Play the Reframe Game Instead
Did you know that your brain is like any other system of muscles in your body? You can train it to function optimally. You can actually mold the way your brain works through habits and the things you do every day.
Think about those people around you who are negative most of the time. (It may be you!) It took years of hard work, and brain molding, to get to be that negative every day. (It might be amusing, but it’s true!)
Because your brain has a natural negativity bias
, giving bad emotions more weight than good ones, it’s easy to get into a negative state. This is why we have to be able to positively prime ourselves on purpose to focus on solutions to the problem instead of just the problem itself.
Today I’m going to give you a tool to train your brain to be more solution-focused. If you do this activity once, you will feel better in that moment. If you do it every day for a week, you have a skillset that you can easily apply to your life. If you do it every day for a month, it becomes habit. Then you can start using that habit in all areas of your life.
If you do this long enough, it changes your personality. You will be the same person, just with some of your rough edges polished. You will also be more able to create positive solutions versus getting caught up in complaining about the things that are bad.
When you are solutions-focused, you tend to be more optimistic, to bounce back from calamities more easily, and even to get knocked down less often. It literally makes you physically healthier as well, and less likely to get stress-related disorders and some cancers, according to research.
I used to be very negative and very sarcastic. (Insert “gasp” here!) This is a true story! I started to develop solution-focused habits about three decades ago, and now most people tell me that I’m very positive person. (Don’t worry, it doesn’t take that long to master!) Every day doing this makes life better!
A solution focus gives us a broader way of looking at what we do want and where we want to go. People are much more receptive when you are helping them get to a better place versus stopping them from doing something “wrong.”
I’m sure you can think of times in your life when people tried to change you and you didn’t want to be changed. Or if you’ve ever tried to change another person, how often did it result in them saying, “Yes, I would love for you to point out the ways I’m defective!” Criticism like this undermines our sense of autonomy. A solution-focused approach helps incorporate someone’s sense of autonomy instead of violating it.
Play the Reframe Game, Instead of the Blame Game
When a problem comes up, we generally ask who did it, what they did wrong, and look for the negatives. This type of approach doesn’t work well with people. They get defensive and start playing the blame game. Very rarely do we get people to say, “Yes, I blew that $2 million deal. I’m so glad you pointed that out, here in front of everyone.” Instead they blame other departments and other people for their part in the problem.
To Reframe, focus not on the problem but instead on the future opportunities. Essentially shift from problem-solving to solution-generating mode. You may be asking yourself right now, “How in the world do you do that, Bob?” That’s a great question!
Here are the Three Questions of the Reframe Game:
- What is the common goal that we all want? Instead of focusing on the problem, focus on the outcome that everyone is looking for. This helps to unite the team for the future.
- What is already working toward that goal? It might be counterintuitive, but it’s very powerful. Instead of focusing on what is wrong, instead start with what is right. Have the group help you brainstorm what is working: maybe relationships, skillsets, financial resources, whatever you have already in place. This improves the overall outlook and helps people feel safe, heard and confident. It builds a sense of momentum, and allows you to build on best practices instead of starting from scratch.
- What else can we do to build on what is working? This helps create a plan to get to the common goal, starting from a place of momentum instead of starting from defeat. People are far more creative when they are brainstorming using best practices, versus brainstorming about the gaps (which often starts the blame game again).
You can practice this brainstorm with your team, or with others you trust. If the problem is yours alone to tackle, enlisting others to help can help you see things you don’t see, and even encourages their investment in the success of the project.
Side note: Another great use for this activity is to help coach someone who is struggling, whether it’s a colleague you are mentoring, a family member, or even a child.
This is transformational for kids! If you want to help your kids to be resilient, strong and creative, this is a great tool to use with them. It trains their brains to look for the things that work. As parents we often want to solve problems for our children, but this process helps them solve problems on their own. And by having these conversations with them, you will be able to more deeply understand what is happening in their lives, and how you can help them in the future.
And if you want to learn more, here are some more positive focus resources.