While listening to a podcast on my morning walk, I stopped dead in my tracks when the speaker said, “There will always be some problem in your life that needs to be fixed. Problems never go away.”
My body went still with the realization of something completely obvious. Why? Because in that moment I realized that somewhere in the back of my mind I believed there was a finish line. A gold star. A time when I could kick back and say, “I accomplished life. Look! No more problems. I win!” Honestly, up until that point, that “Look, Ma! No more problems!” kind of picture was what I had been working for this whole time.
The podcast was on how to practice mindfulness in the midst of problem solving.
If problems never go away…. If problems are a constant of life…. Then it seems as though HOW we solve problems is pretty dang important!
Ever since then, I started paying closer attention to What exactly do I say to myself while I’m dealing with problems? I became more mindful about my self-talk as I process through both professional and personal problems.
I consider it one of my strengths to tune into the words my clients use as they talk out their problems and solutions. Part of my job is to provide perspective on how their use of language can shade their perspective. Certain words are more empowering and come from a growth mindset, while other words can limit your perspective and keep you caught up in limiting beliefs.
One thing I’ve observed both in myself and my clients is that how we frame a problem strongly influences how we find solutions to those problems. Also, how we frame a problem also persuades how we feel about that problem. Does the problem feel manageable? Or does it trigger overwhelm and stress? Changing your frame of the problem might help you get closer to the former.
And so, here’s an easy to remember framework to help you keep your problem solving self-talk in check.
Avoid this Problem Solving Question
“Why” + [Undesired Circumstances]?
This question structure can send you into a tizzy. If you want to increase your anxiety and start feeling bad about yourself, ask yourself these “why” + [undesired circumstance] questions:
- Why do I keep procrastinating?
- Why is this so difficult?
- Why can’t I focus?
- Why aren’t more people buying?
- Why am I not getting noticed in meetings?
- Why is it so overwhelming?
- Why can’t I keep up?
And if you want more excuses (and fewer solutions) from other people, then ask them these “why” + [undesired circumstance] questions:
- Why did this come in late?
- Why isn’t there more growth?
- Why isn’t there more engagement?
- Why does this problem keep coming up?
Notice how when you ask these WHY + negative questions, the only appropriate response is excuses… and more problems.
Here’s a question structure to use if you’re wanting solutions…
QUESTIONS FOR BETTER PROBLEM SOLVING
Get better responses (from yourself and others) by asking better questions.
Here is your new helpful framework: “How” + [Desired Circumstances]
You can see how WHY questions lead to excuses and HOW questions lead to solutions.
The power in these questions doesn’t come from just swapping out why for how. The magic is in the latter part of the question equation: [desired circumstances].
It’s easy to describe what you don’t want because your brain is always on the lookout for threats. Which means, it takes more effort to be clear on what you actually want.
You can find your solution-oriented questions by writing down your Why + [undesired circumstances] questions. Those questions are already floating in your head, so let’s put them to good use.
After writing down your undesired circumstances, write down the opposite next to it. That’s your desired circumstances. (Just like the diagram above.)
It may feel clunky at first, but it’s better to break the habit of asking threat-oriented questions, because solution-oriented questions bring out the best in you and those around you!
Influence Speaker & Coach
P.S. Here are a few other ways I can help you increase your influence, whenever you’re ready.
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