I hear from people all the time who feel stuck in bad jobs, bad habits, and bad relationships. And when it comes down to it, I have one single piece of advice.
It’s pretty simple, actually. Ready? Here it goes: Stop thinking about it. No, I don’t mean live in denial. What I do mean is shift your focus.
The Power of Shifting Your Focus
I lived many of my early professional years under stress, out of shape, and behind on my to-do list. But I didn’t start changing things by focusing on what was wrong. I used what was wrong to help me pivot. Instead of using my position to dwell on my pain, I used the pain to shift my position.
Here’s what we know. When we focus on what’s wrong, it makes it more complicated to do what’s right. That doesn’t mean we ignore what’s wrong. Instead, we use it as an impetus for change, recognizing that it can prevent positive change if we dwell on it instead of next steps.
Nobody finds a better job by complaining about the bad one. No one quits overeating by resolving not to. No one improves their marriage by fuming about how bad it currently is.
What we need—and what researchers say actually works—is a replacement strategy.
Out with the Bad, in with the Good
One of the best ways to use this these strategies is with implementation intentions. We talked before about how to use those here. An implementation intention gives us a positive response when we face a negative circumstance.
When we feel like overeating, for instance, it makes more sense to go for a walk than stand by the fridge hoping your will power holds. The implementation intention just formulates a positive response. So you might say, “When I feel like overeating, then I will go for a brief walk.”
“[W]hen it comes to reaching your goals,” says Heidi Grant Halvorson in her book 9 Things Successful People Do Differently, “you need to plan how you will replace the behaviors that sabotage your success with better ones, rather than focusing on only the maladaptive behaviors themselves.”
So how can we craft replacement strategies for ourselves?
Four Essential Questions
Here are four essential questions you can answer to start changing your circumstances:
- What don’t you like about your current situation? Whether it’s your job, your health, your relationships, whatever, ask yourself what’s wrong with the circumstances. How does it make you think, feel, and perform?
What would you like to change about your current circumstances? Now that you’re clear on what’s wrong and why, it’s time to decide what would you like to change about it? Clarity on this point is essential because the negative feeling or situation serves as the trigger for positive action.
How could you change it? It’s time to pivot. Once you know what you want to change, you’re ready to formulate your replacement strategy. Identify a positive action that you can take in response to the negative trigger. I say “could” because you might need to stay flexible and revise your response for maximum effectiveness.
How much do you really want to change? Change probably won’t come easy. We drift into negative circumstances because drifting is easy. Shifting to something better requires intentionality and effort. So how much do you want to change? It all comes down to commitment.
The way to get out of a bad job situation is to find a better option. The way you stop a bad habit is to develop a beneficial one. The way to improve your marriage is cultivate and expand what’s working instead of dwelling on what’s not.
We get more of what we focus on. If we can’t pivot to something positive, we’ll get stuck in what’s negative.