If you aren’t now, you probably have in the past.
Whether you want breakthroughs in your professional or personal life—or both—odds are you acknowledge you’re up against various problems and need to get creative about solving them.
And that’s a good first step.
But what if someone told you there’s one question you can ask yourself that will allow you to create the change you need in your life?
Would you be willing to ask it?
Dr. Roth is one of the world’s pioneers in robotics and is the primary developer of the Creativity Workshop concept. He’s also the best-selling author of The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life and has contributed to FORTUNE, The New York Times, Fast Company, Business Insider, and more.
So, The Question We All Need to Be Asking Ourselves…
Hold your problem in your mind…
Then, rather than asking yourself how you can solve it, what steps you need to take to achieve resolution, or whose help you need, ask yourself this:
“What would it do for me if I solve this problem?”
Dr. Roth says this is the question we should be asking ourselves any time we feel stuck.
“Just ask yourself ‘What [would it] do for you to solve the problem?’” he says.
“Then work on that as the problem—not the original one.”
He says it’s very easy to execute, and that it’s a no-risk tool. It can also be implemented over and over again.
“If it doesn't work, reframe it again. The way to reframe it is just simple: ‘What would it do for me if I solve this problem?’ That gives you your new problem.”
The Question in Action
Dr. Roth shared multiple examples that demonstrated this question’s power and applicability.
He said he was working with a group in which one woman couldn’t get her boyfriend to stop snoring.
“They had gone through all sorts of medical procedures,” Dr. Roth shared. She was at her wit's end and wanted anything to get him to stop snoring.
When she answered the question “What would it do for you if he stopped snoring?” she said, “I could get a good night's sleep.”
“Well at that moment,” Dr. Roth said, “if she was willing to let go of the snoring issue...the real problem is ‘How do I get a good night's sleep?’”
“Well, there are lots of solutions to that. The minute she reframed the problem from snoring to sleep, the solution space opened up tremendously.”
Dr. Roth gave what he calls “the fun answer” that to get a good night’s sleep she could change boyfriends.
“More seriously,” he suggests, “she could get a good night's sleep by sleeping in another room, by getting earplugs. There are many ways of handling getting a good night's sleep.”
He says this is a simple and trivial example, but it’s really what happens all the time.
We fixate on something and we can’t let it go.
What’s fueling our fixation and narrowing our solution space?
According to Dr. Roth, asking the right questions is a matter of getting to what you really want to get at.
“Now that may be hard for some people because we tend to lie to ourselves,” Dr. Roth says.
“We don't tell ourselves the truth. We have a certain self-image. It’s very complicated. Basically, if you're open-minded about it and you're willing to let go, it will work.”
But what might get in the way of the question retaining its power?
Well, Dr. Roth says, “People don't even want to let go of the problems. A lot of people hug their problems.
Many of us want to talk to our friends about our problems, which serve as pivotal conversation topics in their lives.
Dr. Roth says, “Really, if you're willing to let go of a problem, it's very easy to get the real solution.”
The Trouble With Reasons
Dr. Roth’s assertions might put you on the defense.
You have a lot of reasons for your problems, and reasons why you haven’t found the right solutions yet.
But Dr. Roth equates reasons with excuses and says, “Reasons are bullshit.”
I initially called this a tongue-in-cheek phrase, but Dr. Roth was quick to correct me:
“I wouldn't it a tongue-in-cheek phrase...I'd call it a definite understanding of the world.”
The only things reasons do, he says, is serve our view of ourselves as reasonable people.
“If I do something nasty and someone says, ‘Why did you do that?’ and I have no reason, then I'm not a reasonable person. If I give them some reason for my doing it, then I'm a reasonable person.”
“The truth is we’re so complex. We have DNA in us that's come back down from the generations back to the cave people. We’re so complex that there's...actually no one cause for anything we do.”
He says “The minute we isolate one thing as the reason we did something, we're lying. Because we're putting weight on something of which there are many different things and we're just rating it in a way that will make us feel good, in terms of our self-image or whatever we’re trying to support.”
A Plug-and-Play Solution
After taking in Dr. Roth’s assertions about reasons, excuses, and human nature, I came to the realization that by substituting the word “reason” with the word “excuse,” we can completely change the context of the statements we’re using to justify our behavior and choices.
“Most people won't use the word ‘excuse,’” says Dr. Roth, “but they’ll use the word ‘reason.’”
What he’s doing by calling it out that way, he says, is making himself conscious of the relationship between excuses and reasons.
“And it does really work. It does really cut down on these nonsense reasons.”
He says it lets you change, and that’s the main advantage to him.
“That’s what I’d like to do in my life. I’d like to be the best Bernie I possibly can, and I’m working on it.”
Disappearing Your Problems
Dr. Roth suggests that by asking the right questions, you can disappear your problems—not just solve them
Here’s what he means by that:
When you ask yourself “What would it do for me if I solve this problem?” and approach that as your new problem, you can forget about your original problem statement.
“It’s gone,” he says. “You don’t need that.”
“You were working on the wrong thing. ‘Oops, I didn't mean to waste all that time.’ Forget about it. Then go on the new thing. When you solve that, it will take care of what you thought you were going to take care of in the first place.”
Effort v. Flow, Force v. Power
Dr. Roth says, “If you think about the things in your life that you're really proud of, usually it's because you got through an obstacle and you did something that was amazing for you.”
But he also suggests that this doesn’t come through force or expending all your energy in a grandiose display of effort.
He says, “I think it is a really good notion to understand in life [that] it's much better to be powerful than forceful.”
“It's different,” he says. “I could be a forceful boss, but I think of myself as a powerful boss because I lead from the bottom and I don't want to force anyone to do anything.”
“I lead by example and I feel very powerful because I know what's going to happen,” whereas if he were forceful, he says he would have to watch his employees very vigilantly.
He says you might get your way with force, but that it lacks elegance and is inherently fatiguing.
How to Live From a Place of Power
Dr. Roth puts it succinctly: Acting from a place of power “has to do with integrity and not being an asshole.”
“In general, people that are assholes try to be powerful”
Force, he says, comes from a negative pushing-around instinct.
“Power,” on the other hand, “comes from just a powerful being”—being yourself, exuding confidence, knowing your level and what’s appropriate for you, and working well in the way that’s appropriate to you.
He says his model is intuitive—it’s about having the confidence that comes with self-honesty and doing what feels right.
Just Do It
Dr. Roth and I also discussed the difference between trying and doing, which he says boils down to how we react to obstacles.
If we’re trying and we encounter an obstacle, we have a good reason for abandoning ship.
If we’re doing, obstacles don’t stop us. We find another way. We persist. We do the thing.
Interested in putting Dr. Roth’s ideas into action?
Here’s his advice:
Don’t use reasons.
If you find yourself losing sleep over a problem, reframe it. Ask yourself, “What would it do for me if I solve this problem?” Treat that as your problem going forward, and let the original problem disappear.
Next time you find yourself doing something, determine whether you’re doing it or trying it. “Decide which one it is and then see what happens.”