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Do You Spend More Time Focused on Your Problems Than on Solutions?

A common occurrence is having a client come into my office and start telling me about a problem. That’s what clients are supposed to do with me, right—cough up their problems? Well, sure, that’s true, but I’m talking about describing their problems to the exclusion of focusing on what they might do to reduce or eliminate them. For example…
 
A client might sit down and begin complaining about her husband being over-involved in his work and rarely spending time alone with her. She’ll describe in detail the instances during the week that he’s come home late while l listen, maybe making a comment or asking a question. When I ask if she’s followed up on corrective ideas we talked about previously, she’ll shrug and say how hard it is to change him and return to complaining.
 
Another client might come in with a list of times he’s binged during the week and give me a detailed reporting. I might interrupt and ask what he thinks triggered his binges or how he might have prevented them. He’ll describe a possibility or two, then go right back to his binge list and pick up where he left off delineating his eating problems, adding that he can’t stop, so what’s the point of talking about ways that he can.
 
Can you see what’s wrong with this approach? More to the point, is this something you do, that is, focus more on how badly you feel about your problem eating or other dilemmas than about how you can change? Do you think and talk about how disappointed you are in yourself, complain about someone else’s behavior, get mired in the minutia of things that go awry in your life, or focus more on what’s wrong than on what you can do about it?
 
This is called a problem-oriented, rather than a solution-oriented, mindset. You may not realize that you have a “yes, but” orientation—agreeing with your therapist, friend or family member that you could do something to improve your situation, then adding, “Well, I could, but” or “That’s true, but.” Or sometimes you may not even acknowledge a possible solution and, instead, just explain why you can’t do something (usually because it’s “so hard”) and the reasons that suggestions haven’t worked or won’t work.
 
Start listening to what you say about your problems and how you respond to advice or suggestions. How often do you say, “yes, but” or just plain “but” when someone proposes solutions? Do you go on about how hard it is to change rather than put energy into doing things differently and trying to alter your attitude or thinking? Pay attention and stop yourself from saying “yes, but” or just “but” when someone is trying to help you and you’ll find solutions that do work because every problem has a solution.
 
Best,
Karen
 
Stop Trying So Hard to Be Good
Be Aware of Thin Privilege

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