benefit from counseling but I don’t have time. 

One strategy that I use in practice with people who struggle with time management and those who experience excessive stress and anxiety because they just can’t fit everything into a day that they “need” to do.  I use the white board to write down how much time they spend doing everything.  I mean everything.  We calculate how many hours per week they sleep, eat, drive, get ready in the morning, church, school, extra curricular activities, etc.  I then take that number and subtract it from 168 hours (number of hours in a week).  On average, those people who claim they have no time had at least 20-25 hours per week that were unaccounted for.  They had no idea what they were doing with that time; which showed us that we have more time than we think.  We just need to prioritize a little more effectively.

Conclusion

You can clearly see how only operating under a problem-focused mindset can be severely limiting in our overall quality of life and growth.  What I have found is that they majority of time, the problems start out as small little flames and it is us who ends up fanning the flames without realizing it.