If you keep doing what you've always done, you will keep getting what you've always gotten. In relationships, and in life, sometimes it's important to mix things up a little. Surprising things can happen when you do just one thing different. For example:
If you normally overreact and get defensive with your partner, next time focus on staying calm and listening.
If you always become a couch potato after work in the evening, put on your walking shoes and go for a stroll in your neighborhood.
If your normally withdraw from others when you feel down, try the opposite and reach out to make plans with a friend instead.
These are solution-focused approaches to solving life problems. This approach focuses less on why people do what they do, and more on changing patterns of behavior that don't work anymore. Solution-focused therapy tends to be faster and shorter than traditional psychotherapy.
Bill O'Hanlon is a talented therapist from Santa Fe, New Mexico, and one of the founders of the brief therapy movement. In his classic book, Do One Thing Different (Harper Collins, 2000), O'Hanlon provides a useful, concise, and practical look at ways to get unstuck in your life, and move forward to solving problems.
O'Hanlon has some great tips for using the solution-focused approach to improving your communication and relationships:
1. Change your standard conflict pattern or style: change the timing, the location, interrupting, speak up more, listen more, etc. Some couples need to work out before arguing. It could also be fun to agree to only argue at Starbucks, or on a walk.
2. Do a 180: Most couples have a pursuer and a distancer. Change up that pattern. If you're usually the distancer, take a turn at pursuing. If you are usually in pursuit, step back and create a little space.
3. Notice the other person (your partner, your child) doing something right.
4. Give up vague, blaming, and loaded words. Instead, be specific and ask for the actions or behaviors you would like to see.
5. Make action requests, not complaints.
6. Take responsibility for making changes and supporting your partner, close friends, and family members in making changes.
7. Have some fun blowing up your partner's stereotype of you.
8. Listen with a compassionate heart.
Solution-focused approaches, like Bill O'Hanlon teaches in Do One Thing Different, give us some clever ways to break old patterns, remember past solutions that worked, shift our attention, and change problems into solutions. Living in a solution-oriented way gets us to collapse the old stories we told ourselves about us and who we are, and rewrite them.
Why not do something different this week?