How to Convert Problems into Opportunities

In my first meeting with struggling couples, they often deluge me with their problems and complaints, listing everything they don't like about each other and their relationship. They each have a long laundry list of things they blame each other for, and they recite it with fervor.

When meeting with company leaders for the first time, a similar experience unfolds. The business owner, CEOs or managers point out what they want to change or fix.

It's easy to slip into negativity with so many demands on our time and resources. Problems in relationships or business are often dreaded and avoided, while we use complaining and blaming to relieve stress. Many people consider problems annoying at the very least, insurmountable at the worst.A woman stopping to rest in a meadow
Problems are a natural part of life and growth, but they can destroy a marriage or the vitality of a team when we ignore them or allow them to control our responses. If we don't use problems to move us forward in creating more mature and healthy relationships, they very quickly take over, just like unattended dandelions in the yard. The good news is that if we reframe them in a positive light, problems can be a powerful catapult for ingenuity and richness in our lives, business, and relationships. It isn't difficult, but it takes a brand-new perspective. Here's a story to illustrate this mind shift:

Burrs although annoying inspired the creation of velcroIn 1941 George de Mestral, a Swiss engineer, went on a hike with his dog in the Alps. When they got home, they were both covered with burrs. At first, de Mestral was annoyed as he tediously plucked them off his clothes one by one. Then he got curious. What made these things stick so tight, anyway? Examining the burrs under a microscope, he discovered small hooks that burrowed into the tiny loops of cloth—and the idea of Velcro was born! De Mestral patented Velcro in 1955, and by 1959, he was selling more than 60 million yards every year. Forty years later, the annual sales of Velcro were over 250 million yards!

How many people cursed the burrs that clung so stubbornly to their clothes before de Mestral came along? How many people discarded them with disdain while their secret remained unseen? When we curse, dread, or avoid problems in our personal and work relationships and treat them like foes, we are blinded, and we miss opportunities to grow and strengthen the love in our marriage or the innovation, creativity and synergy in our organizational culture. However, if we see problems as friends and seeds of greatness, our attitude shifts dramatically.

Problems are the voice of a better way. We can choose to put our attention on the problems or on the opportunities hidden inside. By reframing problems, we open a window to fresh air and brighter light. It doesn't matter if it's a grumpy spouse or an angry teen in our family life or an upset customer or a declining product line in business, these are cues for exploring opportunities for growth. 

Let's isolate and break down how de Mestral shifted his attention, and begin to convert our problems into opportunities.

Steps to Convert Problems to Opportunities

STEP 1: Isolate the specific problem. The burrs within a partnership could be subtle criticism or jabs cloaked in sarcasm or your partner spending too much money. In business, the burrs could mean an employee procrastinating and costing the company money or a manager crushing new ideas in the name of efficiency. No matter what area of your life, identify exactly what is bothering you. Break the problem down because many times there are multiple components that need to be addressed.

STEP 2: Reframe the problem by getting curious. The key is creating a new perspective and approaching the problem from a place of curiosity, as de Mestral did with the burrs. Step out of reacting to the problem and ask what the ideal outcome would be.

STEP 3: Choose to take full responsibility. We can expend a lot of energy and emotion without ever taking action. In companies there can be a lot of talk for months (and sometimes years in a marriage) without effective action. Take responsibility for creating what you want in your marriage or business. No one can change anything without action.

STEP 4: Ask yourself, "If this problem is an opportunity for learning, what is it trying to teach me/us?" For instance, your complaint might be, "Every month, we come up short on money to pay the bills." Looking at this problem from a place of curiosity, you and your partner could explore possible reasons. Perhaps you haven't set aside an emergency fund, or you're eating out in restaurants too often. 
        If the problem is in your business and your net profit is hitting rock bottom, it's time to look squarely at this possibly disturbing trend. Perhaps your industry has been disrupted by a new technology or you've invested too much and too fast into new product lines that are not sustainable.

STEP 5: Decide what you want to replace the problem with. The more specific you are, the more successful you will be. (For example: You choose to put $100 in savings every month by eating in restaurants only once every two weeks. Or you pick a specific product line in your business to focus on and put other projects on hold.)

STEP 6: Take action based on your conclusions. No problem is solved without action. The best way to capitalize on the opportunity that each problem presents is to take targeted action. Create a way to measure progress and reassess in a certain amount of time.

You will find that it's much easier to convert problems to opportunities than it is to go on living with the problems. It's just a matter of perspective. Practice the steps above to create more mindfulness while continually moving forward productively. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results when a problem is just viewed as the voice of a better way.

For more tips and support, please visit our Heartmanity resources or contact for private and couple mentoring programs or our business programs.

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Jennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence CoachJennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence Coach
Jennifer’s passion is to help people create thriving relationships first with themselves, and then with each other. She teaches emotional intelligence skills and a step-by-step process that removes the obstacles to growth, loving connection, and communication. Her popular One Year Makeover and Return to Serenity programs provide a personalized approach to transformation. Her understanding of brain science strategically reshapes a person’s pain into power while restoring inner peace and well-being through a fun and remarkable learning experience. Jennifer is happily married to her beloved husband of 39 years and is the mother of three grown children.

Posted in Brain Fitness, Mindfulness and Perspective, Emotional Intelligence