3 Steps to a Problem-Solving Mindset

Forgetful. Lazy. Wasting your time. Those are a few of the “name-calling” labels that came up in Monday’s post on the dangers of labels. You could probably continue the list with labels of your own–you know, the things your inner critic starts chanting whenever you don’t measure up as a writer or a person.

Labels are death to creativity.


Labels send the insidious message that you that you can’t change your situation. They keep you stuck.

Fortunately, you can fight back against those negative labels–by taking these steps toward a problem-solving mindset.

Step 1. Become Aware

Before you can banish damaging labels from your self-talk, you have to notice when and where they crop up. I gave some examples of negative labels in Monday’s post. Sounds easy enough to identify your inner name-calling, right?  In the heat of the moment, though, it’s easy to accept whatever your inner critic throws your way without stopping to question it.

Here are a few clues that you’re dealing with a “label problem”:

  • You feel stuck
  • You feel powerless to change a situation
  • You feel judged or worthless

These feelings are a signal that subconsciously, you’ve identified some problem as beyond your control. And although some situations will be beyond your ability to affect, most aren’t. Start having a conversation with yourself. Find out what’s making you feel stuck. Make a list. Get every problem, barrier, and obstacle down on paper.

Step 2. Replace Simplistic Labels With Compassionate Truth

Do you have your list of problems, barriers, and obstacles? You next step is to question them. Every one.

  • First, is the label/obstacle/barrier actually true? Is it possible you’ve accepted a label that exaggerates the situation?
  • Second, is the problem caused by this label/obstacle/barrier really insurmountable?

Labels tend to judge, globalize, and oversimplify. As a result, they often rule out any possibility of change. You need to replace the labels with a more realistic understanding of your situation.

Here’s what this process might look like inside my brain (enter at your own risk…):

The Label, Obstacle, or Problem

I’m so unproductive! I’ve gotten nothing done all week.

The Challenge

Seriously? What about that midnight brainstorming session on the new novel?Well, okay, I did come up with some cool ideas. But I should have gotten a lot more accomplished!Let’s take a look at this past week before labeling you “unproductive.” Your kiddo was home sick Tuesday, which took out most of that day’s writing time. You also spent several unplanned hours troubleshooting problems with your website. You got a lot done, just not the things you wanted to get done.

Tip: Telling yourself the truth isn’t the same as positive thinking. Make sure that you don’t replace an oversimplified negative label with an oversimplified positive one!

Step 3. Start Searching for Solutions

Once you’ve identified the truth in your situation–the actual problem–you can start brainstorming solutions. Continuing the inner dialogue I began above…

Brainstorming Solutions

 Okay, I really didn’t get as much accomplished as I wanted to–not because I was lazy, but because I chose to spend my time on other important things. The real problem is that I feel like I’m letting my creative writing come after everything else. What would make me feel more connected to my creative project? Maybe I could take half an hour to myself on those days when my schedule is upended, to make sure I’m still thinking about the story. I can usually spare an hour even when I’m crazy busy…the trick is to make sure that I do it BEFORE nonessentials.

What things are nonessentials? Hmm…let me think about what I might cut out of my routine on this kind of day….

It’s hard to change the habit of assigning judgmental and critical labels to ourselves when we don’t measure up…but in the words of  psychologist Randy Paterson, we have a trump card in the attempt to change our thinking:

Our typical negative thoughts have a trump card: We have rehearsed them so long they have become instinctive. The truth has a trump card of its own: Reality will confirm it over time.”
–Randy Paterson


The hidden price of "productivity" every writer needs to know - www.cherylreif.com

You’ve probably read the same tips I have: Have a smart phone? Check Facebook while standing in line at the post office! Respond to Twitter messages while waiting for your dentist! Catch up on your news feed while sitting on the pot! For years, I thought the path to increased productivity was to squeeze in MORE–more […]