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From Problems to Possibilities: How to Shift Your Mindset in a Healthy Way

Aktualisiert: 2. Apr. 2023

Are you someone who tends to focus on problems, or are you more solution-oriented? People who are problem-oriented want to spend a lot of time analyzing and diagnosing the issue that occupies them at the moment. Others are more solution-oriented and eager to brainstorm creative ideas and explore new possibilities.

But what exactly are problem- and solution-orientation, and why do they matter?

Problem vs Solution

Problem orientation is a way of looking at a situation or issue that focuses on the problem itself. This approach can be useful in identifying the root causes of a problem, but it can also lead to a focus on blame, fault-finding, and negative thinking. When we are problem-oriented, we tend to ask questions like "What went wrong?" or "Who is responsible for this?" This can be helpful to a certain extent, because sometimes we need to understand a problem before we can find a solution. But it can also become a kind of trap, where we get so focused on the problem that we lose sight of the fact that we a looking for a solution. We can get bogged down in problem-thinking, forgetting where we wanted to go in the first place.

Solution orientation, on the other hand, is a way of looking at a situation or issue that focuses on identifying and developing solutions. This approach can be useful in generating new ideas and possibilities, but it may overlook the underlying causes of the problem. In the worst case, this can lead to a situation where we carry a problem with us much longer than we would have had to. When we are solution-oriented, we tend to ask questions like "What could we do differently?" or "What are our options?" This can be helpful to a certain extent, but it can also lead to a kind of optimism bias, where we believe that any problem can be solved if we just try hard enough.

Why both matter

Both problem and solution orientation have their place in any community because they are the appropriate response to different kinds of challenges. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes a lot of sense, since this diversity increases the probability of solving a problem from within a group.

Human beings have evolved to live and work in groups because it provides benefits such as increased protection, access to resources, and opportunities for cooperation and collaboration. However, for groups to be effective, they need to have diversity in terms of skills, temperament, and interests. This diversity allows for a range of perspectives and approaches to problem-solving that can lead to better outcomes.

In this context, problem orientation can be seen as a way to identify and diagnose problems within a community. When individuals are problem-oriented, they are more likely to notice potential threats or issues that need to be addressed. This can be particularly useful in situations where there are immediate or pressing concerns that require urgent attention. For example, if there is a natural disaster, a community with many problem-oriented individuals might be better equipped to quickly respond to the needs of those affected because they are more likely to identify them properly.

There is an interesting connection between problem orientation and temperament. People who are problem-oriented, tend to be higher in neuroticism and negative emotion in general. This makes sense, since being high in negative emotion springs from being sensitive to the negative or problematic aspects of one’s life. In other words, some people are more perceptive of the problems and dangers of reality. And this increased perceptiveness allows them to identify potential dangers more easily than others. But of course, it has its downside, since to them the world often seems like a grimmer, more threatening place

Solution orientation, on the other hand, can be seen as a way to develop and implement solutions to problems within a community. When individuals are solution-oriented, they are more likely to come up with creative and innovative solutions to challenges. This can be particularly useful in situations where there are complex or ongoing issues that require a sustained effort to address. For example, if a community is struggling with poverty, a group of solution-oriented individuals might be better equipped to develop and implement long-term solutions for a problem.

Solution orientation is also better for making things work along the way. That is to say, if you are solution-oriented, you are more likely to engage in a work-in-progress approach to fixing problems - you try to fix it as far as necessary to keep things going and running, while also thinking about a permanent solution for the future. People who are solution-oriented have a tendency to be more optimistic as well. As mentioned before, people who are solution-oriented have a lot of faith in the existence of a solution – sometimes independently of whether they have evidence that would support that faith. And that’s just another way of saying that they are optimistic.

Through the lens of Jungian archetypes

There is a story that might help highlight the difference. In his book “Tribe – on homecoming and belonging”, Sebastian Junger recounts the story of the Springhill mining disaster that took place in Nova Scotia in 1958. In this event, 174 miners were working underground when an earthquake caused a coal mine collapse, trapping a group of men inside. After several days, rescuers were able to locate the trapped miners and begin a difficult and dangerous rescue operation.

Junger notes that during the days they were the trapped, the miners exhibited a kind of "king- and queen-type" leadership. These archetypal categories were introduced by Carl Jung, to describe two different leadership styles. These archetypes are not limited to specific genders or sexes (as the terms “king” and “queen” might suggest) but rather represent universal patterns of behavior and symbolic images that can manifest in individuals of any gender or sex. According to Junger, initially, the king-type leaders took charge and tried to formulate a plan to free the trapped miners. However, as time passed and the miners realized that they were unlikely to escape on their own, the king-types stepped back and the queen-types emerged as the most effective leaders.

The queen-types focused on creating a supportive environment for the trapped miners, providing emotional support and tending to their physical needs. They also took on the task of communicating with the outside world, coordinating efforts to rescue the miners, and maintaining morale among the trapped men. Junger argues that this shift in leadership style was critical to the survival of the miners, and suggests that it highlights the importance of a diverse range of leadership styles in high-stress situations.

Now, in this situation, the king-type leadership style is associated with solution orientation. These leaders are more perceptive of solutions, which also makes them quicker to act. They see potential ways to fix the problem, so they mobilize everyone and get them to act collectively. But in that situation, this was to no avail, since nothing they could do from within the mine, would get them out.

The queen-type leadership style is associated with problem orientation. After everyone realized that they weren’t going to get out, a different sort of leadership was needed – one that would acknowledge the problem and find ways to deal with it, without fixing it. For that sort of leadership, one needs to be sensitive to all the aspects of the problem and how they could perpetuate further problems. If no one is getting out, then the appropriate approach is to figure out how to keep everyone alive, as long as possible. It requires the willingness to look at the problem, to try and understand it so one can figure out how to deal with it without fixing it.

This is a great example of a situation where problem orientation, was in fact the more appropriate response, which goes to show how context-dependent these approaches are. In this article, however, we will focus on shifting from problem orientation to solution orientation. The reason for that is that the former and its cluster of surrounding factors is more strongly related to feelings of stress, anxiety, and general depression. It is also the one you can more easily get trapped in. In other words, problem-orientation - while being helpful to the group sometimes - has a higher potential for being harmful to the individual.

If you are problem-oriented and you feel trapped sometimes, this article is meant as a signpost to get you out of the trap.

Becoming Solution Oriented

We can get people to shift from a problem-orientation to a solution-orientation attitude by exploring new perspectives, reframing issues differently, and focusing on strengths and resources rather than weaknesses and limitations. This means asking questions like "What do we want to achieve?" or "What resources do we already have that we can use?" By focusing on solutions rather than problems, we can become more creative and innovative, and we can approach challenges with a more positive and proactive attitude.

Here are some tips for changing your mindset from problem orientation to solution orientation:

1. Reframe the problem: One of the first steps in shifting from a problem orientation to a solution orientation is to reframe the issue positively. Instead of focusing on what went wrong, try to think about the problem as an opportunity to learn and grow. Ask yourself, "What can I do differently to create a better outcome?" or "What positive outcomes can come from this situation?"

2. Take action: A pattern of behavior that is often associated with problem-orientation is a sort of idleness. Often, when people get bogged down in a problem, they end up with what is sometimes referred to as “paralysis by analysis”. Overanalyzing a problem can lead to a situation where we perceive it to be bigger than it really is. We only see a huge mountain, but no way up. But the truth is, that you get up the mountain by taking one step at a time. That’s why taking action is so important – it turns off your monkey brain and shows you that everything is not so bad if you simply start small and work your way through to the end.

3. Practice positive self-talk: The way we talk to ourselves has a big impact on our mindset. Try to reframe negative thoughts into positive ones. For example, instead of saying "I can't do this," try saying "I can figure this out if I try a different approach." By using positive self-talk, you can shift your mindset to focus on possibilities and solutions.

4. Ask solution-focused questions: Instead of dwelling on the problem, ask yourself solution-focused questions. For example, "What resources do I already have that I can use to solve this problem?" or "What small step can I take today to move towards a solution?" By asking these types of questions, you can begin to focus your energy on finding solutions rather than dwelling on the problem.

5. Use visualization techniques: Visualization is a powerful tool for changing your mindset. Try visualizing yourself successfully overcoming the problem and achieving a positive outcome. By doing this, you signal to your subconscious that this is a real possibility. You make this possibility tangible by making it visible to the inner eye.

6. Practice gratitude: This is connected to visualization in an interesting way. By practicing gratitude, we shift our consciousness toward the good things in our lives – those things that we are truly grateful for. That’s a form of visualization. Practicing gratitude is one of those things that has been shown to have a significant positive impact on happiness and even satisfaction in relationships. And it makes you more sensitive to solution-type thinking.

7. Seek support: But don’t forget that this isn’t all on you. People aren’t meant to carry all their baggage by themselves. We’re social animals. And sometimes we need the help of community to make an important change in our life. Consider seeking support from a coach or mentor who can help you identify your strengths and resources and develop a more solution-focused approach to problem-solving. Or sit down and ask yourself, which of your friends or family are the sorts of people that could help you along the way – maybe even make it a mutual project.

Now, as is so often the case, this is one of those areas where persistence is key. Changing your attitude in such a fundamental way is no easy task. Don’t fret if nothing seems to work in the beginning. It’s a process that can take a long time. Be patient with yourself. Take all the help you can get and remember: You do this for yourself and your own well-being. And that’s something worth investing in.

Thank you so much for reading. I hope you enjoyed and found something helpful to take away from this. Have a nice day, and I’ll see you in the next one.

Here’s a little joke I found on the internet:

Why did the problem-oriented chicken cross the road?

To get to the other side with all its problems!

And why did the solution-oriented chicken cross the road?

To find a better way to get to the other side without any problems!

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