Provision #245: Reframe the Problem

Laser Provision

There’s no way to completely eliminate the challenge of getting and staying motivated for life. But it is possible to reframe the problem so that the challenge becomes easier, more enjoyable, and more sustainable. This Provision gives you three practical illustrations of how to make this work.

LifeTrek Provision

One of my early mentors, Tex Evans, was a master at motivating people to do dirty jobs they might not have otherwise considered doing. Each week during the summer, volunteers from around the United States would come to the Appalachian mountain region in order to do repairs on the dilapidated homes of mountaineer families.

From time to time, a particularly terrible case would come to our attention. Perhaps the job itself was incredibly hard, grubby work. Or perhaps the family situation was especially heart wrenching. That’s when Tex would go to work.

As the jobs were being discussed, he would casually mention that he had one job that he really couldn’t ask anyone to consider doing. It was just too difficult. Then he would go through the rest of the jobs. This one needed to have the roof worked on. Another one needed new screens. Still another needed to have the walls in several rooms repaired and painted. So who would like to do what job?

Inevitably, one or more group leaders would ask about the especially difficult job that he had seemingly forgotten to describe. “Oh, that one,” my mentor would say, “I’m really not sure we’re up to that.” “Tell us about it!” would be the unison reply. At which point, with them already eating out of his hand, he would go into the details of the job that was really his number one priority. Soon the volunteers were fighting over who would get to do the worst job of the summer • and the job would get done with pride.

What I learned from this experience, which I witnessed and replicated on multiple occasions, is that one trick for staying motivated for life is to reframe the problem. Are you unable to get yourself going on a particularly difficult job? Are you procrastinating on something that will make your life better? Are you having a hard time staying with something that works only as a daily habit? Then it may be time to reframe the problem.

More examples will serve to illustrate the technique. Everyone knows that daily exercise is critical to our long-term health and well being. No one can age gracefully without such a habit. It keeps us fit, flexible, and fertile. Yet many people think of this as a chore that they only get around to sporadically. Who has the time or energy for that? Reframing the problem can help.

One such approach is the “10,000 Steps a Day” program, developed in Japan and recently endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine. All it takes is an inexpensive pedometer that clips to your belt or waistband. The program’s goal is just what it says: take 10,000 steps a day. Unlike other exercise programs, this one goes all the time. From the moment you get out of bed in the morning to the moment you get into bed in the evening, every step counts.

Without any real effort, and just by reframing the problem, daily exercise becomes a daily habit (unless you never get out of bed). Your focus becomes the movement of life instead of finding 30 minutes to exercise. Everything shifts and becomes effortless. Suddenly you’ll start taking the furthest parking space, in order to add steps. You may start taking the stairs rather than an elevator or going for a walk with a client instead of doing lunch. And at the end of the day, when you show 8,000 steps, you may go for a short walk in order to top off the count.

In other words, you’ll start doing all the things the doctors want you to do • but you’ll do them your own way, in your own time, and with your own wisdom. That’s how reframing the problem works. It gives you the time, energy, and motivation that you have heretofore lacked.

Or take all those boring meetings that you have to go to at work. How much more productive you could be if you didn’t have to waste your time sitting in meetings that always seem to talk about the same issues without ever making any real progress! How much more fulfilled you could be if you didn’t have to make an appearance at events that really have nothing to do with your primary interest or concern! Or so it seems.

One way to reframe this problem is to develop your own secret agenda for the meeting. Decide to pay attention to something or someone you find interesting. Don’t just be a participant, be a participant observer. Count how many times the convener of the meeting laughs. Notice people’s nervous habits (fingernail biting, hair twirling, etc.) and observe whether they practice them with more or less frequency as the meeting goes on (you might even time them). Watch the power shifts. Who is aligned with whom at the beginning of the meeting? At the end of the meeting?

When the meeting is over, write your observations down in a reflective journal. Why did you choose what you chose? Was it as interesting as you thought it would be? Did you notice something that was even more interesting? What do your observations say about the organization? About you as person? If you were going to write a novel about someone who goes to these meetings, what could you say about their life that would account for their behavior in the meeting?

It is possible to function on this level and on the level of the meeting itself. One can pay attention to someone or something interesting without losing sight of the agenda. That’s what it means to be a participant observer. Once you make the shift, you may never have a boring meeting again.

I hope these three illustrations will assist you to reframe your own problems. It is not only possible to get and sustain your motivation for dealing with them; it is essential. We all have motivation challenges, at every stage of life. Reframing those challenges is the secret of lifelong success.

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

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Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
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