by Dr. Jason Selk, author of “Relentless Solution Focus: Train Your Mind to Conquer Stress, Pressure, and Underperformance“
Are you the type of person who does 99 things right in a day and one thing less than perfectly, only to focus on that one shortcoming? Does your mind often go to what could potentially go wrong, rather that all that is going right? And just so you know, overlooking all the good while focusing on your imperfections is a pure sign of mental weakness.
If you have allowed your own shortcomings or the uncontrollables in your life to consume your thoughts, you are not broken, you are normal. Our brains are wired to focus on problems, and, unfortunately, this problem focus often leads to our problems getting worse. This is called Problem Centric Thought — or PCT. But the good news is that PCT doesn’t have to overwhelm you.
Let me be clear. You cannot control adversity. Whether in the form of a global pandemic, a divisive election, or in your business. Adversity is a guaranteed part of our human experience. While you can’t control adversity, what is always controllable is what you do about it. Instead of allowing the victim mentality to take hold, creating a sense of helplessness, the mentally tough choose to be relentless and take control. The highly successful, from sales reps to CEOs, know how to attack and replace the PCT that humans are hardwired for with what I call Relentless Solution Focus (RSF).
To effectively go from victim to victor, you must gain control over your thoughts and replace PCT with solutions (RSF). The key is to pick one thing you can control and then get all over that one thing. Remember, you are wired for PCT, so unless you have one concrete solution to improve the problem, your brain will default to focusing on the problem itself — and this is really bad. Here’s why — when your brain is focused on something that you can’t control or a problem, it sends the signal to your body to release the stress hormone cortisol. At low levels, cortisol can be beneficial, but at even moderate levels, cortisol wreaks havoc on your health, happiness, and success. It significantly increases your risk for diseases, cancers, depression, and anxiety, and it significantly impairs your decision-making and self-confidence —and those are just a few of the negative effects on the list. Most of us are walking around with a low-dose poison coursing through our veins on a daily basis because of PCT. RSF is the antidote to that poison.
So, how does this work? The key is the Relentless Solution Focus (RSF) Tool – a simple question, that if answered within 60 seconds will shift your focus from problems to solutions. Once you learn how to use it, you will be able to gain control over your thoughts and effectively and consistently defeat PCT.
RSF Tool: “What is one thing I can do that could make this better?”
For the financial advisor who is struggling to gather new clients, the answer to this above question is “make three proactive calls by 9:00 am each morning.” For the businesswoman whose laptop crashed before her sales presentation, it is “present the facts, and ask for the order.”
To understand how to apply the RSF Tool to your own problems, let’s use the image of a mental chalkboard – with problems on one side and solutions on the other. Anytime you find yourself on the problem side of the mental chalkboard, you can and should use the RSF Tool to get yourself to the solution side within 60 seconds. “What is one thing I can do that could make this better?” Answering will force you to immediately cross over the line from the problem side of your board to the solution side. Quite simply, the RSF Tool puts you back in control. It is a concrete method for shifting from PCT to RSF. Often you will need to use the RSF Tool repeatedly, until you get a solution that sticks. Until that happens, you may bounce back and forth between the problem side and the solution side of the mental chalkboard. The key is to be relentless about not allowing yourself to stay on the problem side for more than 60 seconds. To get back to the solution side, you must use the RSF Tool as many times as it takes: “What is one thing I can do that could make this better?” Choosing the right thoughts by using the RSF Tool keeps you in the fight. Anything less and the fight is over.
Be very clear on this point: the RSF Tool doesn’t have you asking yourself for five or three or even two things at a time to improve, but rather just one different action. And it doesn’t ask you to identify the one perfect solution, but rather one potential improvement.
Sometimes the first solution will work. If so, great! If not, we have to go back to the drawing board (i.e., the mental chalkboard) one solution at a time, relentlessly, until either the situation is improved, or we have come up with a way to emotionally handle the situation differently. For the woman trying to work from home, while managing her kids’ virtual learning, the answer to “What is one thing I can do that could make this better?” might be to wake up 30 minutes earlier to catch up on emails before the kids wake up. If her five-year-old decided to jump out of bed at the crack of dawn that next morning, she goes back to the question: “What is one thing I can do that could make this better?” She may decide that she will move her “office” to the deck to give herself the best chance of being uninterrupted. If it rains all morning, she goes back to the question: “What is one thing I can do that could make this better?” She keeps going back to the question until she finds a solution that helps to improve her situation. It is critical to understand that the point is not to find a way to solve your problem in its entirety, but to relentlessly search for potential improvements. Even though her first few solutions did not work, the woman is miles ahead of where she would be otherwise had she allowed PCT to consume her thoughts about her situation.
This is where being relentless is critical. A normal person will come across a problem, try a couple of different solutions, and give up when solutions don’t come easily, or when complete resolution is not achieved. When most of us don’t get immediate relief from our problems, we tell ourselves some version of, “Poor me. My problem is just too big. I give up.” That is not relentlessness. You must continue this process until you have a solution on your mental chalkboard that you believe in. Without a solution, your mind has no way of staying in the RSF mindset and will default back to PCT. Answering the RSF question is like dropping an anchor on the solution side. The potential solution keeps you on the healthy side of thinking. Remember, when your thoughts are focused on solutions, your brain isn’t releasing cortisol at the levels that wreak havoc on us mentally, physically, and emotionally. Even if your problems aren’t going away completely, there is a huge health benefit to merely looking through the solution-focused lens at life.
Making small incremental improvements, even if it’s only one inch at a time, keeps you living on the solution-focused side of the mental chalkboard. The goal is not necessarily to solve your problems, but rather to improve your situation and to stay on the solution side of the mental chalkboard. The solution does not have to be perfect. Just better.
Dr. Jason Selk, one of the nation’s premier performance coaches, is the author of “Relentless Solution Focus: Train Your Mind to Conquer Stress, Pressure, and Underperformance“. He has worked with business titans and superstar athletes. As Director of Mental Training for the St. Louis Cardinals, he played an important role in the team’s first World Series victory in more than twenty years in 2006, and their second in 2011.