Many years ago, I attended a creative problem solving class taught by this older gentleman. This one day class was paid for by my employer as part of a staff development program. Although the intended outcome of the class was for us to develop some new skills that would allow us to solve problems in a more creative way (a goal that was definitely met for me), there were so many pearls of wisdom that the instructor passed on that I have utilized in other areas of my life that I have come to consider it one of the best “spiritual” training courses that I have ever taken.

One of those key takeaways from this class was that whenever you are faced with some kind of problem that you cannot seem to solve, you ask yourself the question “what’s good about it?” The idea is that the question will cause you to reframe the “problem” into a potential opportunity. If you are stuck trying to find a “solution”, the question will most likely lead you in a new direction and to a possible answer.

I can still remember the story the teacher told to reinforce this point. He said that he had been using this question with good results for a number of years when his life was shaken to its core by the death of his longtime wife. He told how he became despondent and wasn’t sure how he was going to go on with life in the face of such a tragedy. After a period of depression, he finally thought to consider the possibility that there was a hidden kernel of “good” in his spouse’s passing. The good that he was able to recognize in this toughest of circumstances (more free time, more freedom to make choices without regard to the needs of another and so on) did not take away the pain he felt….nor did it mean in any way that he was happy about the challenge he was facing….but it did start him on the process of reorienting his thinking and to move closer to his personal healing.

That story has long stuck with me. I have thought that if he could stop in such a moment and ask such a question, then maybe it would work for me in my personal challenges…and through the years I am happy to say that it has been a great question to carry around in my mental toolbox.  Many a time it has helped me shift my focus and move in a positive direction.

Somewhere along life’s journey, I have come to understand why this question carries such power. The fact is, whatever we focus our attention on is what we tend to see more of in our life. The example that has become a cliché is the one where the moment we start shopping for or buy a new car, all of a sudden we begin seeing that model of car everywhere around us where we had not before.  They were, of course, always there….it’s just that the shifting of our attention towards them now brings them more into our awareness and therefore into our life.  In some circles, this is called the “law of attraction”…..what we tend to focus on is what we tend to manifest in our lives.  There’s the flip side adage of this in that “what we resists, persists”….meaning that which we don’t want in our life yet we continue to push against with strong negative emotions (such as hate and anger) tend to continue to show up in our lives.

So the key to remember is that we we are faced with something that is negative and not what we want to experience, we need to stop for a moment and consider is there any good in this?  This question….and the mental energy that we put into contemplating it….will go a long ways towards changing our experience.  As Wayne Dyer used to say, “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”  Some concept.

Again, this question can be useful with any challenge…..divorce, death, health issue, financial concerns and so on……

Next time, we will consider this question around the current political situation in the United States.

Mark Gilbert

PS.  I have written before about another lesson from this creative problem solving class in this article:  Find a Human Need and Fill It

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Photo credit: ~Urban Prowler~ (www.anshumm.com) via Foter.com / CC BY-NC