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Am I focused on the problem or the solution?

Hello Everyone,

What has been going well lately? Take a moment and identify at least five positives that occurred in the past few days.

If you are continuing to read that means you have listed five positives, right???

So this week I wanted to have you think about and possibly answer the following question.

“Am I focused on the problem or the solution?”

Read over the following scenarios and see if you can relate.

– Katie is struggling to fall asleep. She watches the minutes on the clock go past and wonders when she will fall asleep. She thinks about how tomorrow will be such a long day because she can’t sleep. She describes this whole story to herself how she will be falling asleep at her desk just as the boss walks bye. She looks at the clock, another 20 minutes has gone bye and still not asleep. She starts thinking about how hard it is going to be tomorrow night trying to help her kids do their homework after being so sleep deprived.

– John has been unemployed for several months and sighs as he┬ákisses his wife before she leaves for work. He watches her pull away and thinks about his day – “No plans again”. He starts to think about being out of work and how with every day that passes how much further behind they are on the bills. They decided to wait on starting a family until he finds employment again and becomes angry and frustrated with himself. John starts going over how he lost his job when the company downsized. He becomes angry that he wasn’t one of the lucky ones to be spared. He thinks about the co-workers still working and how he was so much better but because he had less seniority, he got the axe. An hour has gone bye since his wife left for work and John still has no plan for the day. He is feeling angry and frustrated and starts thinking about going back to bed.

– Jennifer is supposed to be starting college this week. She wakes up and “feels sick to her stomach”. She starts debating whether she should go to her first class. She thinks about getting to class and feeling uncomfortable and worries that if she doesn’t leave soon that everyone will be mad at her for disrupting the class if she is late. She starts to think that everyone is sitting with people they know and like. She thinks that she will probably not know anyone and will have to sit alone. She starts to imagine how the teacher will also be mad at her for being late and will probably yell at her in front of everyone else. She can’t stand being the center of attention and thinks, “There is no way I can go”.

All three of these scenarios have various common themes. Can you identify them?

At least two themes involve avoidance behavior and being focused on and predicting the negative outcome.

Often we get focused on the problem and don’t spend much time identifying any possible solutions. Focusing on the problem keeps us stuck. Engaging in identifying solutions gets us moving.

For Katie, the problem is not being able to fall asleep. A few things she can do involves getting out of bed and to try reading, doing a puzzle, light stretching, or progressive muscle relaxation. The goal would be to engage in something that will increase a sense of sleepiness. Then she can return to bed and try to fall asleep.

For John, the problem is being unemployed. He could update his resume. He could search jobs on the internet or reach out to contacts that could possibly lead to employment opportunities. He could go to lunch or have coffee with family, friends, former co-workers or bosses and discuss any possible opportunities. The goal is to obtain employment. You can’t get a job when you stay home and just think about how it sucks not to be working.

For Jennifer, the problem is social anxiety. She is using the cognitive distortions of mind reading and fortune telling to imagine the worse case scenario. When you look at things through those lenses how could you not be anxious? Instead, Jennifer could develop a different script to review in her head. One that recognizes that most people starting college are in the same boat. All freshmen are new. All freshmen attending their first class worry and question whether they will know anyone else. Keeping to oneself and waiting for others to approach you can feel overwhelming. Once you break the ice and say hi, things can get easier. The vast majority of the time you would say hi to someone in a classroom would result in them saying hello back to you. Recognizing and thinking about entering class with this perspective is more optimistic, realistic and encouraging.

If you are relating perhaps today you can try a different approach. Perhaps you can decide to define the problem you are struggling with and identify possible solutions/options. If that sounds difficult, imagine someone else is in your shoes and has come to you for guidance. What would you say?

Problems will always exist. They are a part of everyone’s world. The more you focus on the problem the longer you will stay stuck. The key is to look for the solution.

You can do it.

Best Regards,

~ Dr. Lou