The brain's first job is to keep us safe. Important, right? Yes, of course. However, if we only spot problems but don't learn how to move through them and critically think to resolve conflicts in our lives, we get stuck.
In my first meeting with young adults, couples, or even company leaders, there is a common theme. They point out what they want to change or fix in themselves, their work, or their relationships and lives. Often there are emotional intelligence skills missing.
Until we master ourselves, nothing changes. We must commit to a growth mindset, or problems will remain. Shifting our perspective is the first step.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
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 sometimes avoided altogether while we use complaining and blaming to relieve stress. Many people consider problems annoying at the very least and insurmountable at the worst.
What If Problems Were Only an Invitation for a New Perspective?
Problems are a natural part of life and growth, but they can destroy a marriage or the vitality of a company 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 Growth Mindset—an Excellent Example of a Problem Turned to Opportunity
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:
In 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 your 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 to solving problems 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. We rarely make good decisions when we react to a problem.
Step back. Breathe. Get in touch with your values and what is most important to you. And open to possibilities.
STEP 3: Choose to take full responsibility.
Unfortunately, we can expend a lot of energy and emotion without ever taking action.
In our personal lives or in the business world, there can be a lot of talk for months (and sometimes years) without effective action. Somehow, talking gives us the illusion of taking action, but many people get stuck here.
Take responsibility for creating what you want in your life, relationship 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 could explore possible reasons. Perhaps you haven't set aside an emergency fund, or you're eating out in restaurants too often.
Whatever the problem, it is there to invite you to a better life. Each problem allows us to better define what we want in life and relationships. Perhaps, you're unhappy in your job. Your desire (the problem: you're unhappy) is asking you to grow, to advocate for yourself.
It's time to look squarely at problems. Greet them with the eagerness you would a good friend you haven't seen for a while! With this mindset, life becomes a series of discoveries and steps to success.
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 want to save money and invest in your own home. In response to this goal, you choose to put $100 in savings every month by eating in restaurants only once every two weeks. One small action that adds up.
If you decide to change careers, you would research possibilities and perhaps look at your interests, skillsets, and strengths. With clarity comes power. And each time you take action, you are moving closer to a life you love and the fulfillment of your goals and dreams. Problems invite us to act!
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 into 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.