How to Solve Almost Any Problem (Hopefully)

I’ve had my share of pain and setbacks. I’ve experienced a catastrophic business failure. I’ve been fired by clients. I’ve struggled in my marriage. I’ve had children with chronic and debilitating diseases. And I’ve had my own health crises.

A 5-Part Recipe for Solving Almost Any Problem

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/frender

Fortunately, right now things are going well (knock on wood). But I do struggle with one nagging problem I have yet to resolve. It’s dogged me for five years. Just when I think it’s gone, it slips out of the shadows and bites me.

The problem is my voice.

I have always had a decent voice. In fact, one of my first jobs was as a DJ on a local FM radio station. I was the guy who announced, “That was ‘Appalachian Spring’ by Aaron Copland and the London Symphony Orchestra.”

For most of my life, I took my voice for granted. I sang in the choir. I spoke publicly. I recorded a number of audio programs. I always felt it was an asset.

But this all changed overnight. I can still remember the day it happened—September 15th, 2008. This was the very day Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy. I was the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers at the time.

I was in New York City to meet with a group of bankers who held our debt. Our sales had fallen precipitously in the previous three quarters. (This was in the beginning of what would eventually be known as the Great Recession.) Understandably, they wanted to know why. They also wanted to know what we intended to do about it.

I told my wife, Gail, it was like being called to the principal’s office, only to discover there were twenty principals waiting. It was stressful to say the least.

Actually, the meeting went well. My team and I were prepared. We had credible reasons for our poor performance and a plan for correcting it. The bankers were respectful and asked thoughtful questions.

I tried to sound confident, but I was afraid.

I was worried about the economy, troubled about the future of publishing, and concerned about what this all might mean for the company I was leading. I was also very much aware my job was on the line.

During the meeting, my voice cracked several times. This surprised—and embarrassed—me, but I just assumed I was getting a cold. Maybe all this stress has compromised my immune system, I thought.

But it didn’t get better. The problem would disappear for weeks and then suddenly, out of the blue, strike. I would all but lose my voice.

Finally, in desperation, I went to the Vanderbilt Voice Center. (This is one of the benefits of living in Nashville, where we have so many singers.) They ran me through a battery of tests, including a stroboscopic exam that took digital images of my vocal folds.

The result? Nothing. Everything looked normal.

The doctor suggested I might want to signup for some sessions with a voice therapist. I declined.

This is stupid, I thought. If this is all in my head, I can solve the problem myself. I’ll just use some relaxation techniques and think happy thoughts.

Well, that didn’t work either. Over the last four-and-a-half years, the problem has persisted. Thankfully, it doesn’t usually afflict me when I speak publicly, though it does sometimes show up when I record my podcast, do interviews, or sing in church.

Finally, this last week I decided I had had enough. I was ready to solve the problem. I decided on a five-pronged approach:

  1. Pray about it. As a person of faith, this is where it starts for me. I am specifically asking God to heal my voice. Unfortunately, for many people, this is where it starts and stops. While this is necessary, it usually isn’t sufficient.
  2. Educate myself. I decided I would relearn the basics of vocal physiology. I bought a course by Roger Love, one of the world’s leading vocal coaches. It is called, “The Perfect Voice.” I have listened to it once through and am now listening a second time.
  3. Think positively. Our thoughts have a huge impact on our experience—good and bad. As I began to analyze my thinking about my vocal problems, I realized my inner Narrator was telling me a bad story. I wrested back control and am now telling myself a better one.

    Specifically, I am repeating these affirmations several times a day:

    • My voice is strong.
    • My voice is resonate.
    • My voice is clear.
  4. Take action. This is where the rubber meets the road. Roger Love includes a fifteen-minute vocal warm-up in his Perfect Voice program. I put it on my iPhone and have now made it a part of my morning routine. It is specifically designed to strengthen one’s voice over time.
  5. Seek outside help. I haven’t taken this step yet—at least not to the level I am willing to go. If the four steps above don’t solve my vocal problem in the next six weeks, I am going back to the Vanderbilt Voice Center and get professional help.

As I was thinking through this issue, I thought this is really the recipe for solving any problem in life. I know it is ridiculously obvious, but I am amazed how many people are stuck (like I was) and don’t know what else they can do.

Whether you want to lose weight, improve your marriage, heal your body, find a job, or get a promotion, this five-part approach provides a way to make it happen.

Question: What problem do you have that might benefit from this five-fold approach? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Marie

    Hi Michael, really enjoy your blogs. I suggest you use acupuncture for your voice. Find a Chinese medicine practitioner who has treated this before, I am an acupuncturist and have treated many patients with miscellaneous voice problems, especially when there is nothing “physically or structurally” wrong. Thanks again for the great blogs and interesting topics.

  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    I could use this to approach my public speaking fear. Through prayer, practice, knowledge, and coaching I’m sure I could pretty much nip this in the bud. And while I want to do it, it’s not a big enough pain for me yet.

  • Dr. LaVigne

    LOVE THIS!!!! As a single mother with a PhD who is PROFOUNDLY underemployed, I am brutally aware that I cannot “give myself” a good job: I can pray and BELIEVE that God is working on my behalf and try to rest in that. And I can be DILIGENT about the work I must do: networking, applying for jobs, even the ones that don’t seem to be a perfect fit, asking friends if they know of any openings. Our God is not a God of passivity, but a God of ACTION and we are so fortunate to be able to co-labor with him in the creation of our lives!!!

    • http://www.mondayisgood.com/ Tom Dixon

      Out of curiosity, what is your PhD in? What do you think is stopping you from using it to do work you love?

      • Dr. LaVigne

        Hi Tom,
        PhD in Literature and Creative Writing (2011). I am an adjunct professor (underpaid+no benefits+high level of responsibility) at the moment. Trying to figure out how to write a book based on a Spiritual Journaling workshop that I teach, start a non-profit for older kids in foster care, adopt again out of the foster care system :), and put food on the table. Maybe I’m too much of a dreamer???

        • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

          You’re definitely not too much of a dreamer. Dreams are what fuel transformation and the movement of history. Pursue it!

  • Anonymous

    Normally I enjoy your posts quite a bit, but this one just has me shaking my head. As someone who has had to live on my own with a debilitating illness for the past thirteen years that has basically had me bedridden for the last 4 years, all I could think is, “That’s your worst problem? Seriously?” Now, let’s take away your health, your marriage, your children, your money and your ability to make more money and watch you put your 5 steps into action. I doubt your solution would be so simplistic then. If you don’t have a clue what real hardship is, then why should I listen to your advice?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I’m so sorry for your pain.

      Though life is good at the moment, I am no stranger to pain, I have had severe financial setbacks. I have two daughters with chronic, debilitating illnesses (Crohn’s disease). I have two special needs grandchildren.
      Regardless, I think the steps still apply. Perhaps they won’t work for you. (That’s why I used the word “Almost” in the title.) While the steps are simple, the application can run deep.
      Are their additional steps you would suggest?

      • mom2luke

        I agree with anonymous, your message would have resonated better had you first mentioned some of your other trials instead of (or at least in addition to ) your happy marriage and finances to avoid the immediate reaction (that I also had) of, “well, if that’s your biggest problem, you couldn’t possibly understand my ongoing/chronic conditions to which there are no simple 5-step solutions or approaches.”

        I’m not saying your “approaches” are incorrect or not valuable/wise, but better to acknowledge some “problems” are unsolvable–we can only hope to improve our coping skills and support systems.

        I recommend you have one of your daughters with Crohn’s and a special needs child (a “child” who will grow into a special needs man needing her for the rest of her life and long after you are gone) and have her write a guest column with her perspective. This column would include her reaction to your advice to “How to solve almost any problem (hopefully).” And “hopefully” is the key word. Human beings need hope to carry on through great difficulties and unsolvable problems. A better headline: “How to find strength to help cope with any challenge”

        • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

          This is good input. Thank you. I just re-wrote the first paragraph. Does that work any better?

          • mom2luke

            much!

  • http://www.facebook.com/josh.willis.18488 Josh Willis

    Michael,

    Dr. Kim Moon is who you would want to speak with. She has a D.M.A. in voice and speech pathology from Ohio State University. I am surprised that Vanderbilt didn’t have an explanation. Her email is Kmoon@wmcarey.edu. She is world renown. Tell her Josh Willis referred you.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Josh. I appreciate the lead.

  • Kim Henson

    Anytime I’m dealing with a physical ailment, I check out the chart in the back of Louise Hay’s book “You Can Heal Your Life.” She associates physical problems with emotional causes, then offers a new thought pattern. Voice isn’t in there, but throat is.

    The approach you’re suggesting sounds similar to hers, so I thought I’d mention her book. Hope you find relief.

    I appreciate all you share.

  • gail rogers

    Hello Michael
    Being both a strong believer in the power
    of God’s response to our sincere prayers and a Speech Language Pathologist whom
    specialises in the complex area voice for those with & without vocal
    challenges I agree with each strategy you have outlined on your self-initiated
    management plan especially #5 which (i suggest)
    should be # 2 priority in your hierarchy. Thankyou very much for sharing your
    story publicly.
    Regards
    Gail Rogers
    Speech Language Pathologist
    Cairns, Australia.

  • Leland LeCuyer

    Michael, have you spoken with Diane Rehm about this? Diane hosts a very successful radio call-in program at WAMU in Washington DC that is carried by many NPR stations. Several years ago she almost completely lost her voice, and still struggles with it. But she has sought and received medical treatment that has improved her condition immensely, allowing her to remain on air. If nothing else, it is always comforting to meet someone else who is bearing a similar cross.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Leland. I will check her out.

  • Guest

    Seems like you might benefit from bring psychology into the mix of your versatile life. With all the pressure you put yourself under (public performances), it’s astonishing that your voice doesn’t break down more often. The voice is connected to the mind.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mei.h.chan.14 Mei Ha Chan

    Seems like you might benefit from bringing psychology into the mix of your versatile life. With all the pressure you put yourself under (public performances), it’s astonishing that your voice doesn’t break down more often. The voice is connected to the mind. It’s the pressure of visibility, I would suggest (what you call transparency). Why the need to put so much upon yourself?

  • http://twitter.com/LangdonJenn Jennifer Langdon

    Michael, what a fearless leader you are. Thank you for sharing about something you have yet to conquer. You give courage with your humility.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jennifer. I am learning from Brené Brown how to be vulnerable. ;-)

  • rc

    I love that prayer is first. He gave us our minds and yearns to direct our steps.

    As others have said about you, among my favorite things about you and others is your willingness to be vulnerable and incredibly real. It’s a strong draw for me and I believe so many. I have just begun taking blogging more seriously and a huge desire is to meet needs. Thanks for being a great example!

  • Rick

    Michael
    I read about your voice issues. I also noticed that you are coming to the Boston area this Tuesday for a speech. I would highly recommend going to see dr. Steven zeitels at mass general. His center is called the voice center (center for laryngeal surgery and voice rehabilitation). 617 726 1444. He performed surgery on Adele, Steven Tyler and many, many people who make their living using their voices. They are also doing cutting edge research. Their address is: one bowdoin square, 11th floor, Boston, ma 02114. Their website is http://www.massgeneral.org/voicecenter/

    His partner James Burns operated on me and they are truly impressive.

    Perhaps you could see them before or after your speaking engagement.

    Sincerely
    Rick Abrams

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Rick. I don’t think I will have time on this trip. My schedule is pretty jammed. But I will kept it in mind for a future visit. Thanks.

  • CC Jones

    Michael, so many of your posts spark ideas, reflection and even action in my life. I take this for granted and rarely comment, but wanted to share a thought with you and your readers today. Your blog post about problem solving resonated with me in a special way as I am working on a health problem that has plagued me for about eight years. Like you, I did a little work to address it…the actions did not achieve the full resolution of the problem and I’ve just let it hang out with me for quite a while. Applying some ideas and techniques from you and others on discipline and goal setting, I began working on this problem in January of this year. I have been actively working to solve this problem. I began with prayer, as well, moved on to educate myself and take action and seek outside help…but the positive thinking…that one I needed. Thank you! God bless you. Happy Easter. Keep the posts coming. I love them!

  • Allen Young

    Unfortunately item 1 is often the last resort.

  • Jace

    Michael, in the spirit of being positive, I don’t like saying I have “problems”, rather “challenges”… :-)…Either way, I am a manager of a sales team, and I find myself struggling with getting my people to produce “good” to “great” results, consistently. The crazy thing is that I am regarded as one of the more fun, motivating, and experienced managers in the office. Reps consistently come to me saying “I want to be on your team!” but then they don’t produce as well as other, less talented, reps in the company. I employ accountability measures, motivational meetings, one on ones with goal setting and “why” talks, I read books, and listen to podcasts (such as yours) to teach myself how to train and motivate my reps more effectively, etc., but I still have not been able to continuously get my reps to meet and/or exceed my proposed budgets. In closing, I was more curious as to what else you might suggest to do for struggling managers, such as myself, on what else we can do, along with the 5 steps offered in your post, that can help with the raw “production” aspect of our respective businesses? More importantly, from your experience, what have you done in your career (if applicable) to overcome such challenges?

    Thanks for your time and attention.

    Regards,
    Jace

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Have you read the Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes? I think you would find it very applicable to your situation. Thanks.

      • Jace

        I have not read it yet, but I will be! Thanks for the reply!

  • http://www.trainersonsite.com/ Robert Foster

    Hi Michael,
    Thx for another outstanding post. How do you do it? How do you come up with all this genius? *** I Have a QUESTION *** How does your blog font look so crisp? I am creating content on my blog but my font looks so small and not nearly as clean and crisp as yours. Any tips? Any suggested plug-ins? Thx

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for your kind words! You should be able to adjust the font size in your blog’s style sheet. If you don’t know how to do that, you might check with a web developer.

      • http://www.trainersonsite.com/ Robert Foster

        Thx Michael. I was toying with paragraph, headings…I will look into it more. Btw, you are my authority on grammar and proper word type placement – especially like quotations. I always get them wrong but refer back to your posts for correction, lol. Thx again

  • http://www.thadthoughts.com/ Thad Puckett

    Not sure your age, but I think we are close (I am 52). I recall back in a preaching class when I was in seminary. The professor said a preacher’s “prime time” is between ages of 42 to 52, with one reason being the voice is mature but not yet beginning to falter.

    This morning at church I heard myself singing and thought I don’t sound the same as I did 15 years ago. No magic voice, mine, but it was always clear and not shakey in the least. Now it seems shakey.

    I wonder if we both might be facing that point where our voices begin to degrade a bit. I’m not preaching as much as I once did (though my 16 yo might argue with that). Still, don’t lose heart. Your voice rings out louder than ever I should think through this blog and your other writings. Will be praying with you about the issue.

  • http://sheridanvoysey.com/ Sheridan Voysey

    Great work, Michael. I once damaged my voice severely – just before I was about to move interstate to take on my first job in radio. It was a nerve-wracking time indeed. I had been abusing my voice through bad vocal technique, and the exercises given to me by a voice specialist, combined with prayer, were key to me learning to use my voice well and strengthen it. So, you’re on the right track. I’ll pray for your voice to regain strength and power.

  • Mark Oelze

    Michael – just want to say thanks for ALL you write and post. I have learned much and been blessed time and again with all you have shared. This blog once again was a great help to me in particular. I am a marriage and family counselor and communicator. My wife and I do a marriage conference we call Madly In Love. I know God has given us a message to share that is not being heard. My problem is that all my adult life I have had a voice clearing problem that plagues me. It has been a constant challenge, one for which I am regularly seeking help. I will be checking out Roger Love’s material. Thank you again!

  • BenHolbrook1

    Hi Michel, what I find really encouraging about this post is the vulnerability in it. That’s what makes people relate to you. Me personally, I’ve been trying to change the internal narrator to better manage worries and anxieties, I particularly found an earlier post where you identified some physical symptoms of anxiety really useful. Thanks

  • http://leadright.wordpress.com/ Brent Dumler

    Personally, I could benefit from doing this with regards to my wife’s encouragement (challenge) to write an eBook for men who are intimidated with being the Spiritual leader of their home. This is something I’ve bee wrestling with since January. Thanks for the post and ideas, Michael.

    • Joel Boggess

      Hi Brent,

      Make it happen! If you’re not familiar with writing an eBook, Mike has a great how-to guide. I’ve put together two so far using the easy-to-understand instructions.

  • http://www.findingyourvoiceradio.com/ Joel Boggess

    Hi Mike,

    Wonderful post. Thank you for taking a chance and sharing a struggle.

    I agree with what you said about the use of prayer – “While this is necessary, it usually isn’t sufficient.”

    When people begin to understand that God requires initiative and action from His followers, it can be a game-changer. Work and effort on our part doesn’t usurp His authority, it works with it.

    To answer your question, I am in a 7-month Platform-building process with the climax being the release of “Finding your Voice” on Nov 5. Your guidance is spot-on!

    BTW – Your “Platform” talk at the Innovate conference was incredible! Your “voice” was heard.

    • Archie Winningham

      MAN, I wish I could have been at INNOV48! SO many great people there that I would have like to reunited with, and met for the first time, e.g; the great Michael Hyatt!.

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  • The Conz

    Michael,

    As a professional voice-over artist, my voice has to work everyday. Everyone deals with colds, sore throats and even bouts of laryngitis from time to time, but there was a time in 2010 that I had a vocal cord bleed. After doing the strobosco, the Vanderbilt Voice Cliinc recommended complete silence for 3 weeks. After already taking off a week from struggling to speak because of the bleed, and now an additional 3 weeks of silence, this equaled to one month of no income. No talk no mula. Yikes!! (that’s why I’m working your passive income info).

    Since Vandy has found nothing wrong with your voice, I strongly suggest you add these 3 things your routine. 1. Drink more water than you think you need to. 2. Massage your neck several times per day. 3. Read Andrea Bocelli’s book “The Music of Silence.” While those warm ups are nice to strengthen your voice, silence is golden. Don’t speak for one hour 2 times per day…if you can do it 3 times per day, even better, to give your voice a rest. My guess is, if you rest your instrument, the voice cracks will subside. And whatever you do, don’t whisper. That’s very hard on the cords.

    Wishing you the best.

    Thanks for all your great blogs and podcasts.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for these tips. Very helpful!

  • http://leadershiptrench.com/ Daniel Di Bartolo

    Man, I couldn’t imagine losing my voice! Thanks for sharing this. As a preacher and leader, I’m always using mine. Thanks for the reminder to take care of mine!

  • Jon

    Great job on going all out for the solution, and not being held back by pride, or close-mindedness!

  • Parthenia Fayne

    Your transparency is completely refreshing! You help bring the continued encouragement that I need.
    The area where I can apply the 5-step process: moving forward in my business with confidence!
    Thanks so much!!