ARTICLE: Reversing Problems

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“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

u turnHave you ever noticed how much easier it is to spot something that’s wrong as opposed to everything else that is working well? I’m sure we can all think of people in our lives who have a special gift for shining a light on just about every broken thing there is to notice in the world :o)

But before we all hastily jump onto the ‘we must think positively’ wagon, it is worth knowing that it is actually a hard wired part of our mental functioning to filter our experiences by what might need to be fixed or improved. The underlying intention is not so much about being negative as it is about being efficient. Can you imagine how exhausting it would be for us to remain in a constant state of awareness of everything that doesn’t need our attention?!?!

Rather than trying to override this inbuilt talent for problem spotting, how about if we were to creatively utilise it as a catalyst for improving our circumstances instead.

A great exercise to demonstrate how this can be accomplished is the ‘Reversal Technique’, borrowed from Edward De Bono (the “Godfather of Lateral Thinking”). I first used this when delivering leadership training in the business world, but I’ve also found that it works brilliantly when applied to other general areas of life too.

The idea is to identify something in life that could really benefit from some improving. As an example, let’s say it is the relationship with a significant other.

The traditional approach would be to start off with the obvious question:


“What can I do to improve this relationship?”


While you are likely to come up with some answers, the chances are they will be few in number and not particularly ground breaking. After all, if it were that easy you would probably be doing all that stuff anyway!

A more creative way of getting the juices flowing would be to turn it around, and ask:


“What would I need to do really mess up this relationship?”


Almost immediately you’ll notice how quickly answers start flowing to you. Examples:


* Completely ignore them
* Spend all the money without consulting them
* Go AWOL for days at a time without telling them
* Constantly insult them or make them feel small
* Do all the things you know will annoy them
* Take no interest in their hobbies / passions


In order to make this fun (and more useful) include as many outlandish possibilities as you can think off. Resist censoring yourself; just let your imagination run riot. Examples:

* Make up embarrassing stories about them and post them on the internet
* Invite the entire England Rugby squad to move in for a month
* Donate all their prize possessions to charity
* Pretend you don’t even know them
* Encase yourself in a huge hamster ball so they can’t come anywhere near you


Now, if we left it there it would be a pretty rubbish exercise!! So here is where the reversing comes into it.

Go back to each of your answers in turn and determine what the complete opposite would be. Don’t just go for the obvious literal opposite; ask yourself what would be a truly wonderful way of ensuring this would never happen?

So if the answer you are reversing is ‘completely ignore them’, it won’t be particularly enlightening to just say ‘don’t ignore them’!! Instead you might decide on ‘ensure that I set aside at least half an hour every day to listen to them deeply and to really understand what is going on for them right now’.

Likewise, if the answer to be reversed is ‘make up embarrassing stories about them and post them on the internet’, a nice reversal might be ‘make a point of dropping it into public conversation that you are very proud of something they have done, or just how much you appreciate them.’

By all means don’t limit yourself to just one reversal per ‘problem’ answer; keep going and going until you are brimming with genius ideas for catapulting the both of you into relationship heaven ;o)

The point of doing it this way around is that it engages the part of your brain that will inevitably uncover many more realistic strategies for making improvements than had your original question been “So… erm… how can I make this work better?”


HOMEWORK


Identify any area of life, big or small, that you would like to improve (Suggested areas: finances, family, friends, skills, knowledge, processes, career, happiness / wellbeing, spirituality…)

Grab yourself a piece of paper and a pen and write out all the creative and ridiculous ways you can think of to completely mess up that area of your life. Remember, this time is for you to just get everything out, and not to prematurely try and find the solutions.

Then, when you’ve exhausted your brainstorming juices, reverse each of your problem answers to identify ‘World Class’ ways of taking action towards your desired outcomes.

Have fun and let me know how you get on.


Take great care. Namaste. 

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