Solutions not problems

How thinking and acting in a solution-oriented manner can change your life

by Marcus Stobbe (Author)
©2022 0 Pages


With a simple shift in attitude, learn how to overcome obstacles, push through barriers, and solve problems.

Do you see problems all around you? Are the bad things in your life all other people’s fault? Do you feel like you are simply an innocent victim of your circumstances, doomed to fail, with a universe that’s against you? If this rings true for you… then chances are you’re making life harder for yourself. Solutions Not Problems will show you how to step into your own agency, take responsibility for your life, and by changing your mindset, change your life.

In this motivating and inspiring guide, author Marcus Stobbe will empower you to gain mental confidence through the discovery – or rediscovery – of helpful resources. You will learn to quickly resolve problem loops, and to strive for solutions with enthusiasm. You’ll cover how to learn from the past through reflection and apply what you’ve learned to your future planning. From clear communication to effective work and developing leadership, with this book you will begin to see Solutions Not Problems all around you.

This book...

  • Empowers you to take control of your own life by changing your mindset.

  • Offers helpful tools and guided reflection to help you find solutions instead of focusing on problems.

  • Supports you in developing strong communication skills to overcome barriers in work and in life.


Table Of Contents


Whether we’re watching football, in traffic, at work, or in our private lives—how often do we get annoyed with others who don’t behave according to our expectations? How often do we get upset with ourselves because we don’t live up to our expectations? How often does it drive us up the wall when our partner once again doesn’t do what we want? But when the first adrenaline rush after the anger has subsided, we usually regret our reaction and our thoughts when we briefly lose control. And, often, we realize afterwards that the problem was not as big as we thought. But how do we manage to avoid getting upset and stressing ourselves out with negative thoughts in such situations? The key is solution-oriented thinking and acting. Those who have mastered it focus on the solution and not the problem, do not brood over the past but look to the future, and concentrate on resources and abilities and not on weaknesses and obstacles.

In this pocket guide, I show you how helpful and effective solution-focused techniques and methods are when it comes to looking more positively into the future, improving your performance at work, and making relationships happy and satisfying. Follow me on the journey away from problem-focused thinking to solution-focused living!

Marcus Stobbe wishes you much fun and success in the process!

Often, we see nothing but problems and difficulties, especially when we are under stress. But this perspective is not helpful. On the contrary, it only increases the pressure.

In this chapter, you will learn, among other things,

why it is demonstrably much more helpful to focus on solutions,

what a solution-oriented basic attitude is, and

why faith in ourselves plays an important role in this.

From problem-focused to solution-oriented

Surely, you know this too: You come home late in the afternoon after a long, exhausting day at work. At dinner, you talk about what didn’t work out, who behaved in an impossible way, or what went wrong. You are all about your problems and the difficulties and try to get them off your chest. Your partner listens and wants to know why things went badly and how you felt about it. The result: You focus entirely on what didn’t work out, and your partner deepens this state of problem focus with their questions. You realize late at night that talking about your problems has brought nothing: Your thoughts continue to revolve around all the things that have already worried you during the day. The problems seem to get bigger and bigger—no thoughts of sleep. You are stuck in the “problem trap”.

Everyone can understand—also through their own experience—that negative thoughts lead to further negative thoughts, worries, and even disaster fantasies. Anyone who is preoccupied with negative things, be it personal conflicts with other people, serious events on the globe, or even existential problems, puts themselves under stress. We get stressed, for example, when our perception of a situation and our own thoughts about it are not in harmony with each other, resulting in emotions that lead to the release of the stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline.

When stressed, we tend to turn to everyday distracting sedatives, such as cigarettes, alcohol, sweets, or even tablets. We seek relaxation by turning on the TV or keeping ourselves busy with our smartphones. We eat unbalanced meals, have too little sleep, and get too little exercise. This creates a vicious circle, as we reduce our own performance capabilities, our personal resilience is further reduced, and we only get more stressed.

It is now considered proven that prolonged, unmanaged stress favours the occurrence of diseases because it weakens the immune system. Chronic fatigue syndrome is an increasingly common illness in which a variety of physical complaints are accompanied by massive concentration problems, a general lack of performance and drive, and constant fatigue.

Stop negative thinking!

But how can the negative carousel of thoughts be stopped? Fortunately, there are many ways to do this, which you will learn about in this pocket guide. The following example shows that they can be very simple and that it sometimes only takes one question to interrupt the maelstrom of problems.

Example: Only one question

When Marleen Müller returns from her summer holiday, she learns that the husband of her neighbour Mrs Meander died a fortnight ago. The following morning—Marleen is just about to get into her car to go to work—she meets the widow on the street. She offers her condolences, as she should. Mrs Meander then bursts into tears. Marleen compassionately asks how all this could have happened. Her neighbour tearfully tells her the story of her husband’s death. In the meantime, 15 minutes have passed. The neighbour is still crying and getting her grief off her chest. Marleen begins to feel uncomfortable because there seems to be no way to end this situation without hurting the neighbour’s feelings and still get to work on time. The following question comes to her mind: “How are you managing without your husband here in the countryside now? I’m sure you have to take over many things that your husband did before.” To which the widow replies, “Yes, just imagine, I’m doing my driving license now, I have to be mobile here!” A proud smile is suddenly on her lips; the crying has stopped.

How can it be that a single question can lead to such a change in mood? It seems that the positively coloured stories have a different “storage place” in our brain. The pleasant positive feelings this triggers seem to trigger other positive emotions in turn via emotional power. So, positive stories set off a positive emotional chain reaction in our brain, so to speak. Incidentally, when stress subsides, we can also think better again and start looking for creative solutions to problems. This is because our cerebrum, which is responsible for everything rational, can only really start thinking once the emotional excitement from the limbic system, where our emotions are processed, has subsided. For example, it is well known from working with creativity techniques like brainstorming that it takes a certain mood to become creative: We are most creative when we are in a relaxed, optimistic mood.

But the right questions are not the only way to help us and others get over negative moods. It is also helpful, for example, to sit down and simply write down the facts, detached from all opinions and fears. When a problem is written down, it can be better dealt with. In times of great stress, it helps to write down everything that moves us, for example, in a diary or on a writing pad. Things then become clearer, and we can deal with ourselves more calmly in a stressful situation.

There are also many other strategies that can help you approach problems and challenges in a more positive way. Many of them come from psychological therapy concepts, which you will learn about in the next chapter.

Learning idea no. 1: Write down the facts about a topic that moves you. Clearly distinguish facts from assumptions and conclusions you draw that are not supported by evidence.

More than mere theory: The experts’ findings

The science of psychology is not that old. Just 100 years have passed since the first Great School of Psychology, psychoanalysis, was developed in Vienna. The best-known representatives of this school of thought were Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, and Carl Gustav Jung. They were pioneers of personality psychology and psychotherapy and assumed that human beings are controlled by drives such as pleasure, aggression, or even a sense of community. They assumed that the first years of life shape the personality. From this, they concluded that one must understand these first years in order to understand the adult human being. This led to the methodology, especially with Sigmund Freud, of treating people individually and accompanying them into their past. The goal of therapy was to recognize why they felt the way they did; they should learn to understand themselves better.

The systemic approach

In the 1960s, with the so-called systemic approach, psychologists developed the desire and the methodology to treat not only individual people, but entire families and complete systems. It was recognized that family problems stemmed from mutual thinking and acting and that, therefore, all those involved were asked to change their thinking and acting—and not just one individual. It became clear that there is not one simple cause and, thus, one linear causal effect, but that one word makes the other and the problem is always rooted in the system.

Therapists began to work with families, but no one really knew how to proceed exactly, because, at that time, there were no scientifically based findings on this. It was only in 1969 that a research group led by the US psychologist Steve de Shazer began observing therapists at work behind a screen (with the knowledge and consent of the families). From this, de Shazer and his team developed the model of solution-focused brief counselling and continuously expanded it over time to include new insights and techniques. In a learning process based on hundreds of therapy sessions, they tested and retained what proved useful (Szabo, Berg 2006: 19). Based on these insights, therapists focused more and more on working solutions in their clients’ lives instead of concentrating on patterns and problems that hindered solutions and their causes. This created the counter-design to psychoanalysis.

Surprised by their own successes, the followers of the solution-oriented approach learned primarily from observations in their practice and soon began to throw all existing theoretical explanations overboard. They decided on a “theory of theorylessness” so as not to stand in the way of their own exploratory further learning.

Recognize what works

The therapeutic goal of solution-focused family therapy is to help families get along well with each other by recognizing and reinforcing themselves what works. What is special about this is that the therapists do not see themselves as experts on the family’s life, nor do they give advice or pretend to know. Systemic family therapy practitioners aim to work with the family to find out what works. Together with their clients, they focus on questions such as: In which moments is the family doing well? What rituals are shared? What gives pleasure to whom? Such questions help people to find their own solutions and put them into practice. And we can use this perspective not only in our private lives, but also in our everyday professional lives.

Learning idea no. 2: Recognize what works and do more of it!

The basic solution-oriented attitude

Steve de Shazer was convinced that people already have the solutions to their problems within themselves. We are all the experts for our problems and, thus, also for our solutions. If we have a problem, we should first focus our attention on the fact that we have all the skills necessary to solve it.

The only difficulty is that many people are not aware of this expert knowledge. With a solution-oriented approach, one supports others in developing precisely this awareness and in finding their own solutions. Solution-oriented conversation is, therefore, the perfect counterpart to giving advice. It is not without reason that the bon mot exists that advice is also a blow. The person being advised often finds it unpleasant. They quickly feel patronized and belittled in the face of advice because it suggests that they are not trusted to find their own solution.

“With nothing is one more generous than with advice, and with nothing should one be more reticent.” (François VI, Duke de La Rochefoucauld)

Solution-oriented principles

The basic solution-oriented attitude is characterized by several principles. See how these principles fit you personally. The more you can agree with these principles, the easier it will be for you to become solution-oriented.

The principle of separating problems and solutions

In the solution-oriented approach, a clear distinction is made between problems and solutions. At the time, this view was a revolution in view of Freud’s past orientation, which focused on the problems of the individual and the research into the causes of these problems. One does not have to get to the bottom of problems. Their causes don’t have to be known. You don’t have to answer why questions to get better. You don’t have to find out what is wrong with you.

Steve de Shazer was of the opinion that it makes more sense to first develop a solution concept because a problem is always only defined from the difference to a pleasant solution state. When people detach themselves emotionally from their problems, they find it easier to develop solutions for their lives.

The principle of resource orientation

Every person is an expert on themselves and their own problems. Every aspect of our behaviour and experience can be understood as a resource that we can use to find our own way for it: Experiences, needs, dislikes, interests, skills, habits, and characteristics such as intelligence, appearance, strength, and stamina. The solution-oriented approach promotes the discovery of which ability or resource one should develop or use more strongly in order to achieve a goal.

The interesting thing about coping with difficult situations is the fact, which can be observed again and again, that in 99% of all cases, people know and can name the problem. But what they can’t name, because they haven’t trained for it and probably have never been asked about it, is the skill they need to make it better. So, if you are in the middle of a difficult situation, instead of tossing the problem back and forth and looking at it from all sides, ask yourself: what skill do I need more of so that I don’t suffer as much or can improve something about the situation? A first solution-oriented step, therefore, leads one away from the problem to an appropriate question, which can also be called a concern. A concern stands for the fact that a person wants something or someone to change. Having a concern also means standing up for something. And last, but not least, it means asking oneself what ability one should develop or acquire more strongly in order to achieve the goal. A collection of ideas can be helpful for this.

Example: What resources are helpful?

Martin Meier, who wants to lose weight, can ask himself: Which of my resources or abilities do I need more of in order to successfully reduce my weight? Do I need better planning, more self-discipline, a clearer picture of how I want to be, a stronger belief in myself …?

It is important for you to find out what you want to work on. With this goal in mind, you then almost automatically switch to solution-oriented thinking and feeling.

Learning idea no. 3: Go on a search. What skill do you want to focus on?

The principle of circularity

The solution-oriented approach has its foundation in systems theory: Our behaviour always has an impact on others, regardless of whether we do something or nothing. Therefore, it is important to find out how one’s own goals and behaviours affect others.

No matter what we do or don’t do, no matter whether we say something or remain silent, our behaviour is always registered by other people and usually also evaluated. Quite often, we don’t tell our truths because we suspect that it could hurt the other person and that the relationship with them would suffer as a result. We can also use this ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, our empathy, in another way, by observing ourselves through the eyes of others. This allows us to suddenly notice “blind spots” about ourselves and to look at ourselves critically. This benevolent, as well as critical, view from a different perspective helps us to get a reaction to our intentions or also behaviour. We cannot only use the perspective of other people, but also that of animals or even objects—this not only brings new insights, but is also fun!

Example: Change of perspective

Martin Meier might ask himself: Who will notice that I have lost weight? What will my wife, my son say about it? How will my circle of friends react, or the fruit seller, my belt, my wallet, or my running shoes?

The principle of thrift

Talking about problems or concerns should be as short, simple and economical as possible. Behind this principle of economy lies the endeavour that of two paths, the one that leads more quickly to the goal with the same result should be chosen. A look at scientific evaluations of family therapy shows that all forms of therapy together have a success rate of about 60 to 70% (i.e. that 60 to 70% of all families are still together two years after the end of therapy and get along well). If a therapist works according to the solution-oriented approach, they only needs seven sessions of one hour each to achieve such a result. This is more than twice as fast as colleagues who work according to other concepts. In other words, a solution-oriented psychologist can help twice as many people in one week. This is because people don’t talk about how problems come about and how to assess who is to blame, but about what they want and what still works.

There are always several possibilities. For example, we can spend ten minutes complaining to our colleague A about what colleague B has done again today. But we can also use the ten minutes to think about what we could say to colleague B so that they don’t behave this way anymore. Or we can use this short time to relax so that we don’t get upset about the other person’s behaviour and can accept it better.

Those who think in a solution-oriented way make a pragmatic effort to find what works. The question that arises here is simple: Do I go into the problem and, thus, change nothing or do I change myself or my thinking?

Example: Choosing the faster way

Martin Meier might remember and think: “I haven’t managed to lose that much weight a few times already. I just can’t manage it …!” But he could also recall how he managed to lose a little weight back then and what a good feeling it was. He could remind himself how he dealt with the temptations, how he strengthened his will. He could say to himself, “I have always managed to change a little! How do I go about it this time?”

The principle of constructiveness

Every person constructs their world and can describe what works apart from speculation. Therefore, it is important to know about yourself, what makes you tick, what you like and don’t like, and how you think, value, and feel about your work and your family. People are incredibly complex, and each set different standards for themselves and others. Depending on whether we like another person or not, we evaluate the same behaviour differently: If we like someone who asserts themselves, we consider them to be a person full of self-confidence and goal orientation. If we don’t like this person, we interpret their behaviour as egoistic and dominant. This makes it all the more important for us to manage to develop a future together with our system: How do we want to act and live as a team, or as a family? How do I want to work in the future? What do we want to achieve together? How do I want to deal with stress and differences? How do I want to think about them?

If you manage to reach a consensus here with yourself and others, then you have found a great constructive benchmark and can align your behaviour with it.

Example: Constructive orientation

Martin Meier might ask: “What weight is right for me? What do we want to buy in order to grow old healthily? What do we leave behind? How do I take my family, my partner with me on this path?”

The principle of change

People tend to look for the familiar in life because it gives them a feeling of security: always going to the same holiday destination, where you know your way around and can find peace and relaxation right from the start, or the work that you always do in the same way. Many people fail to realize that we, as a species, are excellently equipped to adapt to new circumstances and that we have all successfully undergone a variety of changes in our lives. Countless people have already made the experience of having benefited incredibly much for their personality, especially from changes that they did not want themselves. Analyzing such changes, having our successful adaptations in mind, helps us to take the necessary steps in the changes in the here and now, even if they are only small steps. Steve de Shazer tells of a client who felt like a “grey mouse”. The small change they decided on together was to buy colourful socks, put them on at work, and see what happens. Some conversations ensued at work and the man’s self-image (remember: the principle of constructiveness) changed over time.

Small changes often lead to bigger changes. It is true that it cannot be proven in a linear way that the flap of a butterfly’s or a seagull’s wings can trigger small wind movements or even big storms. However, in solution-oriented work on oneself or with others, small changes can certainly have a big effect.

Example: Small changes—big effect

Martin Meier might ask himself: “When did I manage to resist small temptations? Under what conditions have I managed to exercise even in winter or in the rain? What are three things I don’t buy when I’m slim, and what three things do I find in my fridge instead?”

Strong lever for solution orientation: Self-efficacy

The approach of solution orientation shows a connection with the concept of self-efficacy, which is a central element of the so-called social learning theory (Bandura, 1986). The founder of this theory, Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura (1997), found out that people who believe in themselves and their abilities are more involved in their tasks, persevere longer, and always give new impulses. Those who can say and also feel “I can do this” believe in themselves. Self-efficacy is, therefore, the conviction that one can successfully master a certain situation, the feeling of one’s own ability. Self-efficacy as a belief in oneself influences the perception of situations, motivation, and performance. The extent to which this conviction is pronounced is related to the experiences we have had in the course of our lives and also to the imagination with which our brain gives us images of how we can actually do it.

If we have a positive feeling of self-efficacy, we are enthusiastic about our project, we face the situation, in most cases we achieve success and can then transfer our skills to new situations. If, on the other hand, we do not feel up to the challenges we face, we avoid them, even if we have the skills to cope successfully. We then break off actions or do not complete them successfully because we believe that we lack what is necessary.

With the help of the solution-oriented approach, we can work on believing in ourselves.

Solution-focused or problem-focused? The differences

We can approach challenging situations either problem-oriented or solution-oriented. It is entirely up to us. The biggest differences between focusing on solutions and focusing on problems (according to Jackson & McKergow, 2002, p. 7) can be seen in the following aspects and statements:

Problem-oriented—focus is on the past: “It was all better in the past!” “We’ve never had it like that!” “We’ve always done it like that”.

Solution-oriented—focus is on the future: “What will life look like once we have successfully mastered the problem?”

Problem-oriented—What’s wrong? “They’re doing it all wrong! How can they go about it like that?”, “Oh dear, that’s terrible. How awful!”

Solution-oriented—What works?: “What really works and can therefore be maintained or even expanded?”

Problem-oriented—Search for causes/question of guilt: “Who did this? Who is to blame?” “Why did we get such a bad result?”

Solution-oriented—focus on progress: “How do we make this piece better?” “What screws can we turn?”

Problem-oriented—Checking: “What exactly are the results?” “How could the deviations come about? Please justify!”

Solution-oriented—Influencing: “How can we make it so that the results are better? Who has an idea?”

Problem-oriented—Playing off unsolicited advice/expert status: “Watch this, do the following …” “If I were you, then …” “That’s not how it works here! It goes like this …”

Solution-oriented—Focus on collaboration: “Do you want to work with me to make it better?” “What’s your idea about that?”

Problem-oriented—Focus on the deficits/weaknesses: “What problem do you have?” “What needs to happen so that the numbers are no longer so bad?”

Solution-oriented—Focus on resources, skills: “Which skill do you need more of to reach your goals?” “What do you think is feasible? Which ability do we get one step further with?”

Problem-oriented—Complicated: “Let’s make a project out of it. First, please develop a project plan with a stakeholder analysis!”

Solution-oriented—Simple: “What is your first step?” “What can you think differently?” “Which action will lead to which result?” “When can you do it by?”

Problem-oriented—Definitions: “What do you understand by stress?”

Solution-oriented—Actions: “How can you tell that you have successfully managed your stress?”

At a glance: Away from the negative—towards the solution

If we concentrate on a problem, it becomes bigger and bigger. We get stressed and, stuck in this way of thinking, can no longer find access to the solution. Those who think in a solution-oriented way reflect on what works and on their resources and strengths.

Ways out of this negative carousel of thoughts lead through solution-oriented thinking.

The solution-oriented approach has its origins in psychology, especially in family therapy. However, its principles are not only helpful in private life, but also in other areas of life, including work and career.

We can draw many positive lessons for the future from our past. If we look closely, we can discover many success stories in our history—both small and large. They help us to look forward in a solution-oriented way.

In this chapter you will learn, among other things,

why we often make life unnecessarily difficult for ourselves,

how to work out the highlights of your life, and

how to discover your potential and resources.

Obstructive beliefs and experiences

“You can’t do that!” “That isn’t proper!” “Don’t praise yourself!” “Clean your plate!” Many of these beliefs are firmly anchored in us from our childhood. We still follow these beliefs, which we inherited from our parents or even our grandparents, more or less subconsciously in adulthood, without reflecting on them or questioning them much. Sentences like these make life easier because they give us orientation, but, at the same time, they can have negative consequences for our self-image, our self-confidence, and our self-esteem or, as in the last case, for our figure.

How firmly such beliefs can be anchored in us is illustrated by an example from the psychologist Richard Bandler. It is about a client who came to him because of her lack of self-confidence.

Example: Bandler and the woman without confidence

Bandler began by asking, “Was there ever a time when you had self- confidence?”

Bandler:“You mean to tell me that you have never trusted yourself in your whole life?”
Bandler:“Not on a single occasion?”
Bandler:“Are you quite sure about that?”
Woman:“Yes, absolutely!”

This story shows that, often, don’t even know what we are capable of because we have never learned to analyze the good things, our resources and abilities. Instead, we focus on all the negative things and on our “weaknesses.” When it comes to ourselves, we are sometimes dominated by negative beliefs: “I can’t do that!” or “I can’t do that!” We carry these beliefs with us like packages, weighing us down and causing us to stumble. So we have internalized inappropriate strategies for dealing with problems and difficulties.

Dare to change your perspective and direct your gaze in a different direction, then gradually, other attitudes and feelings will set in: look at all the good experiences you have had in your life. This is because our experiences contain a great deal of information and skills that we can discover and use for the present.

Learning idea no. 4: What can you do? What comes easily to you? Write down all your strengths. Ask others what they like about you!

Discovering potential with highlight analysis

In difficult situations, solution-oriented interlocutors help us to turn our gaze towards the solution—and not to deepen our problems and weaknesses, which we already know all too well anyway. We can also adopt a solution-oriented perspective all by ourselves. But how does that work exactly?


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (September)
self-help self improvement problem solving solutions positive mindset solution mindset communication skills


  • Marcus Stobbe (Author)

Marcus Stobbe is a psychologist and has been a trainer, coach, and team developer for 30 years. His solution-oriented approach supports individuals, teams, and companies to develop their communication, problem solving, and social skills.

Title: Solutions not problems