If you have a problem that’s adversely affecting your life, you have three options: One, deny that the problem exists and wonder why your life’s not working well. Two, acknowledge that there’s a problem and find someone to blame. The problem with this option is that if you choose to blame yourself, you’ll languish in depression. If you decide to blame somebody else, you’ll spend your life perpetually angry.
Not pleased with the first two options? Then consider the third choice – accept your imperfection and make a commitment to figuring out how to fix the problem. You’ve probably tried to make changes, but have been unsuccessful because you didn’t know the steps to follow.
You may have been focusing on trying to recognize and overcome your weaknesses in a misguided attempt to overcome the problem. Or perhaps you were looking at your past to find answers about what has caused the problem in the hope that would somehow make your future better. Trying to drive ahead while looking at a wreck in your rear view mirror isn’t likely to turn out well.
A far more successful strategy for change is to engage in an appreciative inquiry with yourself and others. Ask yourself when you’ve been at your best in making other changes in your life. What steps did you follow in order to achieve a positive outcome in that area of your life? What character strengths did you use to sustain your efforts while you were transitioning to a more satisfying level of well-being?
As important as knowing what’s worked for you in the past is to understand how others have achieved success in the area that you’d like to see improvement. Many people are reluctant to approach someone they know who’s doing well – especially when they’re not. But pretend for a moment that your friend, spouse, employee, or your boss said to you: “I admire what you’ve accomplished and I’d like to learn from you. I’d be extremely appreciative if you would help me.” I’ll bet that you’d feel great: It would be terrific to think that you had something to offer to someone you cared about.
Start learning how others have succeeded in an area of life in which you’ve struggled. Identify 2 – 3 people that you respect for having already achieved a goal that you have for yourself. Write down the questions you would like to ask them about how they did it. Be sure to find out if they had someone who coached them. Ask if they had some supportive people who encouraged them along the way. Inquire as to how they found them.
When you have your questions ready, approach your friend, spouse, or colleague with an attitude of admiration. Start the conversation by telling them what it is that you appreciate about their accomplishment. Ask them if they’d be willing to share their insights, knowledge, perspectives, and expertise with you. People almost always say yes. Proceed to ask your questions and be sure to write down their answers. Make it all about them. You don’t have to agree with everything they say, but you do need to show respect for the fact that it worked for them.
You’ll be surprised at how people will respond to your request. They’ll feel honored that you reached out to them for help. They’ll be pleased that you recognized their achievement and delighted that you’re interested in how they attained it. Being in a position to teach something will deepen their self-confidence and reinforce the positive elements of your relationship with them.
You’ll also be amazed at your own reaction. It feels fantastic to have someone you admire take you under their wing and show how much they care about you. And then there’s the epiphany that will come to you when you realize that you’ve uncovered the missing pieces of the puzzle that – when put into place – allow you to picture a positive outcome.
To sum up how to successfully overcome a major life problem:
- One, choose to focus on an area of your life that’s important to you, but has been problematic.
- Two, become intensely curious about how to tackle that troublesome aspect of your life.
- Three, be humble enough to actually ask people who’ve been successful how they did it.
- Four, create an action plan based on the answers to the questions you asked.
- Finally, build upon the momentum that you’ve created during the appreciative inquiry process by taking one small step every day.