Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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focus on solutions

The 5 R’s: 5 Constructive Ways to Focus on Solutions

Do you know people who always seem to be struggling? You know, those folks who are always a little bit down and unenthusiastic? 

Attitudes matter, and many people right now are struggling with a sense of overwhelm. As a result, it is difficult for them to find solutions. How can you turn it around for yourself? Or help others who struggle to turn their attitude around?

The answer might be simpler than you think:

Our attitudes impact our perspectives. When we’re not feeling good about our lives, our jobs, or our situation, everything just seems to go wrong.

Even though we know situations are constantly changing, some people are more challenged than ever. We might have one really good day followed by a rough day. With so many things outside of our control, from the weather to politics, it might seem impossible to ever feel good about anything.

I subscribe to (my slightly altered version) of the American Psychological Association’s definition of an optimist. “An optimist is someone who looks at a difficult situation and figures out a way to make the situation better.

Focusing on finding solutions is all about our thinking. By being able to think positively, we focus on what needs to happen, instead of dwelling on what appears unsurmountable. We can change our outlook, our behaviors, and our outcomes.

How do you develop the habit of thinking for solutions and staying positive?

1. Reassess

Being positive is not about not being oblivious to others, discounting tragedy, or injustice. The world is not fair. Bad things happen throughout the world. But someone with a positive attitude looks beyond the tragedy to the next step. Positive people find solutions where others see only obstacles. Leaders need to be able to assess the situation and enact change.

2. Rephrase

Much of our thinking can be impacted by the words we use. Instead of saying something negative, either out loud or in your head, try to rephrase so it is not so negative.

For example:

Work isn’t miserable, “it has interesting challenges.”
Your boss is not a monster, “he is struggling with patience.”
The copy machine always running out of paper when we need it, “what a great chance for a break to walk to the supply room to get more paper.”
While this might seem artificial and forced at first, the more we work to rephrase things, the easier it is to find a more positive aspect.

3. Reframe

I used this reframing technique for over 20 years in the Navy. I heard Tim Saunders articulate in one of his programs about 10 years ago, and I credit him. I don’t know if he was the first to publish it, but it works.

Here is the magic:
Change the words “have to” to “get to.”

Think about how many times a day you use the phrase “I have to…”

How many times in a single day do you complain that you “have to” do something? Even if the words are thoughts in your head, and you don’t actually say them out loud, they are affecting your attitude.

“I have to go to work.”
“I have to pick up the kids.“
“I have to shop for groceries.”

“Have to” has a negative connotation, as though you’re being forced into doing something you don’t want to do.
Instead, get rid of the words “have to” and insert the words “get to” instead.

I asked my people to also add in a clarifying gratitude statement.

“I get to go to work, and I have a job that allows me to support myself and my family.”

“I get to pick up my kids, because I am blessed to have fabulous children.”

“I get to shop for groceries, in an area where buying food is easy, affordable, and readily available.”

Can you hear the difference? This is how you change perspective about things you get to do and create the opportunity to increase gratitude.

4. Recalibrate

Sure, issues are going to pop up. Many of us label a lot of situations as problems. Other people also bring us issues labeled as problems.

How many times, even in just the past week, has someone said, “Hey, we have a problem.” Then we drop everything as our other priorities are immediately shifted to deal with this problem. For most people, the problem creates a new sense of urgency, anxiety, and worry until we realize that the “problem” is manageable. Few issues labeled as problems are true crisis situations, but until we deal with them, they occupy our time, our resources, and most importantly, our thinking

It is helpful to ask if an issue is really a problem or merely an inconvenience? In my book Master Your World: 10 Dog-Inspired Leadership Lessons to Improve Productivity, Profits, and Communication, I have a chapter dedicated to the differences between a problem and an inconvenience.

From my perspective, a true problem is life-threatening to someone. If someone is not in grave danger it falls into the inconvenience category. Lots of issues can be recalibrated as an inconvenience.

Not everything we attempt is going to turn out exactly the way we’d like. Rather than focus on the disaster, try making course corrections to get you to the outcome you want. Calmly assess the situation, and make the changes needed to alter actionable steps to get you and the team going in the right

5. Revisit

It is difficult to stay positive when we are physically or mentally exhausted, or feeling like we are in over our heads. The sense of overwhelm, especially now, is real. Sometimes the best way to cultivate better real estate in our brains is to cut ourselves some slack, take a break, and revisit the issue later.

I like to play word games on planes, during that time between not being able to access Wifi and 10,000 feet. I don’t need Wifi for word games. Sometimes I get stuck on that last word and I cannot solve the puzzle. It is always amazing to me that the one word that evaded me is so obvious when I look at it an hour or two later. Things look differently when we can revisit a problem.

Life is challenging. We have to guard against negative thoughts running our life or occupying too much space in brain power. We need to generate ideas, focus on solutions, and be productive.

I have a ebook with exactly that title: Generate Ideas. Focus on Solutions. Be Productive. I wrote it to help people Reassess, Rephrase, Reframe, Recalibrate, and Revisit. And YOU and your team can get it for free HERE

Which one of these has been the most meaningful to you in your life? Which would you pass along to your kids or to your team? Tell me your ideas and share this email with someone who could use some new perspective. 


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