Ease Your Anxieties and Improve Your Outcomes with Solution-Based Thinking
There is a parable that describes an elder telling their grandchild about the “two wolves” that live inside us all. One wolf represents the positive qualities that we all seek to embody on our best days. The other wolf is the “bad” wolf, and it represents the negative qualities of humanity that we seek to avoid. The grandchild hears this story of the two wolves fighting inside of us and asks which wolf will win out. The answer? The one that you feed.
Feed Your Solution to Starve Your Problem
Life comes at us fast, and it may not always seem like we have choices in how we respond, but this parable makes it very clear that the things we focus our attention on are the things that end up thriving in our lives. It is our choice whether we choose to focus on the “good” wolf or the “bad” wolf—or, to put it in other terms, whether we focus on the solution or the problem.
When we focus on our problems, it may initially feel productive. We feel as if we are really getting to the heart of a matter. But, too often, a problem-focused approach leads to excessive rumination and fruitless, spiraling thinking. This type of thinking can lead us to see our problems through an outsized lens; suddenly our problems are everywhere because that is where our focus lies. When we remain totally focused on the problem, our ability to identify our natural strengths—the strengths that will give us the tools we need to take small, practical steps in a positive direction—starts to diminish.
Conversely, when we focus on potential solutions, we start increasing our capacity to think creatively. When we identify a solution, or even part of a solution, and put it into action, we can start a chain reaction of positive movement that can effectively get our actions back on track. Putting energy toward positive next steps means we have less mental and emotional energy going to the negative influences in our life, and we start having a more balanced, positive view of what our future may hold.
Worst-Case, Best-Case, and Most Likely Scenario
If you’re naturally a problem-focused thinker, it can be challenging to make this kind of shift with your thinking. Try allowing yourself to fully consider the worst case scenario, the best case scenario, and then the most likely scenario.
- Worst-Case Scenario. Before you start thinking about the solution, allow yourself to imagine the very worst possible outcome that your current situation may produce, and then the likely percentage that this outcome might actually occur. For example, if you flub a major email at work, how likely is it that you’ll actually lose your job over such a mistake?
- Best-Case Scenario. Once you’ve finished letting your worst-case scenario run amok in your mind’s eye, consider the best-case scenario. For example, what’s the likelihood that your supervisor rewards your response to the email gaffe with a promotion?
- Most Likely Scenario. Finally, start focusing on the solution by considering the most likely scenario. What is the most realistic outcome of your current situation? And, what steps can you take to nudge that outcome into a more favorable direction?
The Mindfulness Solution
One helpful resource in the work of becoming a solution-focused thinker is mindfulness. As several mindfulness experts have made clear, mindfulness is not about clearing or “emptying” your mind, but rather about focusing your mind on one thing.
For many mindfulness beginners, focusing on something as simple as your breath can bring about positive results. Taking 10 to 15 minutes each day to quiet your mind and focus can create subtle but powerful shifts in the way you start seeing your current reality. With practice, you can begin focusing your mind on those small steps that will lead to a solution.
Incorporating mindfulness into your problem-solving approach will help your “good wolf” begin to thrive, and leave your “bad wolf” out in the cold. By staying focused on possible solutions instead of obsessing on your problems, you will be able to live a healthier, happier, and less stressful life.