Having a “problem solving attitude” is an important influence on resilience. This attitude is a form of positivity, which is a well-known key to resilience. It is a facet of the first and most influential factor influencing resilience. It is linked to “positivity”, which is a key to resilience.
What, exactly is a “problem-solving attitude”? The best way to explain this is to describe what people with this attitude are likely to believe about life’s challenges.
People with this kind of attitude tend to react to mistakes by trying to figure out how to avoid them in the future.
You might say, “Isn’t that what everybody does?”
No! It is very common for people to spend much more time looking for who is to blame for what happened, and, in particular, trying to convince themselves and others that nothing they did contributed to the bad outcome. That results in learning nothing about how to make things better.
Are there steps you can take to improve your problem solving attitude?
One thing you should do when faced with difficult situations is mentally take a step back and review the nature of the problem. Too often people jump into active attempts to solve a problem without first reviewing the details of the situation that are giving rise to the problem.
A good example is how people react when their computer or mobile device will not respond the way it should. It is all too common to become frustrated and angry, maybe muttering expletives while quickly trying out various solutions without really thinking through what is likely to work. Muttering expletives doesn’t repair electronic equipment.
It’s best to settle down and think through the nature of the problem and then select a few potential solutions to try out. Then try them out, being sure to keep track of what you are trying and of the results.
Don’t start telling yourself how bad it will be if you fail to come up with a quick solution. The problem is likely to be less consequential than it seems when you are immersed in it. As Nobel Prize winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman said “Nothing in life is as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it”.
Emphasize that this is a problem to be solved and there may well be many solutions. Do not fall into the trap of thinking the problem simply cannot be solved.
Think of the centuries in which people insisted that it was impossible for humans to fly. Then the Wright brothers built their flying machine and then, over the next several years developed it into a stable way of flying. After that, many more ways of flying came to light.
One thing you should train yourself not to do is focus on criticizing yourself for making mistakes. If you do that, it is likely to engulf you, leaving little or no mental space for thinking about how to make things better. Attacking yourself is a matter of changing the subject from how to solve the problem to a mental discussion of your worth. At that point, you stop problem solving.
Avoid being one of the many people who actually insist on hopelessness. The last thing you should do is adopt any resilience-draining approach of quickly deciding that nothing can be done to improve results. That is the path of hopelessness.
You don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate the following story:
In his book “The Mental ABC’s of Pitching: A Handbook for Performance Enhancement”, Major League pitching coach and sports psychologist, Harvey Dorfman, provided a clarifying example of how easy it may be to succeed if you just focus your mind on looking for solutions.
He describes an encounter with a pitcher, Steve Mura, who had spent six seasons in the Major Leagues and won 12 games for the 1983 Cardinals He was the starting pitcher for that night’s game.
Dorfman was chatting with him, and Mura shook his head silently. When asked what that was about, he said, “I can never win on this mound.” In the ensuing discussion, Dorfman told Mura, “There is a difference between, ‘I have not won and I cannot win’.” After all, there are many things we accomplish for the first time. Otherwise there would be no such thing as breaking one’s personal record.
Dorfman was already guiding Mura toward a problem solving approach by disabusing him of the illusion that past failures must continue forever. Can you see what a silly idea that is? To start with, how many things in life, whether good or bad, last forever?
When questioned further, Mura complained about the height and slope of the pitching mound. Dorfman asked him what kind of adjustments he could make to deal with that. Mura thought it over and came up with a strategy. He had never thought that way before. Instead he had spent his energy telling himself that he couldn’t win in that ballpark.
Mura pitched seven innings that night and gave up only two runs on hits. For those of you who don’t understand baseball, that is a very respectable performance.
Mura began in a state of pessimism and hopelessness. He wasn’t even applying the power of his mind to find solutions. As Dorfman pointed out, why should anyone think about solving the problem if failure is foreordained? And if they do not even begin problem solving, they obviously cannot persist in finding a way to succeed.
Once Mura shifted from pessimism and hopelessness to a problem-solving mode, it took only a few minutes to develop a plan of adjustments that led to success.
We are not saying that it will always be that easy, but you are much more likely to find solutions if you invest your energy in looking for them