14/01/2014 05:42 GMT | Updated 15/03/2014 05:59 GMT

Exit Problem Trance

Who hasn't yet experienced it: you have a more or less complex problem and are literally, well ... stuck! Thoughts turn in paralyzing circles - around the problem. This condition is often called problem trance or problem hypnosis.

„We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking that created them" said Albert Einstein. So then, why do people mostly tend to focus their attention on the problem instead of the solution? The answer lays in the history of our own evolution: ever since the early days of mankind, man tends to give more attention to problems and obstacles (= potential threats) rather than to the desired state. A pure survival mechanism - and there's nothing wrong with that. But isn't there perhaps a more effective and faster approach to achieving a desired state?

Basically, there's nothing wrong with researching into a problem and getting to the bottom of it. Psychoanalysis and most known problem solving techniques are based on exactly that. However, the question is what will get you "unstuck" fast and into a more effective solution-focus? Interestingly, experience shows that a detailed understanding of the problem is often not even necessary. Among others, the solution focused brief coaching approach of Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg is based on this assumption. Au contraire: trying to get to the bottom of the problem often increases the problem-trance even more. Like a person standing on quicksand, getting more and more stuck with every movement.

In contrast to this view stands a consciously chosen and consistent solution focus. Much more than a technique or method, this is a specific mindset. It puts emphasis on exploring different facets of the preferred future and is used in solution-focused coaching as well as in leadership with astonishing results. Especially in coaching, the "art of not knowing" (Heinz von Förster) supports adopting this mindset. What does that mean? Maybe a ZEN quote describes it best: "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in an expert's mind there are few (Shunruy Suzuki Roshi). Typically, this becomes noticeable whenever an outsider or "inexperienced" person quickly spots possible solutions that no "expert" would have found. This approach is unusual for most people and therefore often requires a complete change of mindset.

In a nutshell: When in a pitch-dark room, nobody would go about trying to find out why it's so dark. Instead, everybody would start looking for the light switch right away. Therefore, one of the key solution-focused questions would never be "what do you want to get rid of?", but rather "what do you want instead?" An experienced and solution-focused coach can be very helpful by consistently asking solution-focused questions and by guiding through the process in a goal-oriented way.

For more information visit